Housing task force to present recommendation to the public

A diverse group of Whidbey residents put their noses to the grindstone to find ways to make housing more affordable on the island.

They came up with 42 suggestions for the city of Oak Harbor, Island County, or both, to implement. Eight ideas, with topics ranging from tiny houses to tax programs, were picked as the top priorities.

Oak Harbor and Island County officials are sharing the ideas of the Affordable Housing Task Force with the public during an open house meeting 5:30-7:30 p.m., Thursday, Dec. 7 at the Oak Harbor Senior Center multipurpose room.

Oak Harbor Mayor Bob Severns and Island County Commissioner Jill Johnson formed the task force in September 2016 with the hopes of combating a scarcity of affordable housing on the island.

They thought the best ideas may come from people with real-life experience; that means contractors, real estate agents, housing advocates and others.

After the work was done earlier this year, the mayor immediately asked Development Services Director Steve Powers and City Administrator Doug Merriman to look at the list and see what can and should be implemented. Severns said it was important for the task force members to see that the plans aren’t just going to be put on a shelf.

“Hopefully, the group will know it hasn’t fallen on deaf ears,” he said.

One of the ideas that Severns said especially interests him is to eliminate or lower barriers for accessory dwelling units, such as mother-in-law apartments, on residential lots.

Another interesting idea, Severns said, is to shrink the minimum lot size, though he said there’s already a process in place to allow for that.

He asked his staff to look closely at the issue to see if the process can be improved.

“Part of this may be educating the public about what’s already possible,” he said.

Johnson said members of the public who attend the meeting Thursday will have the chance to come up with new recommendations and comment on the task force’s ideas.

“They will be asked bigger-picture questions to help us figure out what the community threshold is for the changes that need to be made for the sake of affordable housing,” she said.

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