PORT ANGELES — City and county lawmakers grappling with housing issues last week in a joint meeting in Port Angeles heard a suggestion for a “housing czar.”
Clallam County Commissioner Mark Ozias suggested Monday that the parties create such a job as a paid position to lead a multi-agency effort to address the lack of available and affordable housing.
Ozias also pitched a community land trust to help offset the cost of land and/or regulations from the cost of building housing. He offered to present more information on the community land trust model in a future joint meeting.
“I think there’s a lot of potential in that model, at least as a partial solution or a short-term solution, or as a spark to help get that first (housing) project or two started,” Ozias said.
Housing issues were the focus of the two-hour joint meeting held at City Hall.
Other topics were state Department of Natural Resources revenue performance, relocation of the county Emergency Operations Center and tourism.
No formal action was taken at the meeting. The housing czar idea was backed by Mayor Sissi Bruch and others but failed to gain a unanimous consensus.
“I would rather put money into a fund to build housing, together, than pay a czar to tell us that some of our policies are not going to allow more housing to be built,” City Council member Mike French said.
“We know that there’s a need for housing. Let’s put money aside and build housing. That’s my solution.”
The meeting opened with a review of a Port Angeles housing needs assessment.
“I’ll emphasize that all of these statistics and details are relative to the city of Port Angeles specifically, but I think there’re all relevant to what we’re globally seeing as a significant situation relative to housing need in the greater Clallam County community,” City Manager Nathan West said.
The city housing study, which is available at www.cityofpa.us under Comprehensive Plan, shows that by next year Port Angeles will need 196 new single-family dwellings, 220 new housing units attached to existing residences and 178 new multi-family units.
By 2025, the city will need 1,121 additional single-family units, 439 more units attached to existing structures and 497 new multi-family units to meet the community need, West said.
Port Angeles has 30 remaining residential high-density lots, 14 available residential medium-density lots and 438 remaining single-family properties available for development, West said.
“We don’t have a lot left to play with, and we need to make sure we’re getting it right when we are doing housing development,” West said.
“We are not an I-5 corridor jurisdiction, and we need to see a very different approach here for our community, recognizing that we don’t have the ability to do a lot of future subdivisions.”
As of January, Port Angeles had 56 properties in foreclosure and 193 units advertised as short-term rentals, West said.
The city is seeking partners for a demonstration housing project, developing a manual for accessory dwelling units, in the process of allowing ground-floor residential uses in certain commercial zones and seeks to amend code to eliminate large lot size requirements, West said.
“I think it’s really important to share, too, that our income levels are not keeping up with housing costs, and that’s another aspect that we really need to look at,” West said.
Mary Hogan, chair of the Clallam County Homelessness Task Force, reviewed the panel’s funding recommendations on 2060 and 2163 state funding streams and highlighted its five-year plan to reduce homelessness by 2024.
This year, the task force recommended — and county commissioners approved — a combined $1.46 million in grants to eight agencies that assist the homeless.
“For the 2060 funds, that’s capital projects, we received $395,678 in requests and we had $212,500 in available funds,” Hogan said at the Monday meeting.
“For the 2163 funds, we received $2,326,521 in requests and we had $1,250,000 available.
“To have to cut that much from programs is really difficult,” Hogan added. “For us, it’s almost you have to cut everything in half and then start from there.”
County Commissioner Randy Johnson said homelessness is a multi-faceted issue that affects children, victims of domestic violence, the working poor and the elderly, among others.
“There’s not one answer that fits this,” Johnson said. “There’s not a panacea that will get us there. We need to work at each part of it.”
Hogan said the rising cost of rent is a “huge issue” for the task force.
“It is extremely frustrating to find something that’s affordable and worth what you’re paying for it,” Hogan said.
“I’ve looked at one-bedroom apartments that are $1,000. Its just unbelievable.
“There’s a whole gamut of reasons (for homelessness), but rent is one of the bigger ones,” Hogan said.
Hogan also said that some of those who can’t find housing are making six-figure salaries.
Serenity House of Clallam County Executive Director Doc Robinson said the homeless shelter in Port Angeles is “seeing too many youth, too many seniors, too many people who are actually working and still have to come to our shelter.”
“I wish I had a more positive view for you, but and I want to tell you we’re not alone,” Robinson told the commissioners and council members.
“Seattle has 28,000 people on the streets, and they are spending an enormous amount of money to not have people on the streets, but they can’t keep up with the growth of the problem. It’s economic.”
Port Angeles City Council member Lindsey Schromen-Wawrin said housing availability, housing affordability, homelessness and chronic homelessness are tied together.
“The solutions at all four of those levels are different, but they’re all interlocking,” Schromen-Wawrin said.
“I think a lot of those solutions fall on our shoulders as the policy makers, on our staffs’ shoulders as the ones implementing the development process within the city, within the county.
“The scale of the number of housing units we need at affordable rates, in particular, is just not commensurate with the amount (of housing) that we’re doing,” Schromen-Wawrin added.
“So we have a pretty big structural problem in addressing the root causes of homelessness, which is the rent is too high.”
Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56450, or at [email protected] peninsuladailynews.com.