The Port Townsend City Council planning meeting on Feb. 13 focused on providing affordable housing in Port Townsend for resident workers and long-term residents, many of whom don’t have the …
The Port Townsend City Council planning meeting on Feb. 13 focused on providing affordable housing in Port Townsend for resident workers and long-term residents, many of whom don’t have the financial wherewithal of newcomers who’ve driven up real estate prices, rents, and taxes.
Council members proposed opening Port Townsend to development. Ideas brainstormed (some being acted on) were to remove zoning restrictions, streamline permitting, upzone lots, create density, rewrite parts of the Growth Management Act, allow duplexes and condominiums and townhomes, promote development of undeveloped lots by increasing their taxes, promote ADUs, allow for tiny homes, and enable living in recreational vehicles and mobile homes.
A development boom won’t lead to cheaper, and small doesn’t mean cheap (though ADUs are helping). Place and situation determine price.
Breckenridge, Colorado, another desirable place, has lots of condominiums and townhomes, but they’re expensive.
Port Townsend will continue to attract people and money because large sections of the United States are heating and drying. Western Washington is a climate refuge, and Port Townsend is an interesting small town not yet beset by the congestion of buildings, traffic, parking, and box stores that have overwhelmed places that took off the development brakes. There are reasons why growth management acts were instituted. Designing a development boom here will only increase the inflow, demand will drive prices, and, as a consequence, Port Townsend will become congested and big-town like — but expensively so. And yes, our state government, which is trying to ameliorate the affordable housing problem, is considering opening single-family-zoned areas throughout Washington to developers.
As a military man who moved to places, left them, and then returned, I’ve had snapshot views over the decades of the development explosions that have occurred in cities near reserves like Camp Pendleton (between San Diego and Los Angeles), Peterson and the Air Force Academy (Colorado Springs), Fitzsimons (Denver), Letterman (now part of the Golden Gate National Park), and Lewis-McChord (Tacoma). Governor’s Island is a wonderfully safe place amid the go-go that is New York City. Likewise, Fort Worden, Kah Tai, the golf course, and the many parks and community paths and bikeways in Port Townsend are fenced-off-from-development havens to treasure, which, if lost, will transform into the stop-and-go-traffic of Silverdale and Seattle.
Could contracted housing for workers — provided by the city, companies, or a foundation — be considered here?
When I worked for the Navy, my family lived in cities/towns/foreign countries where housing was expensive, but we could afford to live there because we either received a housing allowance or were assigned Navy housing. A civilian example of provided housing is Medora, North Dakota, a tourist town just outside Theodore Roosevelt National Park. A private company, the Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation, runs shops, grills, theaters, and more in Medora, and it provides short- and long-term housing for its workers.
Are these workable? Might apartments on the upper floors of the buildings on Water Street be contracted or purchased by the city or a business consortium for rent to workers at affordable prices, or might homes be purchased that are kept as affordable rentals? Might property taxes be grandfathered for long-term residents of a certain limited financial balance so they’re not forced from their residences?
Removing restrictions on development in Port Townsend will predictably cause a development boom, with its accompanying congestion and traffic, but real estate and rents, being driven by demand, will remain expensive.
Securing contract housing should be explored because — unlike what happens to the prices in crazy housing markets — government or company rents can be controlled and kept affordable for workers.