At the start of the pandemic housing advocates began to worry that the housing crisis was about to get much worse. Not only were many in the workforce becoming suddenly housing insecure, but there …
At the start of the pandemic housing advocates began to worry that the housing crisis was about to get much worse. Not only were many in the workforce becoming suddenly housing insecure, but there was concern that an increasing number of people would want to move here.
Well, that concern is no longer a possibility; it is happening now.
Real estate professionals are reporting high volumes of offers at ever-escalating prices. Members of Housing Solutions Network are hearing stories of modest homes being sold for well over asking price, in cash; recently a home sold for $200,000 above asking price, also in cash. Real estate agents have said that homes for sale are receiving over 10, sometimes over 20, offers within days.
Meanwhile, folks seeking rentals say that it is hard to find a unit under $2,000 per month, and that some landlords are requiring tenants to have several months of rent on hand.
One person seeking a rental said over 20 people looked at the same unit in one day.
A local real estate professional told me, “We are experiencing a huge influx of people fleeing the cities, and I fear that it’s going to be a permanent change to our community that nobody can stop or mitigate.”
We must recognize what is at stake.
The problem is not “being overrun by newcomers.” What is at stake is the functionality and vitality of our local economy, which impacts all of our lives. When our very limited housing stock is used by people who do not work in local jobs, either because they are retired, they have remote jobs, or because the house is an investment or vacation home, all of our local industries are at risk.
If we don’t find a way to protect housing from market forces, in a way that keeps it permanently affordable for local workers, and if we don’t prioritize housing that is more inherently affordable — smaller and denser — our already suffering local economy will not be able to recover and sustain.
The equation is simple: no affordable housing, no workforce. No workforce, no recovery.
The same real estate professional said, “We need to leverage all our collective assets as a community to create more rental and purchase units. Because prices will not be going down in the coming years, the most we can hope for is a pause so earnings have even a possibility of catching up, but that will only happen with new units being built or re-established.”
The community needs to form a strong consensus that housing for our workforce is a priority for all of our sake. This means supporting denser zoning in Port Townsend; converting vacation rentals into residential rentals; keeping housing at the forefront of every conversation about pandemic recovery; donating time, money, and land to local housing organizations, and getting engaged in this work for the long haul.
(Justine Gonzalez-Berg is the Network Weaver for Housing Solutions Network and Board Trustee for Homeward Bound Community Land Trust.)