Our Community Challenge
Safe, affordable housing is a basic human need for all residents in Jefferson County.
There is a well-documented need for more accessible, affordable workforce housing in Jefferson County. Increasingly over time, increases in housing costs have outpaced wages, making Jefferson County the third most unaffordable County in the state. With rental vacancy rates hovering between 0-1%, (the national average is around 7%) even those with a stable income simply cannot find available housing. At the same time, around a quarter of units in the County sit vacant for a large portion of the year (for part-time residents or vacation rentals), lowering the supply of housing and increasing costs for permanent year-round residents.
For those limited units that are available, many are simply too expensive for our County’s lower-income individuals and families. An astounding 48% of renters and 39% of homeowners in East Jefferson County are housing cost-burdened as found by the most recent American Community Survey. The US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) defines cost burdened households as those spending 30% or more of their income on housing and earning less than 80% of the county median income (learn more about the basics of affordable housing definitions here). For those lucky few who have qualified for and received rental assistance, many cannot find homes and apartments whose rent meets the required “fair market rates” and are unable to use their vouchers.
Homeownership in the County grows less accessible as well. With a median household income of $57,693, and assuming no other debt obligations, a 5% down payment, a 4% interest rate, and the required homeowners insurance and property mortgage insurance, a family could comfortably afford a home around $225,000 and could stretch into a $260,000 home if they stretched their finances to the maximum debt-to-income. Homes in Jefferson County are currently selling for more than twice that amount.
The pandemic has only made these challenges more severe. For the past year realtors have been reporting that homes are quickly snapped off the market by newly-remote workers and retirees, often for cash. In April 2021, 73% of homes sold for cash, according to a local lender. This is leaving more and more local working families unable to compete for the limited stock of housing that is for sale. Renters are being pushed out of homes that are for sale, with little other options, and new rental prices are skyrocketing to become large-city-level prices. There is a lack of inventory, and the inventory available is increasingly out of reach for the local workforce.
The County’s housing shortage not only causes personal angst for many of the region’s residents, but is a key factor in its economic future. The Jefferson County Economic Development Council has found that the lack of housing is a major barrier to economic development throughout the County, one that frequently prevents employers from being able to recruit or retain qualified employees, and keeping some from relocating here altogether. Employers will not add jobs if they can’t find workers and workers either won’t come to Jefferson County, or will migrate elsewhere, if they can’t find affordable housing. That simple, but powerful, economic equation makes doing something about housing one of the County’s most important, but also most complex, political puzzles.
The housing shortage is not just bad for business, but the environment and family structures as well. Too often, employees end up finding housing appropriate to their needs only at increasing distances from work, many times outside of the County; WorkSource has reported that more than a third of Jefferson County workers commute from outside the County. These longer commute times have myriad negative impacts, from increased traffic and subsequent greenhouse gas emissions, to weaker family structures due to less time at home. Ensuring the availability of moderately-priced housing is critical to support job creation and expansion in our region, as well as support healthy families and communities.
The good news is that there are committed, creative people working to solve this issue. Individuals and organizations are stepping up to tackle our housing challenges, designing innovative solutions to address the housing crisis. Jefferson County already has all we need to solve this issue. The County’s 2018 Housing Element reports that, “Jefferson County has sufficient, under-developed and vacant land available to accommodate future housing needs,” and is committed to working with the City of Port Townsend to address systemic barriers to development.
Ultimately, it takes a full community-wide effort to get behind workable solutions and to prioritize the need to work together on this issue. The Housing Solutions Network is here to equip and empower YOU so that together WE can succeed as a community. We invite you to step up to the call and become a champion for housing. The Jefferson County Housing Solutions Network is here to support you.
Here’s how some individuals are taking action already…