Aim effort at housing that more can buy
June 9, 2008 · Updated 9:15 PM
Events this week remind us once again that while Bainbridge needs more affordable housing,some homes that pass under that name are more affordable, and therefore more needed, than others.
First came a letter from just-ex City Council member Liz Murray concerning the affordable-housing requirement for large-scale development.
Under that requirement, developers of more than eight units must generally make some of them affordable. As an incentive, the affordable homes can be added to the number of homes allowed by the underlying density, and for each affordable unit, the builder gets another market-rate unit.
In concept, we think the goal of creating a win-win situation is admirable and ingenious. But it works better in theory than in practice, because the definition of affordable stretches upwards to embrace those with incomes as high as 120 percent of the Seattle area median. This means that some homes built under the affordable program sell for close to $300,000.
Murray, a former realtor, questions whether we need government intervention to create $300,000 homes. According to her letter, 61 open-market homes sold during 2001 for under $275,000, and 25 were for sale at that price on a recent week.
I drove by a large percentage of them, and with possibly one exception, these are nice, more than adequate homes, she wrote.
Murray also said that a large number of the homes purchased under the island affordable program were purchased either for cash or with down payments of over $100,000.
Murrays information, if correct, casts doubt on whether the islands well-intentioned program is really providing housing solutions not otherwise available, or if it is simply duplicating or even competing with a move-up segment amply served by the marketplace.
On the other end of the spectrum, we can share a little of the joy expressed by the three families who will move into Habitat for Humanity homes on Bainbridge. Those three two single moms and a young couple with three kids all have a full-time wage-earner working on the island. But their wages wont get them close to a $275,000 home, and denominating such a home as affordable wont change those facts.
Mindful of state-law requirements that the Comprehensive Plan, now under review, provide for housing for all economic segments of the community, the City Council needs to give the affordable housing program another look. It might be worth checking out just who is buying those affordable homes to see if the program is extending housing opportunities, or simply reinforcing the perception that Bainbridge is an economic Lake Woebegon, where everyones income is above average.
Maybe instead of swapping bonus densities for affordable homes, we should think about trading those incentives for donations of land, on which groups like Habitat could build truly affordable homes.