On the Puget Sound Regional Council’s Housing Strategy

All of Bainbridge Island’s long-range planning efforts, culminating in the update of our Comprehensive Plan, are taking place in a regional context. Counties and other cities are also involved in Comp Plan updates, and some are developing, or have already completed, plans for housing and transportation.

The Puget Sound Regional Council in Seattle serves as a resource for planning professionals, elected and appointed public officials, and citizens. The PSRC carries much of the responsibility for implementing the state Growth Management Act, as modified from time to time by the legislature and the Department of Commerce. The BI City Council meeting Feb. 21 included a presentation by Paul Inghram, Growth Management director at PSRC. He explained the PSRC’s Housing Strategy, which is an aspect of VISION 2050, a long-range planning document for our region (Kitsap, Pierce, King and Snohomish counties).

I am a participant in PSRC’s Growth Management Policy Board meetings, and I think this presentation came at an opportune time, as we anticipate completion of the Housing Action Plan and as community engagement for the Winslow Subarea Plan gets underway. The Regional Housing Strategy might appear to be a big-city vision that should not be imposed on BI. But PSRC’s data-gathering has paid close attention to ways in which each of the four counties is distinct. They all enjoy autonomy in setting goals and making plans. The plans made by cities have to be consistent with county policies, but the PSRC supports planning that is suited to place-specific conditions.

Inghram offered a forecast of regional growth in population and jobs between 2020 and 2050: 1.6 million people and 1.1 million jobs. He said that in the past housing shortages were an issue, but now the problems are pervasive. The jobs-housing balance is a key regionally, and it is for BI. Our Comp sought better balance, but I don’t think we’ve made much progress since 2016. Between 2020 and 2050, the region needs 800,000 additional housing units. Kitsap’s share is 43,000 units. BI’s share remains to be determined at the county level; our Housing Needs Assessment, which I find persuasive, specifies 2,672 new units by 2044. That’s only 6.2 percent of the county’s share.

How many of those new homes will be created by the real estate industry for sale or rent at market rates, and how many will be built and reserved for affordable housing is undetermined. In the past, market forces and the profit motive have been determinants of almost all of the housing that gets built. Building anything on BI involves confronting many obstacles that increase risks and raise prices: the scarcity and high price of buildable land, environmental constraints, the absurdities of the permitting process, and costs of materials and labor.

No doubt we will always fall short of goals for affordable housing, but that shouldn’t mean we don’t try to meet them.

During the discussion after Inghram’s presentation, attention was given to percentages of households by income level. “Over one-third of new units should be affordable to moderate- and lower-income households to meet future affordability needs.” Conventionally, household income categories are defined with reference to median income. For Kitsap in 2020, the median was $78,969. For Bainbridge Island, it was $125,861.

Of course, affordable housing is a need in all of Kitsap, but medium-income folks even have a hard time finding housing on BI. With few exceptions, they are earning too much to qualify for housing administered by Housing Resources Bainbridge, and nobody that I know of on Bainbridge is building, selling or renting housing with this income group in mind.

The main point is that if we accept the long-range planning done by the PSRC, by Kitsap, and in our own Housing Needs Assessment, more than 50 percent of the housing units we will need in the next 20 years won’t be produced without some involvement of local government — developing policies and regulations, engaging in partnerships, and leveraging funding from various sources.

Near the end of his remarks, Inghram introduced the concept of “place typology,” which will be more fully developed by spring with an interactive website. For BI, it will support our efforts to maintain and enhance our shared “sense of place” while taking actions that make our community more inclusive and equitable. I will be following the emergence of these resources with great interest.

Jon Quitslund is Bainbridge’s deputy mayor. His entire essay, along with many others by him and other councilmembers, can be found at www.bainbridgewa.gov/217/City-Council. Click on Councilmember views on the left side of the page.