PORT TOWNSEND — The Housing Solutions Network is engaging with community groups and asking how they would fix the shortage of workforce housing.
Justine Gonzalez-Berg, a network weaver for the organization, facilitated the conversation for about 60 people Monday during a monthly luncheon hosted by the Chamber of Jefferson County at the Elks Lodge in Port Townsend.
“Our goal is to go out into the community, to individuals and organizations, and ask them how can you use your interests, skills and resources and put those to work on housing solutions?” she said.
Gonzalez-Berg showed a 13-minute video that highlighted several individuals and their search to find housing and left an open-ended question about how to make it more available.
“It looks like a whole generation is going to get priced out of the housing market,” Jesse Thomas, a board member for Homeward Bound, said on the video. “We have to ask ourselves what kind of community do we want to be?”
Thomas referred to housing prices in 2015 and how they have increased in Jefferson County by nearly 50 percent.
A single mother featured on the video talked about how she would house sit for a few weeks at a time, but she always needed a place to stay.
She owns two businesses in Port Townsend and didn’t find reliable housing until she placed an ad in her church newsletter, and a family let her stay in their basement until she could find a more permanent solution.
“We were never on the street for a night,” the woman said, “but that sense of homelessness was there every single day.”
Housing Solutions Network, which was formed about 18 months ago through the Jefferson Community Foundation and a grant from the First Federal Community Foundation, has a handful of all-volunteer Housing Action Teams focusing on aspects of rentals, accessory dwelling units and permitting with government agencies to smooth out the process.
Gonzalez-Berg said the Jefferson Community Foundation knows of at least nine small- to medium-sized businesses that chose not to relocate to the county due to a lack of housing for its workforce.
Kris Nelson, who owns a family of restaurants in Port Townsend, said she’s working two full-time jobs because she can’t hire someone with an entry-level wage of $30,000 annually who would be able to live in the county.
Yet there are success stories.
Siobhan Canty, the executive director of the Jefferson Community Foundation, was able to buy a home under market value because of special owner financing.
“I plan to pay it forward and bring in either a tiny home or a rental on the property,” Canty said.
Emily Ingram, a mortgage lender in Port Townsend who serves as the president of the board for Habitat of Humanity of East Jefferson County, said she can’t help many people who don’t qualify for financial assistance.
“I live and breathe this crisis all day long, every day,” she said.
Ingram said one tool she can use is a 4 percent down-payment program through the state Finance Commission
“It will help someone get into a home, but barely,” she said.
Ingram suggested three options to expand down-payment help — one funded by the business community, another funded by private donations and a third from city and county governments combined.
“If each of those pools of money can give 5 percent down, now they’ve got 20 percent down [on their loan amount], and now they can afford to live here,” she said.
Amanda Funaro, who serves on the joint oversight board for the city-county Affordable Housing and Homelessness Task Force, suggested small businesses that use invoices for customers’ payments should consider including a line that asks for a contribution to a community housing fund that would be managed by the Jefferson Community Foundation.
Meanwhile, Gonzalez-Berg wants to continue meeting with community groups, churches and nonprofit organizations. She has met with between 250-300 so far, she said.
“By spreading the word in this manner, the ideas are continuing to percolate with groups of people, and actions are starting to take shape,” Gonzalez-Berg said.
Jefferson County Managing Editor Brian McLean can be reached at 360-385-2335, ext. 6, or at [email protected].