Jefferson commissioners weigh tax for affordable housing projects

Hearing slated for Dec. 14

PORT TOWNSEND — Jefferson County commissioners are considering a one-tenth of 1 percent sales and use tax to fund the creation of six to 10 affordable housing units a year.

They will conduct a hearing on Dec. 14 on the proposal, which would add some $600,000 annually for housing projects.

The new tax would cost an additional $1 for every $1,000 purchase, said Philip Morley, county administrator, on Monday.

“If you can afford a $1,000 purchase, another dollar is not much of a difference,” said Kate Dean, District 1 commissioner.

Through conversations with personnel from Olympic Community Action Programs (OlyCAP), Bayside Housing, Dove House, Habitat for Humanity for East Jefferson County and Peninsula Housing Authority, a strategy has been formed to create six to 10 affordable housing units annually if the tax is approved, Morley said.

The state Legislature approved the new tax as a option for counties and cities.

The sales and use tax for affordable housing originally required voter approval, but under House Bill 1590, which was signed into law by Gov. Jay Inslee in March, the revenue source can be approved by the local legislative body by a simple majority vote, Morley said.

Commissioners will conduct the hearing at 1:30 p.m. Dec. 14 and consider approval afterward.

During Monday’s meeting, the commissioners directed county staff to begin writing the framework of the implementation policy in case it is approved.

The full proposal and Monday’s meeting can be viewed at tinyurl.com/PDN-BOCCnewtax. To submit a comment regarding the new code, email [email protected].

Jefferson County has been in a declared affordable housing crisis since 2017, and it has not improved since then, Morley said.

A large problem that was highlighted through conversations among county staff, Port Townsend city staff and housing providers was the need for affordable housing for people who are currently in transitional or shelter housing to be able to move forward, Morley said.

“There’s absolutely no inventory here for entry-level housing,” he said.

At least 60 percent of the revenue generated by the tax must go toward constructing affordable housing and facilities providing housing services; constructing mental or behavioral health-related facilities; funding the operations and maintenance costs of new units of affordable housing and facilities where housing-related programs are provided; or newly constructed evaluation and treatment centers, according to commission documents.

The services listed must serve people at or below 60 percent of the county median income who are either veterans, have a mental illness, are families with children who are homeless or at risk of being homeless, are an unaccompanied homeless youth or young adults, are persons with a disability or are domestic violence survivors, the documents said.

District 2 Commissioner David Sullivan acknowledged that the county isn’t required to have a public hearing before taking action, but he appreciates it being done in light of the COVID-19 pandemic and the drop in participation from the public during public meetings.

“I think it’s important for us to go ahead and have a hearing, regardless of whether it’s required or not, to listen to the public,” Sullivan said. “I’m confident that we can work through this and get the most bang for our buck that we can.”

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Jefferson County Reporter Zach Jablonski can be reached at [email protected].

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