Local housing survey looks to the future

If you follow the affordable housing crisis locally, in Seattle or beyond, then you know there are all sorts of theories about what works, and the best approach often varies from locale to locale, and that best approach is often not just one approach but a multi-tiered response.

Whether you believe the solution is in safe park situations, portable prefabs, new construction of permanent supportive housing, nonprofit staffing agencies, defocusing transitional housing and programs in favor of rapid rehousing prior to other services, or all of the above, most of the solutions we hear about are designed for urban areas.

An affordable housing survey driven by local volunteers and local needs closed Jan. 31. Onsite at ShareNet, Kitsap Affordable Housing Working Group (KAHWG) volunteers Rae Holt and Charmaine Doherty braved the elements on many open food bank days to hand out surveys and encourage participation, with great results. The survey was available online and at multiple sites throughout the community.

The germ of the survey originated in a request from Kingston port commissioner Mary McClure to Kingston Care members Jane and Stan Mack and Mary Gleysteen to meet to discuss what could be done to improve our community. They agreed affordable housing was a need which could only grow amid factors like the fast ferry and increasing development.

This core, aided by Village Green board member Dave Wetter, Kitsap County’s Housing and Homelessness program coordinator Kirsten Jewell, county commissioner Robert Gelder, and Kingston Citizens Advisory Council’s Chris Gilbreath, educated themselves on ways they might influence local solutions.

Kingston Cares president Stan Mack felt their first challenge was the lack of geographically specific data. They had access to county data, but little of it was specific to the north end. Ruth Westergaard, also of Kingston Cares and KAHWG, stated, “We didn’t have a clear enough picture of who in unincorporated North Kitsap needed affordable housing and what kind of housing they felt would work best for them.”

February 2018’s Community Conversation increased participation in the survey effort (the second annual Community Conversation will be held March 16 at Village Green). Looking at survey models and elements they’d like to incorporate, KAHWG located a survey they liked in the Methow Valley Long-Term Recovery report (after that region’s experience with 2014 wildfires) and also reviewed the Bainbridge Island Affordable Housing survey.

The Kingston-based effort surveyed location of residence, longevity there, how many times residence changed, job status, age, income and benefits, housing situation and conditions, estimate of monthly payments toward housing and associated bills, cost increases, housing loss risk, and transportation.

Surveyors knew they needed a good sampling of local residents, and located surveys in a community center in each of the north end’s connected towns, and included community meal patrons and ShareNet clients, many of whom either struggle to pay for housing amid an increasingly expensive environment, or struggle with having shelter at all.

Westergaard spearheaded survey distribution, marketing, collection, and is tasked with processing the newly gathered data. As Westergaard inputs survey response, she’s seen: “A broad range of situations; some are without homes and desperately looking, some have comfortable homes and good incomes; some are getting by but just barely. Many have expressed appreciation we’re asking these questions.”

When results from the over 300 surveys completed are processed, the group will share results with local media, community organizations, and participants who opted to receive them in one of the survey questions. After the results are in, the group will identify its next steps.

“Simultaneous with developing and launching the survey,” Westergaard says, “we’ve been meeting with representatives from a variety of affordable housing models having success in other communities. Survey results will provide us with local detailed context with which to consider how those models might work in Kingston and vicinity.”

KCAC’s Gilbreath added, “A remarkably large number of methods have been utilized in many locations to deal with housing issues. Hopefully our survey will shed some light on the directions we need to take locally. It might also help us access greater resources to support our efforts.”

Anyone who is interested in working on affordable housing in our community can contact Westergaard at ruthkcac@gmail.com.