‘Math gymnastics’ used to deal with population growth

Communities are playing “math gymnastics,” like trying to put a square peg into a round hole.

That was the quote Paul Inghram of Puget Sound Regional Council used during the Feb. 21 Vision 2050 presentation on housing needs at the Bainbridge Island City Council meeting.

He said all communities are trying to make the numbers work: dealing with housing concerns to work with population and jobs growth.

Councilmember Clarence Moriwaki said the public wants government to do more, but with what? They don’t want to pay more taxes. They have to be willing to chip in to help their neighbors. That’s not a healthy community if people aren’t willing to do that, he added. Inghram agreed, but also said communities might be more willing if they knew what a specific proposal was.

Councilmember Leslie Schneider said the city needs to figure out what incentives will get developers to build the needed housing. Inghram said allowing affordable units to be built along with units for higher incomes can make developments more profitable and encourage developers, along with incentives such as parking bonuses and tax exemptions.

The PSRC strategy is a playbook of regional and local actions to preserve, improve and expand housing regionally. The aim is to make a range of affordable, accessible, health and safe housing choices available to every resident to promote fair and equal access to housing for all people. Kitsap County is in the Central Puget Sound Region, along with King, Pierce and Snohomish counties. There are 82 cities and towns in that region with 4.2 million people.

Inghram said it’s an important time as all areas must update their Comprehensive Plans by 2024, and the PSRC is there to provide support and guidance along with reviewing them. Under the state Growth Management Act, the PSRC has a vision made up of what local jurisdictions, cities and counties put together for population and employment goals.

The region expects to grow by 1.6 million people to 5.8 million and 1.1 million jobs to 3.4 million by 2050. “It’s a lot of growth to handle,” Inghram said. “Where the rubber hits the road is at the local level. Make sure it’s a great place for everybody in the region.”

Key policy themes regionally include: more housing choices and affordability; reduce greenhouse gas emissions; restore the health of Puget Sound waters; protect open spaces; and grow in targeted centers with transit.

In the post-recession of 2010s, strong population growth but low housing production put the region way behind in providing housing for its people, a PSRC Powerpoint shows. It says an increase in housing recently is helping to correct a backlog, but more is needed. By 2050, the region will need 800,000 more housing units, including 43,000 in Kitsap County.

About one-third of the houses need to be for people with lower incomes. Racial disparities in homeownership continue to be an issue, as is displacement for those who can no longer afford to stay where they live. “It’s unrealistic to think any community can stay frozen,” with prices staying the same, Inghram said. But people should be able to do things like downsize and “stay in their community. There should be a place nearby that is affordable for them to live.”

The PSRC encourages more middle-density housing such as duplexes, triplexes and townhomes and lower costs to build housing. It encourages incentives for long-term affordable housing; better access to homeownership; and more protections and assistance for tenants. “Upper income will always find housing options,” but it’s not as easy for lower-income folks, he said. “It’s very difficult for the market to provide housing” for the lowest earners, so it’s up to the public to help,” he added.

For very low-income and homeless, PSRC encourages expansion of local funding options; encourages employers to finance affordable housing construction and preservation and to provide housing near where employees work; and advocate for federal and state funding. Other housing help could be provided by upzones, housing benefit districts, revising regulations and partnerships. Cities getting together to provide funding could spread out the costs.

Bainbridge Island already is looking at all these issues as it updates its Housing Action, Winslow SubArea and Comprehensive plans.

In conclusion, Inghram shared statistics from a Chamber of Commerce survey: 82 percent say government should work together to meet housing needs; 80 percent say more housing when done well makes a community a stronger place; 77 percent say rents are too high; and 75 percent say it costs too much to buy a home.

Councilmember Joe Deets challenged statistics that say BI is growing. How can that be when school enrollment is declining so rapidly? Inghram said with housing costs going up families with children can’t afford to live on BI. However, population still is rising, just with older residents. “Housing for younger families isn’t being created,” he said.

Deputy mayor Jon Quitslund said the city is in a “real predicament” trying to balance jobs and housing. “We’re not doing our share within the county,” he said. “We’re not providing for essential workers this community needs.”