Island County officials are looking at creative, and potentially controversial, ways to help ease the affordable housing crisis.
During a discussion last week, Commissioner Melanie Bacon proposed enacting a moratorium on the county’s current restrictions on using RVs as a place to live. In particular, she pondered if regulations could be loosened for those wanting to live in an RV on private property with the owner’s permission.
Previously, Commissioner Jill Johnson has questioned planning officials about issuing an emergency declaration, and Commissioner Janet St. Clair has asked them about changing the code in relation to this topic. Planning officials confirmed neither option was viable but did say a moratorium could be done.
Commissioners said they wanted some rules governing things like septic and water usage to be part of a moratorium.
“I want a little bit of vigilance in this process, but I do want the flexibility,” St. Clair said.
Planning Director Mary Engle pointed out that with more stipulations comes a need for more enforcement.
From a firsthand perspective, she said she has heard of many situations of people acting as caregivers for their parents who would like to temporarily live in an RV on the property while doing so.
St. Clair said she herself had a permit to live in a travel trailer on her property while building her home in California.
“I want a process that is transparent and documented and fair to both sides,” she said.
Current Island County code allows a temporary use permit to be issued for a period of six months for those wanting to have an RV onsite while building a home.
Johnson said that the moratorium could be lifted when county residents have better access to housing. As she also noted, people are already living in travel trailers in RV parks and she wondered why that also couldn’t be done on someone’s 5-acre property.
“In my mind, the purpose of considering a moratorium is to acknowledge that we have a problem right now, that people are doing this anyway and we’re making them code criminals when in all reality we don’t have a better solution for them,” she said.
When asked by the Whidbey News-Times what he thought of the proposed moratorium, Sheriff Rick Felici said he doesn’t see a problem with it as long as the RVs are on private property and not parked on roads.
“What I have a problem with is people abandoning them in the roadway and taking up residence in parks,” he said.
Blaine Oborn, the city administrator for Oak Harbor, wrote in an email that staff has passed on complaints the city has received regarding “unsightly” RVs outside city limits to county officials. Complaints within city limits are also being addressed.
No action was taken by the commissioners during the preliminary conversation.
More discussion on the topic is expected, with opportunities for the public’s input.