Affordable Housing and Yes For Homes

In the SJ Update mailbag this morning we have this letter from Steve Ulvi regarding affordable housing and Yes For Homes…

The Yes for Homes Coalition of San Juan County is a grassroot, volunteer, non-partisan, county-wide group of affordable housing advocates laser-focused on passing this Home Fund initiative on November 6th.

This proposed Home Fund is a carefully constructed government intervention after years of broad public outcry that continued affordable housing inertia is unacceptable. This is an affirmative push toward achieving the greatest good for the greatest number of people. We like to say that this half-percent Real Estate Excise Tax (REET) “harnesses the problem in order to fund the solution”.

Call it our ace in the hole, this REET, this excise tax for housing. A custom tool in our toolbox that other counties can only envy. Communities beyond counting are flailing. But over 790 communities nation-wide are today employing similar Housing Trust Fund models using local revenue sources to overcome these community-crippling housing trends.

However, there is an interesting delusion at play here. That is that we all have a fair chance to live a version of the dream on these islands. That notion of the Island Dream contrasts sharply with the reality we know through hundreds of housing-related conversations with young adults, long-time island residents and business owners. And decades of powerful letters to the editor.

Our island communities are not equitable. Nor particularly stable. Nor economically efficient. Especially if you happen to be one of the hundreds of lower income people or seniors or folks with special needs, trying to settle into life here. Literally standing at the bottom of a narrow stairway looking up at the island version of the American Dream; the social construct of a bright outcome promised by building skills, steady hard work, living within your means and building equity. All the while these workers crowded at the bottom steps provide essential services to those standing above. Our chronic lack of affordable housing stock is literally like having several consecutive lower stairway steps rotted out or missing entirely.

Thankfully there has been some non-profit housing success. In addition to the notable success of housing non-profits on Orcas and Lopez Islands, we on San Juan enjoy about 40 permanently affordable homes created by the Community Home Trust and well over 100 mostly market-value homes built with admirable sweat equity and USDA funds by Homes for Islanders. But these efforts have only marginally slowed our functional housing slide. How many times have you heard lately “Islanders either have 3 homes or 3 jobs” and in the summer the woes of the stressful domino effect of the “Island housing shuffle”?

Well then, just what are some of the community benefits might we expect from the Home Fund?

It should be possible for working people to afford a home and still have money left over for food, transportation and child care.

We believe that the many individual successes and varied community-scale benefits over time, will nurture stable families that work hard to advance in life and gain home equity, who enroll their kids in our good schools, spend locally, start small businesses, and yes join us in paying property taxes.

Children deserve a chance to succeed in school and in life, which all begins with their families being able to afford a decent place to live.

Studies and common-sense show that kids that are raised in stable homes are better able to learn in the classroom and are more likely to succeed as adults. More young families in more affordable housing with hundreds of kids enrolling in our schools, means many more federal and state educational dollars as well as an expanding need for more teachers, custodians and administrators. And the wonderful energy of boisterous youth on the pitch or courts or mats, in plays and musicals, on the sidewalks and yes, talking too much in our library.

Everyone should have the opportunity to live in a safe, healthy, affordable house.

Fully half of our residents today could be eligible to seek a home within a wider range of realistic rents and mortgages over time with this affordable housing build-out. This particular tax initiative raises the ceiling for housing subsidies for moderate income families to 115% of Area Median Income. And unlike any other form of taxation does not harm seniors and those with special needs living on fixed incomes, nor the vast majority of us who rarely buy or sell real estate.

It is better for society, the environment, the economy and families if people can afford to live on the island where they work.

Talk about a jobs stimulus package playing out over 12 years or more! Dampening the unpredictable little economic downturns, the annual dependence on volatile sales tax revenue and winter cashflow doldrums. Imagine the skilled tradespeople and laborers necessary for as many as 400 affordable county-wide households by 2030. Small service businesses, perhaps even tech start-ups, will be able to recruit and hire from a much larger pool of local talent, keeping wages competitive and circulating in our own communities.

This can lessen the chronic labor short-fall in business, services and construction trades. Especially in the summer. Have you tried to get an electrician or dry-waller or landscaper, or especially a plumber on short notice for a problem at home? It is simply ludicrous!

Sadly, once abundant natural resources like timber and fish are all but gone as island-based economic sectors. But local small agriculture and ranching can increase markedly if inflated land prices and especially the severe lack of affordable housing for young farmers and interns can be overcome.

We all benefit from remarkable levels of volunteerism. Yes, retirees tend to have time to re-invest in our collective well-being but so do energetic working people who can count on the stability of reasonable housing costs. Think of your neighbors: volunteer fire fighters, EMTs, trail builders, oil spill responders, care-givers and the like who perform these important duties best as younger and more physically fit members of our communities.

Then there are the unmeasurable benefits of multi-generational families living here. Our kids, and their kids in turn, will have a realistic opportunity to stay here, or return here to settle in, and be close, and give back to us all. Family has always been the essential glue of small communities like ours.

We all hope to live out our last days in the community where our families and friends can be close.

Our aging demographic calls for proportional levels of skilled home care but those remarkable people do not make enough in wages to find affordable rent…. let alone a home here. This sad situation is exacerbated to the breaking point by the recent closure of our Life Care Center.

We can redirect the recent and unusual trend of several businesses here using their own land and funds to provide critical worker housing rather than using those funds to diversify, pay higher wages and grow their businesses.

Creation of homes restricted to long term affordability for targeted income brackets means property management responsibilities, just like with our existing non-profit land trusts providing homes today. So for every few units or buildings or trailers or small houses will be more jobs to manage, repair, clean and landscape over the coming decades.

We all NEED the people who need affordable housing! Every one of us.

By subsidizing and stimulating the private sector to create hundreds of affordable homes and apartment units, we will all enjoy a more diverse, vibrant and interesting place to live. We know that some “pass it forward” kind of magic happens when everyone who contributes to a community, feels the caring embrace and respect from neighbors.

We can, we must learn from the past. We can redirect the arc of our County’s recent history; not shying from inevitable growth, but insisting on wise growth with a focus on a stronger middle class. This creation of diverse housing will support greater economic diversity, family stability, balanced age demographics, and community resilience well beyond what we currently enjoy.

As in so many convoluted modern issues…. “Our future will not be determined by chance. It will be determined by choice” reminds scientist David Suzuki.

This Home Fund proposition is the essence of community self-determination.  Exactly the right thing, at the right time, for all the right reasons. Please join us and VOTE YES FOR THE HOME FUND ON NOV. 6!!

Posted on September 13, 2018 at 5:43 am by

Categories: Letters, People, Real Estate
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