10/16/2018: "Yes For Homes, but NO to Prop 1"
By Mike Carlson
While I agree that we could use more available housing in the islands in almost all forms, it’s been that way for as long as I can remember….we live on islands! Our mantra has been to fight growth and foster a tourism economy…Gee what happens then? Crowds, long ferry lines, VRBO’s (Vacation Rentals By Owners), and low paying, seasonal tourism jobs. All while making it harder to develop and create more available housing lots. We are where we are.
There are a variety of related reasons for our housing deficit. Some come from “down zoning” of densities in the Turn Point-Pear Point area and in the large block of land Northeast of Eastsound to an R-5 minimum lot from a 2 acre or 1/2 acre density; additionally, restrictions on guest houses and possibly the cumulative effects of the Land Bank’s acquisitions have impacts. We have exacerbated and hastened the shortage of available lots to build on.
I am in no way implying that all of the properties the Land Bank has acquired should be filled with homes, but each property that was purchase by the Land Bank had some allowance for residential building lots. These residential lot densities have not been replaced. In addition, a greater property tax burden has been added to the private sector. It all adds up!
Now that our planning efforts have effectively put renters and first time home buyers on the short end of the “supply and demand” stick, I am against any form of new taxation to “fix” the problem. Here are some of my reasons:
• Real Estate Excise tax adds more to the closing cost of all land purchases. Those costs are always passed on to the home buyer and renter.
• Prop 1 will create another county administrative need. I know, the existing Health Department will administer, but adding more to their scope of work is expected to cost 10% of the funds collected. At the end of the day we will be paying for another government bureaucracy.
• Per the Yes for Homes website, contractors who work on the projects that receive funding are mandated to pay WA L&I-Davis Bacon prevailing wage rates. The current prevailing rate for a carpenter in San Juan County is $60.04 and the rate for cement mason is $60.07. To my knowledge, the local builders pay from $25 to as much as $45 per hour for the same tasks. Private sector builders in other counties pay even less. The higher wage rates will significantly diminish the “buying power” of the tax funds collected.
• Owning a home on land that you do not own is not really home ownership but rather a form of rent. That’s not all bad but the “home owner” has a limited ability to possess an asset that appreciates over time like they would if they owned the home and the land.
The affordable housing problem in San Juan County is not new and it won’t go away anytime soon. We live on islands where the economy is limited due to transportation costs and high land values. However, I strongly believe there are some remedies that would help alleviate some of the shortages of available housing:
• Allow for construction of more accessory dwelling units with permission to be used for long term rentals.
• Expand the UGA around Friday Harbor, Lopez Village and Eastsound. Within those areas allow for the development of housing that can be built at lower capital costs like manufactured homes, tiny homes or apartments. Roche Harbor also has very suitable land between Rouleau Road, Roche Harbor Road and Roche Harbor. That land at one time had a one residence per 2 acre density but now it’s R5.
• Simplify and reduce up front land use permit costs.
• Expand the Rural General land use designation on all islands so that there is an ample supply of land where businesses can operate which would not be able to legally operate within most all other current designations. This could help attract non-tourism businesses that could pay better wage rates. Examples of such business are: LUXEL, FEDEX, San Juan Sanitation, Island Supply, and various light industrial/repair shops or manufacturing companies. We are lacking property for businesses like those to locate on.
• Increase the density for rural residential “cluster” homes from 8 units to 12 units for affordable housing.
• Relax regulations to allow for seasonal employee rental housing on rural non-farm land.
If I were to “shoot for the moon” I would like to see San Juan County opt out of the Growth Management Act (GMA). Planning in compliance with the GMA is likely the biggest single reason that we have housing shortages. Planning under the GMA has also created an insatiable appetite for money, staffing and permit requirements for both the public and private sectors involved in the creation of housing.
Please vote “NO” on Proposition 1.