"After 10 years of working on many of the classic yachts and wooden boats in Port Townsend, which Port Townsend is famous for, I can't help but point out the obvious: This town has a lot of wealth …
"After 10 years of working on many of the classic yachts and wooden boats in Port Townsend, which Port Townsend is famous for, I can't help but point out the obvious: This town has a lot of wealth and people are living outdoors all winter.”
For almost a year in my role at Housing Solutions Network, I’ve been listening to local families, employers, and workers about how our housing crisis has affected them.
The opening quote was from an anonymous boatyard worker on a recent KPTZ panel discussion. Another resounding statement, from local employer Jake Beattie: “The battlement I will die on is [that] if I continue to be the executive director of the Northwest Maritime Center, and our town prices out the entire maritime sector of our community … I've failed.“
And at a recent city council meeting, Buster Ferris, owner of Edensaw Woods, said: “I have 15 employees retiring in the next five years … no one will be able to replace them, because no one can afford to live here. If I go out of business, the marine trades are affected … and then the woodworking school, and the wooden boat school.”
All across our community, households — even those making up to twice the average income — cannot secure housing; or if they do, it might not be stable long-term. The 2022 median Jefferson County home price of $615,000 is over $200,000 higher than it was three years ago, and $385,000 higher than what the average household can afford. And whether or not someone can afford the price of our rentals is secondary to whether there are any available, period. A healthy rental vacancy rate would be around 4 percent; we hover between 0 percent and 1 percent.
Over the summer, as every summer, people will visit our town to attend or participate in the Race to Alaska or the Wooden Boat Festival. “How charming,” they will think about our picturesque town. “How quaint. How nice it must be to live here.”
The charm belies the fact that it is increasingly difficult for workers to live, create, and anchor themselves here. Due to lack of housing, folks who have lived here for decades are having to uproot, leaving holes in our community (and economy). Young people who want to come here to settle down, contribute, and fill positions that desperately need filling, are simply unable to.
But there will never be a shortage of wealthy retirees, remote workers, and climate migrants who (understandably!) want to move to our charming seaport and can afford to pay all in cash or $100,000 over asking price. There will never be a lack of people wanting to buy a vacation home here despite the fact that we are experiencing a housing emergency.
And so, we will have to do some hard work and think creatively to alleviate this crisis. We must keep our hearts, minds, and ears open. This year the city will start working on the 2025 Comprehensive Plan. Let’s pay attention and give support when viable solutions are on the table.
What we can hope for in return: not having to worry about hospital understaffing when we get the call that a loved one is in the ER. Knowing our emergency responders are fully staffed when a partner or parent hits black ice on 101. Fully staffed restaurants, stores, and schools. Homes for our farmers and the maritime workers who contribute to the unique culture of our town.
My husband is a dedicated and experienced K-12 teacher, and I work in community education. We want to stay and contribute to this town that we love. We hope to raise a family here, as did my mother, my grandmother, and great-grandmother. I hope that many more children get to grow up here - wind tangling their hair on the docks downtown; North Beach sunsets; the perspective and humility that comes from living on the open water. But I don’t know. Maybe I'm the last in my family to be raised in Port Townsend.
I remain hopeful, but I stare down the average home price with a lump in my throat. I hope we don't lose Port Townsend. And I hope Port Townsend doesn't lose us.
(Kelsey Caudebec has been a staff member at Housing Solutions Network since last summer, when she moved back home to Port Townsend with her husband to settle down in her favorite town. To learn more about HSN (and to hear the KPTZ panel discussion referenced in this column), visit housingsolutionsnetwork.org.)