Jefferson housing situation ‘serious,’ but no emergency

PORT TOWNSEND — City Council and Jefferson County commissioners stopped short of declaring an affordable housing emergency during a joint meeting Thursday night, but are expected to take action soon as individual bodies.

“I think it would be a very good step to at least acknowledge that we have an emergency,” said City Councilman Brent Butler, a former Jefferson County long range planner, who worked on housing issues.

“Doing so would help with getting better grants,” said Port Townsend Mayor Michelle Sandoval.

David Rymph, Housing Authority of Jefferson County commission president, said that the waiting list for Section 8 housing subsidies is more than 200.

County commissioners David Sullivan, Phil Johnson and John Austin all agreed that Jefferson County has a serious affordable housing shortage.

As a nurse, Sullivan said, “I really look at the housing that we have here as a chronic problem.”

Indeed, housing prices have skyrocketed, increasing 103.9 percent between 2001 and 2006, a primer distributed to the elected leaders states.

In approving an emergency declaration for affordable housing, a city or county has the option of calling for a levy election to ask voters to help finance affordable housing construction.

However, officials with both government entities said Thursday night that they did not favor a levy.

The preferred option is to seek federal housing grants.

Sullivan and others, however, questioned the ability to secure such grants during a highly competitive time for federal dollars.

Deputy Mayor George Randels said that now was the time to approve the declaration and move on to secure funds for affordable housing.

The Port Townsend City Council and Jefferson County commissioners adopted the Housing Action Plan for Port Townsend and Jefferson County in October 2006.

Subsequently, the city and county established the Housing Action Plan Network to monitor performance and facilitate implementation of the action plan.

HAPN brings together representatives of the city and county, housing providers, nonprofit organizations, faith-based entities and city and county residents committed to preserving and expanding the area’s affordable housing stock.

HAPN has met regularly since Feb. 15, 2007.

On April 21, HAPN members voted unanimously to recommend that the city and county adopt an emergency declaration of a lack of affordable housing.

A “Jefferson County Housing Primer,” prepared by the city Planning Department, states that Jefferson County is in a housing crisis, and that it is ranked the third least affordable county in the state, after San Juan and King counties.

Butler said it appears now that Jefferson County has tied with King County as the least affordable county.

The loss of affordable housing means a loss of community diversity, the primer said, and as the housing gap widens, there is less housing for those with service sector jobs.

The Washington Research Council states that the 2004 average media household income is $34,526 in the city and $37,896 in the county.

Single mothers and seniors are hit hardest by the affordable housing shortage, the primer said, with 38 percent of students in the Port Townsend School District eligible for the free and reduced lunch program.

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