Navy study finds no Whidbey housing crisis

Navy officials don’t see a housing crisis that would affect service members at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island.

A new study, the “Housing Requirement and Market Analysis,” looks at population and housing for NAS Whidbey personnel over the period of 2017 to 2022. Even with predicted growth in the base population, the study predicts a small surplus in “family housing” on base by 2022.

The study, however, doesn’t include the growth in base population associated with the increase in EA-18G Growler aircraft.

Navy officials say they plan to repeat the study next year, after the final Environmental Impact Statement, or EIS, is completed; depending on which alternative is chosen in the EIS, the number of base personnel would increase by 370 to 660 service members.

Still, Navy officials say the study doesn’t point to a housing crisis, either now or impending.

For the past few years, Whidbey officials have lamented a perceived dearth of housing, especially affordable housing, on the island. The recent controversy over the proposed Wright’s Crossing development centered around the issue of housing availability.

Wright’s Crossing is being proposed for property off State Highway 20 and Monroe Landing Road that’s currently farmland.

Oak Harbor Mayor Bob Severns has made affordable housing a top priority for his administration. He said the Navy study offers some comfort.

“I’m confident that we could use more housing in the $250,000 to $300,000 price range, but I don’t know how much would be too much,” he said, referring to the Wright’s Crossing development that could bring as many as 1,500 new homes to Oak Harbor.

Some critics of the development have said the project is too big and would result in traffic headaches.

The base currently has 8,250 military personnel. Assuming that the EIS will call for the largest increase — 660 additional sailors — the base will have 8,600 military personnel by 2024, according to Mike Coury, of Strategy and Future Policy. While Growler squadrons will see increases in personnel, other squadrons will see decreases.

Wayne Short, the Fleet and Family Readiness director, said officials at the Navy housing office haven’t seen a housing problem among members of the military. He said they asked 30 people who came into the office about how long they waited to get family housing on base.

The longest wait was three months, and most waited 30 days or less.

The Navy’s goal at bases nationwide is to provide about 20 percent of the housing. At NAS Whidbey, 38 percent of sailors live in military housing, Short said. That means the base causes less strain on the community’s housing market, he said.

Short said sailors are reporting that they are finding housing in the community, but that rents increased significantly. The study says rents increased about 10 percent on Whidbey Island during the last year.

The study assumes that Navy personnel will live within a one-hour drive of the base, which includes all of Whidbey Island and as far away as Sedro-Woolley in Skagit County.

There are currently 64,962 housing units in the area, including 21,068 rental housing units. The number is expected to climb to 66,176 in 2022, including 21,175 rental units.

While the study doesn’t predict a shortage of family housing, it does point to a shortfall in capacity at the barracks — which is for junior enlisted members of the Navy. The study predicts a 914-bed deficit by 2022.

Short said the base is looking to add capacity to the existing barracks, which could mean things like reconfiguring rooms. Also, the Navy can simply approve more requests for the young sailors to move out of barracks and into housing in the community.

About 100 requests were approved this year.

“We are doing pretty well at meeting the needs of service members,” he said.

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