Housing topic of Port Townsend forum

City Council candidates to answer questions

Housing Solutions Network director Justine Gonzalez-Berg will moderate Saturday’s housing forum at the Cotton Building in Port Townsend. (Photo courtesy of Justine Gonzalez-Berg)

Housing Solutions Network director Justine Gonzalez-Berg will moderate Saturday’s housing forum at the Cotton Building in Port Townsend. (Photo courtesy of Justine Gonzalez-Berg)

PORT TOWNSEND — Port Townsend’s rental vacancy rate hovers between 0 and 1 percent — while the national average is 7 percent. And if you’re looking to purchase a house here, be ready to compete with buyers prepared to pay far above the asking price. In cash.

Those are a couple of the reasons, said Housing Solutions Network director Justine Gonzalez-Berg, for this Saturday’s event.

The network, along with the six candidates running for Port Townsend City Council, will host a public forum on the city’s housing crisis at 3 p.m. Saturday at the Cotton Building, 607 Water St. Doors will open at 2:30 p.m.; the event will wrap up by 5 p.m.

City residents are encouraged to visit housingsolutionsnetwork.org to submit questions for the candidates by Friday, Gonzalez-Berg noted.

“We encourage people to show up, find a seat, mingle and chat with the candidates,” she said. After she introduces the six running for council, she’ll moderate an hour of questions and answers.

“Then, at the end, we’ll have time for networking,” she said, adding the Housing Solutions Network has invited local housing organizations to set up information tables at the forum.

Representatives from Olympic Community Action Programs, Bayside Housing & Services, Homeward Bound Community Land Trust and Habitat for Humanity are among those invited.

The City Council candidates are:

• Sky Hardesty-Thompson, Tyler Vega and Libby Wennstrom for position 5, the only race in the Aug. 3 primary election.

• Ben Thomas and Cameron Jones for position 1.

• Aislinn Diamanti, who is running unopposed for position 2.

Before taking her current job as interim operations director at the Fort Worden Public Development Authority, Diamanti worked for 3½ years for Bayside, the nonprofit provider of transitional housing.

“At the time, studies showed we were short 400 housing units,” she said.

That was 2016, and “it seemed so solvable.”

Now the market is tighter still; while this is a problem present in communities across the nation, Diamanti hopes Port Townsend can find solutions unique to its own crisis.

Gonzalez-Berg, on staff at the housing network since fall 2019, has watched the gap between the upper class and the working class widen in Port Townsend.

“I’ve witnessed how common it is to scapegoat one type in the community or another as the cause of this problem,” she said.

“What I’ve been learning is how much this issue has many contributing factors, but a core underlying issue is the rampant income inequality,” manifest in large houses — some of them second or third homes — that sit unoccupied part of the year.

“Walk around Uptown Port Townsend at night, and what you’re struck by is how many dark houses there are,” she said.

Since moving to Port Hadlock, Gonzalez-Berg has noticed how many people live in trailers parked in other residents’ driveways.

“People who are living off the grid or in an RV parked by the side of the road: Those are the folks who are serving us,” in restaurants, hotels, schools and healthcare settings.

“We can talk about permitting all day. We can talk about infrastructure all day. But at the end of the day, if land is only accessible for those with large incomes, then changing the permitting system isn’t going to help folks,” she said.

“We can’t solve this problem without acknowledging that.”

________

Jefferson County senior reporter Diane Urbani de la Paz can be reached at 360-417-3509 or [email protected]

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