CHIMACUM — Proponents of Proposition 1, which would tax property owners for seven years to raise money for affordable housing projects, say that funds are critical to ensuring Jefferson County residents have places to live, while opponents say housing can be provided in other ways.
“I have seen time and time again housing providers pass up affordable housing projects because they didn’t have the matching funds,” said David Rymph, a longtime affordable housing advocate in Jefferson and Clallam counties, at a meeting hosted by Homes Now in Chimacum on Monday.
Opponents of the proposition said loosening zoning restrictions and streamlining the county’s permitting process would make more housing available.
“It’s another way to do it, and that’s the way it should be done,” said Gene Farr of the Jefferson County GOP on Monday.
That idea was echoed by at least three other community members at Monday’s meeting.
Proponents for and against Proposition 1 are planning to host a number of community meetings and at least one debate on the ballot measure running up to the Nov. 7 general election.
Homes Now, the citizen group behind Prop 1, has hosted community meetings around the county.
In late September in Brinnon and then again Monday at the Tri-Area Community Center, members of Homes Now and supporters of Prop 1 presented information to community members and answered questions about the proposition.
Homes Now has three more community meetings planned.
The next one is at 7 p.m. Oct. 11 at the Port Townsend Community Center, 620 Tyler St.
That will be followed by a meeting on Marrrowstone Island on Oct. 12 and a final meeting on Oct. 17 at the Quilcene Community Center. A full schedule is also available at www.homesnow jefferson.org.
Opponents to Prop 1 have so far attended all of these community meetings. They include Farr and Jim Scarantino, both representing the Jefferson County GOP.
Scarantino also will debate Prop 1 with Bruce Cowan of Homes Now at 5 p.m. Monday at the Bay Club, 121 Spinnaker Lane, in Port Ludlow.
This last Monday, Rymph and Aislinn Palmer of Bayside Housing and Services explained Prop 1 and their support for it to roughly a dozen community members gathered in Chimacum.
Prop 1 is a proposed seven-year property tax levy of 36 cents per $1,000 assessed value which, if passed, would fund the Home Opportunity Fund, a dedicated fund for projects that would build or maintain affordable housing options in Jefferson County.
In its seven-year term, the levy is expected to raise $1.8 million per year, or between $13 million to $13.9 million total, according to Homes Now.
The idea is to use the fund to provide local organizations with the matching funds needed to leverage grants from state and federal agencies. Organizations would have to apply with the Home Opportunity Fund Board, which would be made up of nine citizens with a variety of backgrounds appointed by the Jefferson County Commissioners.
The ballot measure is based on propositions passed in Bellingham and Vancouver. Bellingham passed its tax levy in 2012 with 56 percent of the vote and has since seen 400 new affordable housing units built and 300 preserved, according to Rymph. Vancouver passed its levy in 2016 with 57 percent of the vote.
If voters approve the measure, Jefferson County would be the first county to attempt a plan like this, but according to Palmer, similar proposals have been discussed in at least two other Washington counties.
Proponents of the proposition said it is just one way to tackle the lack of affordable housing in Jefferson County where two out of three renters are cost burdened and a vacancy rate of 1 percent has caused a huge demand for housing, according to Homes Now.
Under the proposed plan, two-thirds of the fund would go to low-income housing, with the other 12 cents going to very low-income housing, according to Homes Now.
According to U.S. Housing and Urban Development, low-income is defined as making 80 percent or less of an area’s median income. Very low-income is defined as those making 50 percent or less of the area median income.
Based on the 2014 Census, which says the median household income for Port Townsend is $47,202 per year, in Jefferson County, a one-person household with an income of $22,550 is considered very low-income and a single person making $36,050 per year would qualify as low-income.
“Those look like pretty good hourly wages for this area and those are the people who work good jobs in the community but still struggle to find housing,” Palmer said.
Palmer added that very-low income and transitional housing providers like Bayside have struggled to find affordable housing to place people in once they are ready to move from transitional housing.
“Bayside housing has placed 15 people in permanent housing but had now run out of permanent housing to place people in,” said Palmer.
Scarantino said the Jefferson GOP opposes the proposition because the tax would hurt the low-income renters and home owners the Home Opportunity Fund aims to help.
“They haven’t bothered to answer the question on how many people this would hurt,” Scarantino said.
In its presentation, Homes Now specified that for the average homeowner in Jefferson County, with a home assessed at $227,000, the tax increase would be $99.72 per year or $8.33 per month.
“If that’s hard for you then take care of yourself first,” Rymph said, “but if you can find it in your heart to give back a little we could use your vote on this.”
Palmer also presented a slide showing the estimated rent increases that could be passed on to renters should the bill pass. Across the county the estimated increases were estimated at $1.50 to $5 per month.
Scarantino said instead a better option for helping affordable housing would be to finish the sewer project that has stalled in Port Hadlock-Irondale, which would increase sewer capacity to something that could handle multi-family apartments.
“If we could do that we could be well on our way to what could actually be a solution,” Scarantino said.
Cowan and Rymph disagreed.
“There are people who think building a sewer will solve affordable housing but market value housing, even multi-family housing, would be out of reach of those low income families the Home Opportunity Fund targets,” Cowan said.
Proponents of the fund like Palmer and Cowan, said it is not going to fix the affordable housing crisis that has become an issue for communities across western Washington.
“This doesn’t solve the housing crisis but it’s a piece of it,” Palmer said.
“We can have all the ideas in the world but we need the money.”