Note: the woman who chose to tell us her story requested anonymity
In 2017, when I was looking to buy a house in PT, I saw a Ross Chapin home and fell in love with it. I had a well-paying job near Seattle, but was planning to leave that job and work for myself from home. I was immediately welcomed into my new neighborhood, which was the first time I had really experienced that kind of community. I came with the intention of becoming involved in local/global issues such as climate change, and soon learned there were other equally pressing issues. Late in 2019, my neighborhood had a showing of the Housing Solutions Network video, “Cultivating Community Solutions to the Housing Crisis.”
I had a realization that, despite the best of intentions and a long family history around Puget Sound, I had contributed to the housing problem in Jefferson County. In a similar way, our family, having homesteaded in the Seattle/Vashon area, can no longer afford to live there. Coming from a more expensive area, our family had bought this house with cash and likely increased the price of similar homes. The cumulative impact of other families like mine was driving the price of homes out of the reach of families that had lived here for generations.
Like many other community-focused new arrivals, I wanted to be a part of the solution, having inadvertently contributed to the problem. Our neighborhood had many homes that were vacant part of the year, and simultaneously, young families unable to find a permanent place to rent or buy. I felt sure my neighbors would also want to help and that collectively we could do something positive.
Soon after seeing the video, I decided to join the Housing Solutions Network Education and Outreach Housing Action Team. As a member of Jefferson Healthcare with a chronic illness, I became aware that the shortage of doctors, nurses, and technicians was largely driven by a lack of available housing for them and other essential workers, like teachers and city workers. I started researching how I could build an ADU and offer it as housing for incoming employees at Jefferson Healthcare, and got to the point where I was ready to build.
As it happened, COVID got in the way of those plans and I had to sell my home for unrelated health reasons. The ADU plans were shelved. However, I had made many nice improvements to my home and was sure it would do well on the market. My realtor agreed and felt we could do very well. Between 2017 when I bought my house and in 2020 when I sold the house, the market value of the home had increased by about $100,000, illustrating the problem.
Working with the Housing Solutions Network had really sensitized me to the issue. I told my realtor that getting the highest price was not my main priority. I really wanted to sell my house to someone my neighbors would appreciate. Ideally, someone local, a working age couple or family, or a working single woman… someone who already had ties to the community. I asked my realtor to ask interested buyers to accompany their offers with a letter of interest about themselves, if they so chose, and I received several nice letters of which one really stood out.
She was already living and working in healthcare in PT, and knew our neighborhood well. She was as excited to get the house as we were to have her. From the start she was our first choice and although we did look at all other offers in fairness to the buyers, she remained our choice. There were inevitably several high-end cash buyers from out of town, which was not of interest to us. We wanted to make sure our buyer was planning to live here full-time. We were happy to work with a buyer that had financing, because the prevalence of cash offers is so often a barrier to working people. Choosing her felt like coming full circle with my ADU plans, even though I was never able to carry them out.
Especially under COVID with so many fleeing large cities that have been centers of high-tech and able to work anywhere they want, we are quickly losing all ability for residents of our county to stay here, and especially younger families and workers to ever have a hope of living in the communities they love. We have to address this housing shortage and gentrification issue right now or it will take over not only the city, but the county. Realtors and buyers need to be educated if at all possible, but it is important to realize that as the seller, you have the ultimate power. Be aware of these issues and think of your neighbors and your community when you sell, to the extent your situation allows.