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?
Housing is affordable when an individual or family pays no more than 30% of their income on housing costs including utilities, according to the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
This threshold was determined as a rule of thumb to suggest the percentage of income needed to cover all additional expenses. Many other factors come into play to determine a family’s ability to make ends meet alongside housing costs, such as family size, age of children and total income.
What is affordable for Jefferson County workers?
The Washington State Employment Security Dep’t reports that the average wage in Jefferson County in 2018 was $39,532/year ($19 an hour for a full-time employee). That means that a person making the average salary should be paying just $970 for their housing costs (rent/mortgage as well as utilities). Accounting for taxes, this would be even less. In contrast, a person making minimum wage ($13.50/hour) and working full time should be paying just $702 for their total monthly housing costs.
The Housing Solutions Network is focused on workforce housing, often defined as housing for people making 60-120% of Area Median Income (AMI). Area Median Income is higher than average wages at $54,471 (and thus at times a bit misleading), including workers making anywhere from $31,105 – $62,210 annually, or about $15-$30 per hour. This includes nonprofit professionals, maritime industry workers, hospital staff, restaurant and hospitality workers, bank tellers and many others. Housing for these people should have a monthly range of $777 – $1555 / month.
How many units do we need?
The number of housing units needed is difficult to accurately predict because we simply cannot account for the people who have moved away or never came due to housing concerns. However, the City of Port Townsend projected in their 2015 Housing Element that with population growth estimates, there is a need of 1,369 units over the next 20 years. That is nearly 350 units needed over the next five years.
As Port Townsend is just one third of the County’s population, a conservative guess is that the need is likely at least double, which would be 700 units in the next five years.
How does housing become affordable?
Jefferson County can approach our housing challenges from many directions, and the two most obvious choices to increase our housing stock is through new construction and through making existing housing (such as ADUs, extra rooms in a home, etc.) more available.
But how do we protect the affordability?
Housing can be affordable in two main ways: naturally occurring and subsidized. Naturally occurring affordable housing 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 average wages. Housing can also be made naturally more affordable through smaller units, tiny homes, boarding houses and other creative models that drive down housing costs. Unfortunately, in many communities naturally occurring affordable housing is often substandard or far from job centers, forcing workers to commute long distances to work.
Subsidized affordable housing is housing that is made available at below- market rates through the use of government subsidies or other private investments. These subsidies (low-interest loans, tax credits, grants, and other funding sources) keep construction costs low, and the savings is passed on to the homeowner or renter. Other programs such as Section 8 vouchers provide aid to fill the gap between what a renter can pay at 30% of their income and rent costs for a “fair market value” apartment.
Jefferson County has very limited naturally occurring and subsidized affordable housing options. While there are organizations working to fill the gap of needed housing, much work remains to be done. Visit our Portfolio of Community Engagement and Investment Opportunities to get involved and support their work.
Want to learn more about affordable housing? Check out these resources:
- Find fact sheets, publications and other statewide resources at the Washington Low-Income Housing Alliance
- Sign up for statewide policy updates and action alerts here
- Learn more about government definitions and programs at HUD.gov
- Smart Growth America’s Rural Affordable Housing Toolkit
- Sightline Institute’s “Legalize Inexpensive Housing” series on affordable housing issues in the Pacific Northwest
- Vox – Affordable Housing Explained
- National Low-Income Housing Coalition