Senator aims to increase affordable housing

Maria Cantwell makes a visit to Port Townsend

By:  Jesse Major
Source: The Peninsula Daily News

To increase affordable housing, increase supply and opportunity, U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell said during a visit to Port Townsend.

Cantwell met with officials from the city of Port Townsend, Habitat for Humanity of East Jefferson County, Peninsula Housing Authority, Clallam County and developers at Discovery View Retirement Apartments on Thursday.

The consensus was clear at the meeting: There is not enough affordable housing in Clallam and Jefferson counties.

This is a reality Sarah Hull, a resident at the apartments, knows all too well.

A couple of years ago, Hull’s living situation changed, and she was forced to find a new place to live.

“I started looking around here, and a decent apartment is at least $700 to $800 — and that’s at the low end,” she said.

She told Cantwell she doesn’t know what she would have done if she hadn’t found Discovery View Retirement Apartments.

“Because of this subsidized housing here, I’m able to feel secure,” she said.

Cantwell, D-Mountlake Terrace, plans to propose a bipartisan solution that she said would encourage private investment in affordable housing.

Cantwell will propose a 50 percent increase in annual 9 percent tax credits available to states to issue to developers through the Low Income Housing Tax Credit.

In the past 10 years, the 9 percent credit funded the creation and preservation of more than 8,500 affordable housing units in Washington, nearly half of which were reserved for extremely low-income or homeless households, according to Cantwell’s office.

The increase would allow Washington state to fund about 35,215 new affordable housing units in 10 years, according to her office.

Nationwide, it would fund an additional 400,000 affordable rental units over the next 10 years, she said.

“It became clear to me the tax credit played such a key role that 90 percent of affordable housing units are built with the tax credit,” she said.

“If you don’t increase the tax credit, how are you going to get more affordable units?”

Cantwell said the proposal has bipartisan support.

Cantwell is touring the state and other parts of the country in search of solutions for increasing the amount of affordable housing available.

The lack of affordable housing is a problem Port Townsend knows all too well, said Mayor Deborah Stinson.

“We have people being hired here, then having to decline the position because they can’t find a place to live,” she said.

According to the city’s comprehensive plan, the city has nearly doubled the amount of land zoned for residential use to accommodate the projected 2036 population of 12,165 residents. Port Townsend’s population was 9,210 in 2013, according to the U. S. Census Bureau.

The problem, however, is that there isn’t enough “shovel-ready” land to build on. Much of the land doesn’t yet have the infrastructure needed to meet the projected needs for single-family and higher-density housing.

Developers have the same issues in Port Angeles, said Kay Kassinger, executive director of the Peninsula Housing Authority, which serves Clallam and Jefferson counties.

What adds to the complications is the cost of infrastructure, with much of the costs coming from stormwater management, she said.

A Peninsula Housing Authority project was originally turned down by the state for a Community Development Block Grant because it was seen as a stormwater project, though it was actually infrastructure, she said.

“On $1 million of infrastructure, $800,000 is stormwater,” she said.

In Clallam County, there are only 17 affordable and available units for every 100 extremely low-income households, according to Cantwell’s office.

Cantwell’s proposed expansion of the Low Income Housing Tax Credit would be a boon for those who want to build affordable housing, said Bill Szymczak, president of Preservation Partners Management Group, a California-based development group that works toward preservation of affordable housing, which has developments in Washington state.