Creativity on display for housing
June 9, 2008 · Updated 3:35 PM
"Elsewhere in this issue, we take a statistical look at the Bainbridge Island housing market, 2000 edition. A fair summary, it seems to us, is that the island offers a rich array of choices - for those who want the best and can afford it.Basically, Bainbridge is now a move-up market. While there is a decent selection of homes down into the low $200,000 range, that's still a daunting sum for a first-time buyer - particularly the down payment.Trying to provide housing opportunities for the whole spectrum of the island is a little like salmon trying to swim upstream - the economic forces against you are powerful and unrelenting. But to its credit, this community has recognized that it has both a moral and legal obligation to put up a fight.We are heartened by a recent outpouring of creativity from a variety of quarters, particularly from Mayor Dwight Sutton and his appointed affordable-housing task force. Among the ideas that group has generated in recent weeks are:* Zoning for cottage development. This zoning would relax density requirements for developments of smaller homes clustered around open space.* Square-foot zoning. This concept regulates housing density not in terms of homes per acre, but in terms of square-footage per acre. The idea is that if a builder is permitted to place only one home on a lot, economics will mandate a big and therefore expensive home. But if the builder is instead allowed to build two or three smaller homes on the same lot, the product will be lower-priced homes.* A community land trust. The trust would own land in perpetuity and lease it for affordable housing and other uses. The buyer would own and could resell the home itself, but not the land. While the Bainbridge group is oriented towards agricultural land, we urge them to take a broader look. On Orcas Island, an even higher-cost area than Bainbridge, a land trust was able to sell small homes for as little as $50,000.None of those ideas is a stand-alone magic bullet - in fact, it may require implementing all of them to create a full-spectrum housing market.We could imagine, for example, a young teacher (or, yes, a young newspaper reporter) buying a starter home on community-trust land, saving a little money and moving up to a cottage, then using the equity to get into an income-qualified home or a home on the low-price end of the regular market.Note the common thread running through these ideas - smaller is less expensive. To our mind, that addresses the most compelling housing problem, namely, the difficulty of starting out. Once in, the equity in one home becomes the down payment for the next, so it's easier to stay in the housing market than to get in.We know, of course, that what's being talked about means growth. And we know that some folks are just plain against more growth on the island. But as a wise friend of ours said recently, In the long run, reality always wins. Growth is a reality that we can't prevent. What we can do is invite a kind of growth that contributes to our community.It's in all of our best interests to encourage folks just getting started to put down their roots here. Thanks to the housing task force, we have a number of tangible ways to encourage that process.Let's do it. "