Sound Off: Affordable housing: Alleviating financial burden

  • Tuesday, June 11, 2019 6:59pm
  • Opinion

By Shawna Smith

My name is Shawna Smith and I am a recent University of Puget Sound graduate working full time in the local property management business.

I recognize how hard it is to not only find housing, but also to qualify. Market rate housing is rented as quickly as it is listed, and the amount of income to secure an apartment today is grossly out of reach for many individuals.

As a member of the Oak Harbor work force, along with a four-year degree and three years of work experience, I struggle to find affordable housing. The few rental housing units built in the past decade on Whidbey Island led to a shortage of housing. When the supply of rental housing that is attainable does not expand to meet the need, the workforce population has to seek other options, drive further and pay over 50 percent of monthly income for rent, ultimately living and working elsewhere.

As a result of work by the Affordable Housing Task Force sponsored by Oak Harbor Mayor Robert Severns and Island County Commissioner Jill Johnson, the Low Income Housing Institute recently submitted a housing proposal to the City of Oak Harbor. The proposed project is a 51-unit mixed-use rental development that includes two retail spaces and offers apartment rents within reach of moderate income households. Twenty-five of those units are set aside for disabled military veterans. Located at 601 S.E. Pioneer Way, this development is within walking distance of many services, stores, amenities and transit.

The 51-unit rental housing project at Pioneer Way would rent to those who have income respecting the following limits. A household of one would need to make no more than $25,900; household of two, $29,600; household of three, $33,300; household of four, $36,950; and a household of five, $39,950. One of the biggest misconceptions about this project is that tenants would not be paying rent; however, rent rates will be based on income.

Rent ranges and total units of each size are 2019 estimates at this time and before a utility allowance is deducted from what the tenant pays for rent.

The support of community members and elected officials has created discourse for affordable housing in Island County. Recently, Mayor Severns stated in the Whidbey News-Times that he plans on “improving the availability of workforce housing.” Having the support of Severns and other influential individuals makes me hopeful that this is the start of an opportunity for affordable housing becoming available to accommodate our workforce.

• Smith graduated in 2017 with a degree in Communications Studies from the University of Puget Sound.