05/24/2006: "Work Together To Create Affordable Housing"
To the editor:
The defeat of the proposed Real Estate Excise Tax (REET} on Tuesday, May 16th is not an indication that islanders are not concerned about the rising cost of housing for working families in San Juan County. Voters just did not see this tax as the appropriate solution.
The San Juan Builders Association would like to work with those who share our concern about affordable housing for working families. There are answers. Some involve the need for changes in current county government policies. With a reasonable approach to land use regulation, permitting fees, and opportunity or incentives for private property owners, more affordable housing can become a reality.
The largest unmet need is good quality rental housing that is affordable for individuals, couples and working families. One answer is to encourage property owners to build guesthouses. Offering an incentive, such as the forgiveness of permitting fees and costs if the unit is rented long term for some defined period of time, could be the encouragement that some property owners could find beneficial.
Longer term, a change in the public and governmental attitude toward housing and growth is essential. We can never achieve a balanced housing market if our local culture and actions mandate that less and less land is available for housing. The "market affect" simply takes over and prices rise beyond the reach of all but the wealthiest. Policy changes in the open space programs and the Land Bank to include an affordable housing component would help.
It is not sustainable to constrict land for housing and not expect prices to rise substantially. Innovative planning options need to be brought forward. This is where professional quality land use planning comes into play. With good planning it is possible to have an adequate supply of land for housing at rational prices AND maintain the scenic and environmental qualities we all treasure in San Juan County. This kind of quality planning takes a commitment by government and the community at large.
Working together and encouraging local government to be more enlightened, will make a difference.
John B Evans
San Juan Builders Association