I am a fiscally conservative mayor, so the amount of money needed to bring some true and lasting relief to our housing crisis is rather modest.
First, let’s define the problem. Most of us think affordable housing is for “poor people.” But the current median sales price of a home in Poulsbo is $357,000 and it is not uncommon to find apartments renting for more than $1,200 per month. Is Poulsbo affordable? It depends on your income. For many, we are no longer a place of affordable housing, especially for three categories of people: the homeless who need shelter; the chronically disabled or elderly; and families who are priced out of the market.
Let’s start with the first group, those most in need: the homeless. I am currently speaking with fellow elected officials to encourage them to do what we will do in Poulsbo — build a small shelter, one of a “cluster” around the county. Build small shelters, in each jurisdiction, easy to manage and closer to the problems of each community. Each community shares the responsibility of providing shelter. I am estimating a cost of about $800,000 for the shelter in Poulsbo and ongoing operational costs of about $200,000 annually to manage it.
The next group: Those who need long-term support. The disabled. The elderly. Housing Kitsap has a couple of facilities here in Poulsbo that serve this group well, but we need more. There are two apartment projects in the works: 100 units at Olhava, next to Olympic College, that will be 50 percent market rate and 50 percent low-income, plus another 70 units on Viking Avenue. But those projects are several years away, so in the meantime, Poulsbo will be granting occupancy permits to larger homes that can be converted into boarding houses, each with live-in managers. This is a low-cost solution, and I’ve already identified five homes that could be converted. I’m looking for more.
The apartment buildings and boarding houses would require private investors to help facilitate their construction. For the entire county, $2 million annually would be adequate seed capital to incentivize development of apartments and boarding house conversion.
The third group that needs our help is those that have been priced out of our housing market. These are many of the people you see daily — the barista, the waitress, the retail clerk, the auto mechanic. They are often our grown children, starting out in life.
This is a lack-of-supply problem. When supply is low, landlords can demand higher rents. Increase supply, and the rents go down. We need more apartments and modest-home construction. Housing construction of any kind virtually stopped in 2009. We’re catching up now. I’ve been working with developers who are interested in building affordable housing. This is my role as mayor of Poulsbo, to work within the laws, regulations, and processes, but to also facilitate private businesses who can work with us to solve our problems.
Everyone needs a warm, dry place to sleep at night. Ultimately, it’s what we all want. So for a modest investment, there are housing solutions available. We just need the political will to accomplish them, and yes, a little more money. Just 1/10 of 1 percent throughout the county would provide sustainable funding for shelter and affordable housing construction — not $11 million like the fast ferries, but $4 million for our vulnerable residents of Kitsap County.