Opinion

Whidbey's slowing home values good for 'modest' homeowners

If there’s a silver lining in the national housing crisis, it’s that property values on Whidbey Island have finally stopped skyrocketing.

Assessor Dave Mattens announced last week that the average overall increase in real property values over the past year was 4.8 percent. That’s not insignificant, and still no doubt exceeds the average increase in personal income, but it’s tolerable, especially compared to last year when values increased 15 percent, and the year before, when values soared a horrifying 35 percent.

This is good news, particularly for homeowners who live in more modest dwellings situated on non-view property. Many of their home values actually stayed the same or decreased slightly over the past year. So their property taxes will stay about the same, plus whatever tax increases were approved by voters.

The news probably isn’t quite so good for owners of prime “high demand” properties, presumably the higher-end homes on the water or with views of the water and mountains. Their valuations continued to increase, although not as much as in recent years.

Within these figures is a subtle shift of the tax burden from people of more modest means to the better off. The various governments always get their money, but the burden changes with valuations. The people who own the most expensive homes pay the most, and they’ll pay a bit more this years because their homes increased in value while others didn’t. Most islanders have no problem with this development, although it’s annoying to the more affluent among us.

Overall, the Whidbey Island housing market has cooled considerably, but not disastrously as in other areas of the country. And the slowdown in valuations is helpful to most islanders who don’t want to be taxed off their property as they watch their home values soar. The market is suddenly more rational, and home sales will no doubt improve as soon as the rest of the country starts to rebound from the housing crisis.

As an aside, Assessor Mattens and his staff have done a fine job of getting the valuation notices out on time, after several years of tardiness by the previous administration. This makes it much easier on homeowners to appeal their valuations, and for taxing districts to figure their incomes.

All should have a home

Homelessness is a national embarrassment, as exemplified by a North Whidbey family who found themselves homeless as a result of job, legal and personal problems. As chronicled in Saturday’s Whidbey News-Times, they ended up living in the woods in a moldy motorhome with no running water or septic system, and they were lucky to have that. (The story can be found online at www.whidbeynewstimes.com)

It should become a national goal that no person or family has to live in dirty, unsafe, unsanitary conditions. There are myriad causes of homelessness, and in some cases the public’s reaction is that the people deserve their plight, but that’s not the point. They’re human beings and should retain a minimal amount of rights, including the right to decent housing for themselves and their families.

Local groups, such as Island County Habitat for Humanity, make heroic efforts to help house the homeless, but they can help only a few. The federal government and states should team up to assure everyone has a home.

The furthest an American should fall is that they have to live in a government-provided house or apartment, and have to go to work for the government to pay the rent even if that means picking up litter or sweeping the streets. Until that is done, homelessness will continue to be a national embarrassment.

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