Finding housing — and then being able to pay for it — has become a worrisome struggle for a growing number of Kitsap County households.
For some, they’ve been pushed off the housing ledge and into the abyss of homelessness.
A South Kitsap man we’ll call Scott is an older man who has worked on and off the past several years in this sluggish economy. He hasn’t been able to find steady employment as a construction worker.
His apartment’s rent of $750 has jumped to nearly $1,000, decimating his budget set-asides for food and transportation. He’ll stay in the unit for another month until he’s out the door, unable to afford rental payments.
With just weeks remaining, Scott says he doesn’t have a clue where he’ll end up next. He admits that becoming homeless is a scary possibility.
Stuart Grogan, executive director of Housing Kitsap, said he’s heard similar stories.
“It’s heartbreaking when you talk to people,” Grogan said. “There are as many reasons for homelessness as there are people who are homeless. Some of it is from poor choices, but some of it is from unlucky circumstances or conditions brought on through no fault of their own. So many are economic in nature.”
As anyone searching for affordable housing in the region can attest, the supply is shrinking, not growing.
Ironically, a growing economy here is to blame. Rising property rates and an increasing number of prospective higher-end tenants are encouraging growth of more expensive apartment units.
Older, affordable homes are being demolished for multi-unit condominium buildings. Low-end apartment buildings are being purchased and renovated into units that are no longer considered affordable for low-income people.
Grogan said he knows of an apartment complex in Renton in which its owners decided they would no longer accept Section 8 rental-assistance vouchers paid for by the federal Housing and Urban Development agency. All of the residents there using the vouchers, which pay for a large chunk of their rent, were essentially evicted in favor of tenants who would pay market rates.
Government agencies have begun to take a closer look at the issue of homelessness. In fact, Kitsap County’s commissioners, led by member Charlotte Garrido, have formed a committee comprised of county social-services officials and city government leaders to address the burgeoning problem.
“The goal of the county and of housing providers in the community is to create housing opportunities so that if people get in trouble for one reason or another, there’s some backup and support so they don’t lose their home to start with or don’t get evicted,” Grogan said.
At a minimum, he said, they’re working to get these people a place where they can be safe while they put their lives back together.