Back in the day, businesses like the mill in Port Gamble used to build homes to attract people to come there to work.
Maybe that’s what businesses, or the city of Bainbridge Island, should think about doing now.
The problems caused by the lack of employees being able to live on BI because of little affordable housing were a major finding as the City Council started working on its Housing Action Plan Nov. 15.
“People who work here can’t afford to live here, and people who live here can’t afford to work here,” deputy mayor Clarence Moriwaki said.
The council was told during a presentation by consultant Sophie Glass of Triangle Associates that its research shows one business only has been able to hire 60% of the workforce it needs. Also, another business with 60 employees only has one living on BI.
A business survey with 171 responses says about 31% of businesses have thought of relocating as a result of these problems. They said affordable and diverse types of housing could help them recruit and retain staff as so many of their workers have to commute.
“I see the line up every day” on Highway 305, Moriwaki said. “As an environmentalist, I do not like to see cars idle.”
The bigger the business the more important it is that some can afford to live here. “You can’t just hire anyone” for some jobs, Glass said. “They need to have specific experience.”
In the report, BI fire chief Hank Teran says: “We try to make great working conditions internally, but what I hear from a number of people who leave is that they love working on Bainbridge, but the commute is difficult for them and their families.”
Some on the council wanted to know if the city could do anything to control who could live in new housing.
Councilmember Michael Pollock said he fears that if more affordable housing is built that people from Seattle will snatch it up before people who work here. “Nothing against the people in Seattle” but that’s not the goal, he said.
The council was told there are a number of options that will be studied.
Another concern was how many police officers, firefighters and teachers really want to live on BI. Councilmember Leslie Schneider said some like living off-island so they can afford more house and land. Even if affordable housing was built, they may not like what little they could get. She said it was nice to have an inventory of how many people in those jobs want to live here, so the city could provide the types of housing needed for them to live on BI.
Councilmember Kirsten Hytopoulos said no matter what is decided the public needs to be educated on why more housing is needed. Research shows many islanders favor no growth. “We’ll never be able to fully meet the need” of all the people who would like to live on BI.
“What’s your fair share” in housing growth needs? “What can the island handle?” consultant Jennifer Cannon of ECONorthwest asked, adding lack of affordable housing is a problem all over Western Washington. “We’ve had an underproduction problem the last decade.”
The city is studying how to meet housing needs now and into the future. Key areas are affordable and diversification of housing for people living and working on BI.
Consultant Triangle Associates gave the presentation about community engagement in the process. That effort has included focus groups, interviews with key sources, meetings at various entities and surveys.
A housing needs assessment will show unmet needs and projections. Community engagement will include educating the public on housing challenges. Data, input and priorities will help develop housing strategies. The final product will be an implementation plan.
The ECONorthwest powerpoint shows how the public has been involved so far. The community survey shows 800 responses.
Key themes include: High housing costs, property taxes have displaced or burdened residents; people commute to work as they can’t afford to live here; BI lacks diversity as a result; and seniors can’t afford to live here.
Other concerns are: Families and single parents should be able to live here, and people should be able to rent. First-time homebuyers should be able to live here, as well as children when they grow up and become adults. People should be able to have choices in the type of housing they want, others said.
Almost 80% of respondents who work here, 64 of the 81, said they can’t afford to live here so they commute. Their lives would be easier, and they would have less impact on the environment if they didn’t have to commute. About 82% of the 34 respondents who had to move off-island due to housing costs still work on BI.
Many on BI seem to be open to different types of housing. Cottage was the most popular at 66%, but tiny houses, multi-family garden apartments and duplexes all received approval ratings in the mid-40%. Mid-rise, row houses and micro units also were mentioned.
In talking to developers, they say they need incentives to build affordable housing because those projects still need to make some money to even get a loan.
To summarize, Glass said lack of affordability is a major problem for people of color, young people who want to move or stay here, and seniors who want to stay here but can’t downsize or find a senior housing facility. Many can’t afford to keep their homes due to fixed incomes.
Lack of young families has hurt the BI school district. Lower enrollment means fewer funds from the state.
“I’ve hired principals and others who make good salaries, but can’t find a house for their family, let alone folks on the lower end of the income continuum,” superintendent Peter Bang-Knudsen says in the report.
Diversity is also an issue. Many respondents said BI has become “too exclusive,” Glass said. “There’s a lost sense of community.”
Teran says in the report, “We talk about the diversity of the community, but a number of people with diverse backgrounds can’t afford to live here.”
One issue residents need to understand is what would happen if there was an emergency, and few responders would be available to help because they can’t afford to live on BI. “What would the impact be?” Glass asked.
“Availability of housing that meets (middle income) needs and price range doesn’t exist here,” police chief Joe Clark says in the report.
She said she knows BI doesn’t want to just be “another suburb of Seattle,” but what housing types would it accept? The ones recommended are in the Comprehensive Plan.
“Which Comp Plan are we talking about?” Councilmember Jon Quitslund asked. He said he hopes the Housing Action Plan will actually be one of the bridges to connect to a new Comp Plan on what to do next. “We are in a time of flux” with debate and compromise, he said. “We don’t want to look back” and adhere to the old Comp Plan.
Councilmember Brenda Fantroy-Johnson said the city has seen similar housing reports in the past and didn’t seem optimistic. “Housing has gotten worse instead of better.”