Housing for Whom?

Let's get density right in Port Townsend

The City of Port Townsend is fast-tracking a set of housing and density code changes to be drafted and passed by council members before April 1, 2023. These changes are meant to promote the construction of “missing middle housing” in our community, otherwise known as more dense housing including duplexes, triplexes, fourplexes, and more. 

Image shows a variety of units in a dense setting. Examples of missing middle housing includes ADU's, Duplexes, Townhouses, and Cottage Court style homes.
Image shows a variety of units in a dense setting. Examples of missing middle housing includes ADU’s, Duplexes, Townhouses, and Cottage Court style homes.

Indeed, we need “missing middle housing.” And we desperately need this housing to be affordable for a larger range of people who work in our local economy — like nurses, teachers, folks in the marine trades, artists, grocery clerks, utility workers, and non-profit and government employees. In order to house this sector of local working families, homes need to be priced at or below $370,000 – see below for more details.

We ask the community to attend the city's special Missing Middle Housing Open Mic event during the Planning Commission meeting on December 15th at 6pm. Join us at City Hall Council Chambers at 540 Water Street in Port Townsend, on the second floor.

This will be one of the few opportunities for the public to engage with the city, so we encourage residents to attend and speak up for housing that is affordable to people who work in our local economy.

The Planning Commission’s meetings page has the link for the night’s agenda and a video link for real-time or later viewing.  

How can I learn more about the kinds of code changes likely to be proposed?

On Nov 10, 2022 the city’s Planning and Community Development Director gave a presentation to the Port Townsend planning commission on examples throughout our state of how cities are amending their code to create more housing. You can link to the slidedeck here and watch the presentation here. The critical question is this: Will homes built as a result of the upcoming code changes be sold at prices that are affordable for people who work in our local economy?

What is affordable to people working in the local economy?

The area median income in Jefferson County is $73,900 in 2022 (as projected for a family of four according to the US Dept of Housing and Urban Development).  Working households with 150% of area median income (equivalent to $110,850 per year) can afford a house that sells for $370,000 or less* (the exact amount depends on mortgage loan interest rates, school loan debts and other household debts, etc.). But the median sale price for a Jefferson County home was $439,300 in 2020, and increased to $615,600 in 2022 (according to the Washington Center for Real Estate Research). Thus, home sale prices are out of reach for many individuals and families who live and work here. We need to ask what kinds of policies and incentives will help house families who work in the local economy and earn less than 150% of the median income.   

Our Affordable Housing 101 page can help you learn more about what people working in the local economy can afford to pay for housing. That analysis was done with 2020 census data and 2021 home prices. We are working on updating it with the 2022 area median income (AMI) data and current home prices.  

*This calculation is based on a household making $110,850/year (150% AMI) with the minimum 3% down at 6% interest rates and the average debt-to-income ratio. 

Will increased density result in housing affordability?

Simply increasing density is unlikely to create affordability, which is why we need housing policy that will promote and protect housing that is affordable for people working in our local economy. For more explanation of why middle-income earners in our area can’t afford houses, read the concerns published in the Nov 2, 2022 issue of The Port Townsend Leader entitled Housing for Whom: Why Port Townsend needs to get density right (a PDF of the article here). This article explains some of the reasons for skyrocketing home sale prices in Port Townsend and Jefferson County.  

Won’t the problem of affordability be solved by simply increasing the amount of market rate housing?

Examples in our town’s recent past show that rushing to build more market-rate housing has not led to affordability. In a January 10, 2017 Port Townsend Leader article (a PDF of the article here), our previous city manager cited newly granted permits for large developments as an answer to the affordable housing crisis. He highlighted a permit for a large market-rate development on Cook Avenue.  No affordability protections or incentives were put in place at that time. Today, these units are not affordable to the average locally employed worker – they are now sold by a nationwide builder/investment company for $700,000 and above. There is plenty of demand in our area for units priced at $500,000 and above, but that demand is largely from affluent buyers who are coming from out of our area. Given recent trends, this demand is highly likely to increase over time. Unless incentivized by the code to build affordable housing, developers will likely continue to build for affluent homebuyers while working families with average incomes struggle to put a roof over their heads.  

The lack of affordable housing hurts everyone in the community

Many people who work in our local economy are struggling to find housing despite having jobs that provide reasonable wages.  Some leave jobs because of housing issues.  Potential employees even turn down jobs simply for lack of affordable housing.  An example of how workforce housing insecurity in Jefferson County adversely affects all of us is seen in our hospital having more than 100 unfilled jobs, in large part because of the lack of affordable housing for potential employees. It is not enough to have a good paying job in this community. People with 80-150% of area median income don’t qualify for affordable housing programs, which typically serve only people who are below 80% of area median income. At the same time, people with 80-150% of area median income cannot afford to buy houses sold at market-rate prices in our county, resulting in individuals and households falling in a gap that leaves them housing-insecure, even though they play a critical role in the local economy.  

How can I participate in the process?

You can learn more about the timeline and how to give feedback to the city on the city’s residential building capacity page. Currently these are listed as the key dates: 

December 15, 2022  6pm 

Special Planning Commission Meeting:
Open Mic Night, City Hall Council Chambers

January 12, 2023

Planning Commission Regular Meeting:
Presentation of outreach results and list of amendment options

February 13, 2023

Joint Planning Commission/City Council:
Community Forum on draft amendments

You can email the city council at citycouncil@cityofpt.us. You can find the contact information for individual council members here. 

You can link to the city’s meeting page to find meeting dates, agendas, and video links. The video links allow you to watch meetings remotely in real time, or watch videos of prior meetings listed in the archive section.

Follow along, stay engaged, and share your concerns. Working towards these goals would lead to a healthier and more diverse community; a huge win for residents of Port Townsend!

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