Scales backs an ambitious plan to build 500 subsidized units on island.
As home prices roar toward the realm of the jet-set, city officials say equally fast action must be taken to ensure some wage-earners and working stiffs can still call Bainbridge home.
â€œWeâ€™re running out of time,â€ said City Councilman Bob Scales, who gained council support for a new goal that would initiate 500 new affordable units within 18 months.
Scales knows itâ€™s a tall order, but said the city must be willing to rev-up efforts and experiment with new methods to ensure that teachers, firefighters, cooks and cashiers can afford to live on the island.
â€œThe available options are running out rapidly as prices rise and land is gobbled up,â€ the council chair said. â€œItâ€™s time to put our money where our mouth is and try something.â€
At Scalesâ€™ urging, $100,000 was added to the cityâ€™s 2007 preliminary budget for the hiring of an â€œaffordable housing project developerâ€ to spearhead the 500-unit goal. The new homes would be spread among four to seven new housing projects serving residents earning 30 to 80 percent of Kitsap Countyâ€™s median household income of approximately $50,000.
The project developer would have $1.5 million at his or her disposal next year, thanks a recently-approved council bond targeting affordable housing. The bond has the potential of drawing up to $7.5 million over the next six years.
According to a poll conducted this year by the Community Housing Coalition, over 71 percent of Bainbridgeâ€™s workforce lives off-island. About 82 percent of these workers earn less than the median income.
But, even if a teacher or city planner earned upwards of $56,000 a year, their market for home ownership likely tops out at $300,000.
Thatâ€™s less than half the average sales price for a single-family home on Bainbridge, which hit $732,000 last summer. Home prices arenâ€™t likely to fall anytime soon. Between 2005 and July 2006, average housing prices climbed a hefty 17 percent, according to the CHC.
The notion that the island imports nearly all its labor likely doesnâ€™t sit well with most residents, said Scales.
â€œThe community,â€ he said, must ask itself whether it wishes â€œto be an exclusive, rich enclave where people making $100,000 a year are at the bottom end and can barely afford a mortgage.â€
Local affordable housing advocates applauded Scales aggressive approach, but expressed skepticism about the overall goal and the new project developerâ€™s role in ongoing efforts.
CHC board chair Carmella Houston said she was â€œthrilledâ€ by recent council action in favor of affordable housing. However, the notion of adding 500 units by mid-2008 doesnâ€™t seem realistic.
â€œI donâ€™t know where the island would build that kind of density,â€ she said, adding that current land use policies would substantially limit such a rapid build-up.
While the councilâ€™s goals are noble, their methods and research could use a little refinement, Houston said.
â€œThere doesnâ€™t seem to be much communication between the council and the different (affordable housing) organizations,â€ she said. â€œI donâ€™t want a turf war. I just want make sure affordable housing gets attention and that we work together to make things happen. I donâ€™t want decisions to be made in a vacuum.â€
Neither Scales or Houston are sure yet how the proposed affordable housing project manager would fit in with the efforts of the CHC, the cityâ€™s Housing Trust Fund and related efforts led by the Health, Housing and Human Services Council.
However, the City Councilâ€™s action could impose a cumbersome management element on top of ongoing efforts, according to Houston.
â€œAs a citizen, I view the council as setting policy guidelines (rather than) doing on-the-ground management of city issues,â€ she said. â€œItâ€™s a fine line.â€
But current efforts for affordable housing just arenâ€™t enough, said Scales.
He estimates the island needs thousands of affordable units now to break even with the vast stock of high-priced options.
â€œTo have anything meaningful, we need 2,000 units right now,â€ he said.
Current efforts promoting affordable housing are well-meaning, but cannot keep pace with demand, he said. Scales estimates other affordable housing projects under way or proposed for the near future would add up to 30 units each year.
â€œThe regulatory, incentive-based approaches canâ€™t create the transformation in housing stock,â€ he said. â€œAdding 20 or 30 units is not going to make any difference, really.â€
CHC director Kat Gjovik understands Scalesâ€™ frustration but stresses that increasing affordable housing on a high-end island isnâ€™t easy.
â€œPeople are concerned that itâ€™s taking so long,â€ she said. â€œBut itâ€™s a very complicated issue. Itâ€™s a struggle to consider all the things that are controversial.â€
Gjovik and the CHC must wrestle with many tough issues, including environmental impacts, density concerns, incentives for developers and opposition from some who may support affordable housing in theory, but donâ€™t necessarily want it in their back yards.
The CHC is currently working to revamp the cityâ€™s affordable housing ordinance, which was repealed in 2004.
Gjovik hopes to have a draft turned in to the council by early next year that incorporates a broader standard for who can qualify for affordable housing. The new ordinance will also likely incorporate a new home ownership model that allows residents with modest incomes to purchase low-cost homes on lands held within a trust.
Other efforts include ways to promote smaller-scale, and possibly lower-cost, residential developments and encourage more landowners to rent out â€œmother-in-lawâ€ residences for people who cannot afford to buy homes on the island.
Scales is optimistic his aggressive proposals will mesh well with the CHCâ€™s efforts.
â€œWeâ€™ve set an ambitious goal,â€ he said. â€œAnd it may be that we only succeed in getting half or a fourth of the 500, but we want to get something on the pipeline during those 18 months.
â€œIâ€™ve got my fingers crossed.â€