Council mulls affordable housing strategies

Oak Harbor City Council members are considering ideas in the Housing Action Plan.

Oak Harbor city council members are considering a plan to address affordable housing.

Consultants from LDC, Inc. presented council members with the Housing Action Plan at their meeting on April 20. If adopted, it would outline the city’s strategies to address affordable housing for years to come. It includes a housing needs assessment to inform the housing action plan.

The city has grown by more than 3,000 residents over the past 20 years, according to the assessment. Most of the growth was among people 25-44 years old, and the report noted that growth at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island was a driving factor.

The assessment found the average home value jumped from $229,000 to $333,000 from 2011-2019. Average rent payments grew from $1,210 to $1,580 per month in the same period. The consultant found 41 percent of households in the city own their homes rather than rent.

Median household income, however, did not keep up with home values. The report found income grew by 11.1 percent from about 2007 to about 2018 while home values grew by almost 40 percent.

There were 342 new, single-family homes built from 2010-2019 but few apartments and other multi-family homes. The report said the city would need to add 78 new units of various types each year to meet population growth expectations by 2036.

There were five overarching strategies to increase affordable housing in the report: incentivize new rental housing, decrease the cost of development, increase the variety of housing types, prevent and mitigate displacement, and implement the recommendations from the Island County North Whidbey Affordable Housing Task Force.

Some actions the city could take to enact those strategies include using a multifamily tax exemption program, giving density bonuses, creating permit efficiencies, changing the calculation used for determining off-street parking for multi-family housing, and updating landlord-tenant ordinances.

A multi-family tax exemption program would incentivize new construction or rehabilitation of existing housing by exempting projects from property taxes for “either an 8- or 12-year period depending on the level of affordability,” the report explained. It was suggested multiple times.

The Island County North Whidbey Affordable Housing Task Force analyzed housing needs in Oak Harbor and the North End of the island from 2016-2018. Its recommendations overlapped with many of those consultants included in their report. Examples include allowing sewer extension into areas covered by the urban growth area surrounding the city, allowing duplexes in single-family zones, waiving impact fees for some developments and giving density bonuses. A list of the task force’s ideas was included in the housing action plan document.

Councilmember Jim Woessner said he has been looking forward to the housing action plan for a long time after having served on the Island County North Whidbey Affordable Housing Task Force several years ago.

“This goes to show we are 10 years behind the curve, folks,” Woessner said of the city’s housing needs.

Oak Harbor Senior Planner Dennis Lefevre said the plan would be brought back to city council members at their May workshop meeting for more comments.

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