BI Planning Commission happy with HAP

They’re happy with HAP.

The Bainbridge Island Planning Commission heard a presentation on the updated BI Housing Action Plan recently.

After hearing their discussion, planning director Patty Charnas said sounds like there are “not a lot of loose ends.”

Also at the meeting, the commission named Yesh Subramanian, Ariel Birtley and Sean Sullivan to the steering committee for the Comprehensive and Winslow Subarea plans.

Commissioner Sarah Blossom repeated a handful of times just how “critical” affordable housing is. She said housing prices have skyrocketed the past five years.

People can “barely get a house now.” We need to explain to the public “how important it is to have families and children on the island.”

She said it’s also important to, “Paint a picture of how it affects small businesses. They feel it the most. They can’t find employees.

“Worker housing is critical,” she said, adding it’s so important for jobs like teachers and service workers to live here.

Blossom said the only way to improve diversity on BI is to have affordable housing. City surplus land could be used for that. Cottage housing needs to be more prominent. The housing trust fund needs to grow. And middle-income housing also is critical, she added.

There were some suggestions regarding HAP, such as researching environmental questions that likely will come at upcoming public hearings to make the process go smoother.

Subramanian also suggested more details, such as how many people commute to BI because of high housing costs, rather than other reasons? He also suggested report organizational changes to make it easier to understand for the public, and also to update the report as changes take place.

Also needed is better data on housing already available.

Commission chair Ashley Mathews said there are more options than are in the report. She mentioned liveaboards on docked boats, something that was tried before, but didn’t work well. She also researched that 20 years ago the average home price was $500,000, but now it’s more than $1 million more than that.

Also mentioned was the possibility of converting garages to housing or even homes with an extra room could provide affordable places to live without building new structures.

Blossom asked if the city could do anything for those who spend so much on housing that other bills go unpaid.

Senior planner Jennifer Sutton said the city has a Human Service Funding Award and a Housing Trust Fund that can help.

The commission allowed former city councilmember and affordable housing advocate Ron Peltier to speak.

“It used to be everybody who worked here lived here,” he said. “Over time it’s become more exclusive.”

Petlier said there are other options for affordable housing that haven’t been tried that aren’t in the report. He mentioned the city purchasing deed restrictions, which Councilmember Leslie Schneider mentioned at a recent meeting. The goal of deed restricted housing is to preserve the long-term affordability of the units, which usually resell below market price, allowing homeownership among low- to moderate-income people and allows them to build equity yet limit the resale price.

Peltier also mentioned increasing the Business and Occupation tax, with the added amount going for affordable housing.

As for the HAP itself, consultant Jennifer Cannon of ECONorthwest explained that it has worked on it for about a year, and public engagement took place followed by a housing needs assessment.

A public hearing is planned for May 25, as a Department of Commerce grant requires City Council approval by June 30. That grant requires a variety of prices for affordable and market housing.

Cannon said BI is losing young people because home ownership is out of reach. She said renting also is challenging, costing more than many can afford. Housing production has slowed, while home costs have increased. More than 50% of people who work on BI can’t afford to live here and commute from off-island.

During the public process, consultants were told people want more housing types, not just for low-income, but for medium income, too. They were told seniors can’t afford to keep their homes due to rising property taxes, and it’s difficult for them to downsize because of the lack of that type of housing. Because of the lack of housing, it is hard for employers to find and retain workers.

Cannon said there is a limit to what cities can do, but they can: provide incentives; policy changes; technical assistance and education; finance support; partnerships; and research.

The six building principles in HAP are: more diverse housing; increased housing for low- and moderate-income people; prevent displacement; support seniors and other populations; increase housing for BI workers; and encourage sustainable development.

There are 30 detailed actions, 23 help middle and lower incomes, connected to the six principles: 10 quick wins, 13 continue work and seven “stretch” longer-taking actions. Action examples include more small houses and converting single-family to multi-family dwellings.

The City Council asked the commission to prioritize the projects and 14 involve policy change, five financial support, five partnerships and the rest would take longer involving city staff. Examples of longer projects include using city land for affordable housing, passing a local affordable housing levy and increasing density in designated centers.

One graphic shows a household earning $51,500 a year could pay $1,290 in rent or mortgage a month; those making $123,000 a year could pay $3,080 a month; and those making $235,800 a year could may $5,900 a month.