Commissioners consider sales and use tax

The 1/10th of 1% tax would fund affordable housing in the county

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PORT ORCHARD — In an attempt to address the housing crisis in Kitsap County, the county’s Board of Commissioners is considering a 1/10th of 1% sales and use tax that would fund efforts to create affordable housing.

“We know the outrageous numbers of people who have no housing or who are on the edge of having no housing,” Charlotte Garrido, Kitsap County District 2 commissioner, said. Because of this, creating different options for people across a range of incomes and neighborhoods is important to Garrido.

To her, the tax is a “no-brainer.”

District 1 Commissioner Rob Gelder agreed that now is the time.

“[We don’t have] a definite and a specific funding source that can help leverage other dollars to bend the curve on that need for affordable housing in our community,” Gelder said.

The tax in consideration would do this. While commissioners spoke positively of the tax’s potential, Gelder said they are still determining if it would be the best step for the county to undertake.

He said the commissioners want to do their due diligence by convening stakeholders and seeking input on how the funding generated by the tax would be spent.

Meanwhile, the crisis for affordable housing continues to build in the county.

A report commissioned by the City of Bremerton and Kitsap County Human Services for 2013-2017 found that the county “had a shortage of almost 5,800 units of rental housing affordable to its extremely low-income renter households (those earning less than 30% of the median family income, or about $23,135 for a family of four).” Other key findings from the report found that the county will need 25,150 new housing units by 2036.

“We need as much affordable housing as we can possibly get in the county,” said Kirsten Jewell, manager of Kitsap County’s Housing and Homelessness division of Human Services. “We have a real shortage here.”

Garrido said the county has struggled for some time with how to fund affordable housing, and this tax’s purpose would be one way to address it.

If approved by commissioners, the tax would bring in an estimated $5.6 million to the county each year, Jewell said.

Jewell explained that funding from this tax would most likely be used to leverage additional funding. When applying for state and federal funding, Jewell said that having a source of local funding is often a requirement.

Jewell said the county is now in the exploring phase of working with this tax, doing research into allowable uses.

Ultimately, she said the decision on how the money would be spent is up to the commissioners.

Since the tax would be collected countywide, Gelder said he wants a plan to ensure services will be provided equitably across Kitsap County before the Board of Commissioners votes on whether or not to approve it.

Gelder said he wants a structure and plan to be put in place before it is shared with the community. The commissioner said doing so would bring accountability for how the county is addressing the affordable housing crisis.

In considering how the money would be spent, Garrido said she wants to consider diverse solutions, which could include using different building structures and living arrangements to best accommodate the needs of the community. Garrido suggested scheduling public forums as a means to get feedback from the community, a suggestion also shared by Gelder.

“If we had these kinds of conversations, we may actually create something that doesn’t exist today or perfect something that would surprise us,” Garrido said.

Since the Housing and Homelessnees division of Human Services doesn’t provide direct services, Jewell said, “We are fortunate to have a lot of really amazing nonprofit partners in the community that we would grant funding to for the provision of affordable housing.”

Tim Blair, pastor at Ekklesia Church in Port Orchard who runs the nonprofit Project Share, said he doesn’t know the best way to spend the money raised by the tax, but said there is a whole list of needs, from building tiny homes to providing rental assistance.

Project Share provides assistance to those “slipping through the cracks,” according to the organization’s Facebook page.

Blair suggested funding also be allocated to rental assistance programs or helping organizations such as Homes of Compassion lease homes for individuals to rent rooms.

Operationally, Gelder said there would likely be an application process to receive project funding. Jewell said the recommendations in the study from Bremerton and the county will serve as guidance when planning for how the funds will be used.

Gelder said there is no timeline right now for the potential adoption of the tax. He hopes, however, that the board could make a decision by the end of the year and have a plan in place for how to spend the collected funds.

As with any new tax, questions over how it will impact taxpayers’ pocketbooks will arise. Jewell said the Working Families Tax Credit legislation just passed by the state Legislature will help alleviate any extra cost arising from the tax. This tax credit would take effect in 2023.

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