SEQUIM — Economic development, health and human services and housing were the main issues Sequim City Council members discussed with Clallam County commissioners in a joint work session last month that precedes a similar session set between county commissioners and Port Angeles City Council members on Monday.
“If we don’t think regional, we’re gonna miss a boat,” Sequim Mayor Tom Ferrell said on March 27.
Port Angeles council members will meet with county commissioners from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Monday in council chambers at 321 E. Fifth St.
Housing was the main topic for council members and commissioners with council member William Armacost asking about “the elephant in the room,” the question being why the county hasn’t created more workforce housing.
“There’s a shortage of housing whether in Forks, Sequim … or the county, it doesn’t matter,” county Commissioner Randy Johnson said earlier in the meeting. “We’re short housing everywhere.”
Asked about use of SHB 1406 and HB 1590 tax dollars, county Commissioner Mark Ozias said the Housing Solutions Committee of elected officials, agency leaders and community members “wanted to take time to be careful and thoughtful” with projects and efforts, so that “we are able to address all kinds of housing with a variety of different strategies.”
Timothy Dalton, Clallam’s housing and grant resource director, said the county has a deficit of 6,000 homes. Since 2010, 2,000 homes have been built, with few of those being workforce homes.
“It’s a chicken-and-egg situation; you need houses for jobs and jobs for houses,” Dalton said.
Multiple funding sources are necessary for successful housing projects, he said.
County Commissioner Mike French said the county’s cheapest units have been under-built — a difficult thing to adjust.
“The market doesn’t want to build those cheap housing units … if we want (health and human services system) to work, they need other places for people to be discharged into,” he said.
French later added that he wants housing options “for all our neighbors” and that everyone benefits when all income levels have access to homes.
Ferrell said he feels the city is ready to use its SHB 1406 revenues (about $79,000) to support people, either in Sequim or regionally.
Johnson said HB 1590 — a one-tenth of 1 percent sales tax for affordable housing — generates about $1.2 million a year in the county, which could fund a smaller development. Or, officials could put it toward a bond to build a larger project.
“We want to get the most homes possible with the funds we have available,” he said.
Ozias urged city members on county advisory boards to make Sequim’s needs known as an RFP process is developed for funding requests.
French also encouraged the city to reach out to Clallam County Fire District 3 to see if it’d be possible to replicate Port Angeles Fire Department’s Community Paramedic Program, which he found to be one of the most impactful partnerships when he served on the Port Angeles City Council.
“I’m sure they deal a lot with behavioral health, and they might have thoughts and ideas,” he said.
Ozias also commended the city for helping start and supporting the Sequim Health and Housing Collaborative.
French said when affordable housing is ready to be built, it should be in cities. Elected officials should look at zoning and clearing red tape, he added.
“We would love to be an asset and a help in any way we can,” he said. “How do we set the rules up so this can happen?”
French urged the public to provide input as the county reviews its comprehensive plan.
Council member Vicki Lowe said housing and growth management policies haven’t allowed for the right kind of housing mix.
“For every development we have, we need to have the right amount of workforce housing,” she said.
Lowe added that she wants to have services in Sequim for those without shelter so that they can stay in town rather than live in Port Angeles and be contributing members of the community.
County commissioners and staff also briefly touched on some initiatives, including a five-year plan for Clallam’s economic development from Clallam Economic Development Council, the Innovation Cluster Accelerator Program (ICAP) for using local natural resources more for innovative industry, and the RECOMPETE Act (Rebuilding Economies and Creating Opportunities for More People To Excel Act) that tentatively would provide funding to help areas retain workforces.
“I was excited when I heard about [RECOMPETE, but] I don’t know if we’re going to get it,” Johnson said.
“It’s an opportunity to change the landscape of the jobs here,” he said.
Johnson prefaced that by saying it’ll take multiple agencies and businesses working together to make it work.
“We know people are commuting here to manufacture boats, coming from Silverdale, and that doesn’t make a lot of sense,” he said.
In follow-up emails, Ozias said his main takeaway is that it’s important “we work closely together and be intentional about communicating with each other on a variety of key topics: housing, behavioral health, homelessness, economic development, energy resilience … the list goes on.”
Sequim City Manager Matt Huish echoed the sentiment via email, saying they “need to continue with additional follow-up meetings and ongoing conversations.” He added that it was nice that the city was represented on county advisory boards and commissions.
Matthew Nash is a reporter with the Olympic Peninsula News Group, which is composed of Sound Publishing newspapers Peninsula Daily News, Sequim Gazette and Forks Forum. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.