Making housing happen takes people willing to stand up, speak out, do what it takes to make housing equity a reality. Just getting started? In this section you will find resources to learn more about this complex issue.

When Is Housing Considered Affordable?

Generally housing is considered affordable when an individual or family pays no more than 30% of their income on housing costs, including all utilities. This is the widely accepted definition promoted by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), but is best utilized as a guide rather than a rule. However, under this definition, almost 48% of Port Townsend renters are cost burdened by housing (ACS 2021; 36% of homes in PT are rentals)

Many factors determine a family’s ability to make ends meet alongside housing costs, such as family size, age of children and income sources. Additionally, security deposits, upfront rental payments, moving costs, commuting costs, utility deposits, etc all further complicate the issue. Someone who spends more than 30% their income on housing would be considered ‘cost burdened’ by housing, while spending more than 50% would be considered ‘severely cost burdened’.

Our Focus

To be consist with other housing organizations HSN has adopted Area Median Income (AMI) values as defined by HUD as the basis for most our metrics. These values are also sometimes referred to as Median Family Income (MFI) and to understand more about where this number is derived and what is describes read our Measures of Median Incomes and the Implications for Housing in Jefferson County. 

HSN focuses its affordable housing efforts on what is often referred to as the “Missing Middle” or as we more specifically define as individuals and families making between 80% and 150% the area median income. For families of four this equates to approximately $66,720 to $125,100 or adjusted for single wage earners, approximately $46,704 to $87,570. This demographic often earns too much to qualify for assistance from other housing organizations or government institutions, but earns far too little to afford most market rate housing options. 

“Our local housing solutions will require wide community involvement, and each of us who are interested in getting involved have different interests, gifts and talents we might be able to bring to bear on those solutions.” – Outreach Housing Action Team Member

What Is Affordable For Local Workers?

In 2023 Jefferson County ranked 38th out of the 39 counties in Washington for affordability for both first time home buyers and homebuyers in general. (Followed only by San Juan County; Washington Center for Real Estate Research.)

For 2023, the area median income for Jefferson County was projected at $83,400 (for a family of 4) and beginning in 2024 the state minimum hourly wage increased to $16.28. The graph above illustrates the limit for what is affordable for individuals and families of different income levels in Jefferson County. Up to 150% AMI includes most members of the local Jefferson County workforce including, among many other, the nonprofit, hospital, maritime, service and hospitality sectors.

Monthly Housing Budget
Home Sales Affordability Gap

*Home purchasing range is based on a 30 year mortgage financed at 6.6% with a 5% down payment and a private mortgage insurance rate of .85%. Payments include estimated property tax and estimated home insurance, and assume excellent credit and no other debt obligations. Median Home Price was captured from RocketHomes.com

Median home prices have continued to drift beyond what most local families can afford. The graph above illustrates in purple the gap that exists between local wages and the ability families have to buy homes in Jefferson County. Even if a family making 150% AMI stretches their budget to the maximum allowable debt-to-income ration of 42% they are still almost a $100,000 short of the 2022 median home price of $614,000. And this is without taking into account other debt obligations or less than excellent credit. Without significant savings or outside financial support, a family in Jefferson County would have to earn at least $130,000 in order to even consider financing a house purchase of median value under cost burdened conditions, or earn $187,000 to keep costs within the affordable range. These correspond to 175% and 253% AMI respectively. 

How Many Units Do We Need?

Unfortunately there is not an easy target to present here. Different types of housing options and mechanisms to keep some of them affordable are important pieces of the puzzle. Jefferson County and particularly Port Townsend is a desirable place to live and this is no secret. Demand for housing units in our area have continued to increase and we don’t expect it to lessen. Factors such as climate refugees, remote workers, vacation home purchasers, wealthy retirees and others increase competition for homes, drive up prices, and ultimately displace existing members of the workforce, and make it difficult to attract new ones. Port Townsend’s rental vacancy rates has hover below 1% for several years, far from the healthy range of 5-7% and where the national average is (2018-2021 ACS).

The Washington Department of Commerce has projected that 3,985 new homes are needed in Jefferson County by the year 2044. However, an updated housing needs assessment is something that would greatly help the community hone in on the amount and type of housing we need to help address this problem and something that will be forthcoming as Port Townsend and Jefferson County prepare for their comprehensive plan updates in 2025. The 2015 Port Townsend Housing Element speaks to many of the same problems that have only escalated since.  The last assessment performed by Jefferson County was completed in 2006 and was the data utilized in the Housing Element of the 2018 Jefferson County Comprehensive plan.

Olympic Housing Trust Dundee Hill Project

An argument can also be made that our housing problem is actually more of an equity problem. The latest American Community Survey (ACS) data available indicates 14% of homes in Jefferson County are vacant (2022 ACS; compared to 9.7% nationally) and 42% of Port Townsend homes are single occupancy despite 82% of of units having 2 or more bedrooms (2021 ACS)

Exploring ways to redistribute resources we already have in a way that is beneficial to everyone, is another important strategy to addressing this problem. Some examples of this are promoted though our Share Our Spaces campaign, including Home Sharing and downsizing into an ADU in order to rent the primary residence.

How Does Housing Become Affordable?

Board Member build day, Habitat for 
Humanity of East Jefferson County
Board Member build day, Habitat for 
Humanity of East Jefferson County

Housing can be affordable in two main ways: naturally occurring and subsidized. Naturally occurring affordable housing (NOAH) is when the market offers housing (rental or homeownership) that meets the income thresholds of the area’s residents. This is primarily accomplished when costs of living (rents, housing prices) are compatible with median wages. However, NOAH are completely susceptible to free market forces, so as housing demand and wages shift so does the amount of affordable housing. Unfortunately, far too often NOAH is in substandard conditions and far from job centers and amenities, forcing a greater dependence on car transportation and longer travel times. Housing can also be made naturally more affordable through smaller units, tiny homes, boarding houses and other creative models that drive down housing costs. 

Subsidized affordable housing is housing that is made available at below-market rates through the use of government subsidies, private donations, developer incentives, deed restrictions, community land trusts, or other mechanisms. Sometimes these mechanism are only successful in preserving affordability for a limited duration of time (upon first sale or for 50 years), others attempt to realize permanent affordability. Subsidies can be made directly to individuals as they are with Section 8 vouchers – a federal program, administered locally through the Peninsula Housing Authority, that covers the difference between what a renter can afford to pay and a unit’s “fair market value”. They can also come in the form of grants to organizations and local governments as is the case with our local Habitat for Humanity of East Jefferson County and the City of Port Townsend’s Evans Vista Project. Developer incentives can look like density bonuses, waived utility hook-up fees or reduced property taxes in exchange for affordable housing units. Deed restrictions can theoretically include any stipulation not barred by state or federal law, including clauses stating the home buyer must occupy the home, be employed in geographic area, have an income under a certain threshold, or accept a prescribed formula for setting a home value appreciation ceiling. Community Land Trusts typically are non-profit organizations that assume ownership of land and enter into a low cost lease with the home owners. The improvements upon the land (house, etc) can be bought and sold, but because the land ins not included in the sale, prices are often much lower. CLT’s are often coupled with deep restrictions that limit the appreciation or tie it to an index such as the Consumer Price Index. This model is actively being pursued by local Olympic Housing Trust. Other mechanisms for protecting affordability worth noting include Resident Owned Communities (ROCs) and Limited Equity Cooperatives (LECs).  

Fair Market Rents

Each year HUD publishes Fair Market Rent values for Jefferson County. These rents are good references for what a modest, safe and sanitary rental unit in our area should cost, including core utilities (like water and electric). 

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