BI ready to build Housing Action Plan

Top-of-mind issues such as affordability, equity, diversity of housing, lack of housing for Bainbridge Island workers, and home insecurity will be part of BI’s Housing Action Plan that is getting under way.

At the City Council meeting June 28, it was announced that consultant ECONorthwest of Seattle will lead the project.

HAP will identify concrete actions to address housing needs.

The main tasks:

• An analysis of housing conditions and regulatory influences to help understand the housing market and housing needs of today and for the next two decades.

• Community engagement that will inclusively involve and educate BI communities and stakeholders on housing challenges and decisions.

• Guidance and clear actionable strategies to address housing needs.

The duration of the project is approximately one year, ending in June 2023. The project received a $100,000 state Department of Commerce grant. The city later approved a budget amendment of $57,000 to pay for the rest.

City manager Blair King said the firm will guide the city to understand its housing needs and provide strategies to meet those needs.

New planning director Patty Charnas said the state is requiring cities to provide more concrete steps in planning for housing. The city’s own Comprehensive Plan also requires that. To accomplish that, HAP will identify gaps and address them.

The inventory of existing conditions will include demographics, the workforce and the cost burden for residents in all segments of the community.

Morgan Shook of ECONorthwest said HAP is a road map that will help the city develop housing policies to reach its goals. It also will coordinate with other plans the city is working on, such as Climate Action and Sustainable Transportation.

Shook said the Commerce grant has some requirements, such as: plan for affordable and market rate housing; address different types of housing needs now and for the next 20 years; and housing strategies for the entire community.

Shook said housing needs change over time. For example, nationwide, single-person households are up and family housing down. On BI, 35% of its residents were age 60 or older in 2020. And the percentage of children living in single-parent households tripled from 1960 to 2015. “How do those affect housing?” Shook asked.

The process will involve community engagement. That will include education as “housing issues — not everybody understands fully,” said Jennifer Cannon, also of ECONorthwest.

Cannon said they will go to meetings of various groups in town to get input. They also will talk with focus groups and be involved with surveys.

Councilmember Brenda Fantroy-Johnson asked how the firm decides on which organizations to include.

Shook said by working with city staff. He said they like to include groups that aren’t typically in the process. He said some people can’t make meetings they schedule so this works because, “We can come to you.”

Councilmember Kirsten Hytopoulos said this council is focused on providing as much affordable housing as possible. She wondered if the Commerce grant would require more market rate housing. “How much are we pinned in?” she asked.

Shook said Commerce is just interested in cities providing a broader housing spectrum.

Mayor Joe Deets said the council is looking forward to the HAP. “We’ve been wanting to do this for some time,” he said.

But he did tell Shook about some disturbing trends, such as school enrollment continually going down, and local businesses having trouble finding workers. He wondered how the city could achieve a healthy housing market.

“We’ll wrap that into our thinking as best we can,” Shook said. “We are here to support your (vision of a housing) action plan.”

Affordable housing also was a topic when the council discussed spending $350,000 on Lodging Tax Awards. The tax is collectedd by hotels, bed and breakfasts, and vacation rentals. Nonprofits that encourage tourism are eligible, especially if they increase overnight stays and bring in economic activity.

Hytopoulos said while those are important functions, “That’s a lot of money.” She wondered if some of it could be used to help fund affordable housing projects.

King said staff would look into that, but reminded the council that it passed a sales tax increase to help with affordable housing.

Councilmember Leslie Schneider asked if nonprofits could receive extra points in the grant process if they encouraged tourists to enjoy the island “without a car. If we’re going to lower our carbon footprint every proposal should include” that, she said.

The council agreed on that, along with seeing if some funds could be used for affordable housing.

Finally, Councilmember Clarence Moriwaki was voted in to replace Fantroy-Johnson as deputy mayor for the rest of this year.