More college students are coming. Where they’ll live is the question

POULSBO — Poulsbo will soon need more student housing. Lots more, if Western Washington University has its way.

WWU discussed its plans to increase its outreach efforts in order to attract more students to its Poulsbo campus at a recent meeting with the city, said Poulsbo City Council member Ed Stern.

“Our staff and faculty have increased in the past six months,” said Candice Merrill, director of Western Washington University on the Peninsulas. “We’ll be adding more this summer. Our plan is to reach out to high school students over a broad geographical area on the Kitsap and Olympic peninsulas from Aberdeen to Forks to Port Angeles and Sequim, to Port Townsend and down into Thurston County.”

So why would students want to come to a physical campus rather than study online? Merrill said some topics need a campus, such as WWU’s Poulsbo four-year degree programs on the environment and cybersecurity.

So, if all goes as planned, local housing will be needed for the students who are coming from outside of a reasonable driving distance.

“They’re going to need housing and our job is going to be to help them find it,” Merrill said.

And the City of Poulsbo has a commitment to help, Stern said. Chapter 9 of the city’s Comprehensive Plan calls for encouraging “expansion of the OC/WWU presence in Poulsbo and the ‘college town’ distinction [by supporting] provisions of dorms/student housing.”

So, where will this influx of young people stay while they’re going to school in Poulsbo?

In a May 24 memo to the City Council’s Economic Development Committee on the subject of student housing, the Planning and Economic Development Department reviewed the three solutions that exist or are in the planning stage: room rentals/boarding houses, accessory dwelling units, and a dormitory.

Room rentals/boarding houses

“This is a win-win,” Stern said. “The student gets an affordable place to live and the homeowner gets some extra cash to help with the monthly bills.”

Under city regulations, “a group of not more than six persons not related by blood or marriage” can share a household. No licenses or permits are required.

“Government alone cannot solve the affordable housing crisis,” said Stern, who sees renting rooms as the most desirable solution to the potential student housing shortage, if not the larger problem of the general lack of affordable housing in the area. “I am really into nongovernmental solutions because they are not subject to a budget, a vote or a political process. [Renting rooms] is a free-market, private-sector solution. I salute that, encourage that.”

This might involve a rental website that would help bring screened students and landlords together. WWU already has a website for its Bellingham campus that provides off-campus student housing connections to rentals, Merrill said. A similar site is being considered for the Poulsbo campus.

How to get on the Poulsbo rental list

Homeowners interested in renting to pre-approved students should email Western.Peninsulas@wwu.edu. Put “Rental Available” in the subject line and provide your name, email address and phone number. You will be contacted with more details.

Other solutions cost more, take longer

Other possible solutions suggested by the Planning and Economic Development Department are accessory dwelling units and a dormitory — both of which are more costly, involve more government regulations and permits and could require years to complete.

Accessory dwelling units, or ADUs, are smaller dwelling units built on the lots of existing homes.

At present, there is no dormitory on the Olympic/WWU campus, nor any immediate plans to build one (although it is permitted in city regulations). However, Stern has suggested using the affordable housing apartment units in the proposed Housing Kitsap Olhava development near Olympic College for student housing. This would not be a traditional dormitory with resident advisers and such, Merrill explained. Rather, it would be treated as off-campus housing. The downside is that students would be competing with other Poulsbo residents for the scarce affordable housing units.

— Terryl Asla is a reporter for Kitsap News Group. He can be reached at tasla@soundpublishing.com.

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