Community activists Bruce Cowan and Deborah Pedersen are leading a campaign to support Proposition 1, a home opportunity levy aimed at raising $1.9 million a year for seven years, starting in 2018, to help create and maintain affordable housing in Jefferson County.
Since the campaign began in earnest, after Jefferson County commissioners voted unanimously July 31 to put the measure on the Nov. 7 general ballot, Cowan and Pedersen, his wife, have been working to inform the community about the proposal they and others are supporting.
Last week, Cowan and Pedersen filed their intentions with the state Public Disclosure Commission (PDC) to raise funds for the campaign. Cowan is manager of the campaign, which they have named Homes Now, and Pedersen is treasurer.
Both also donated $500 each to launch the campaign. Cowan said he expects to start seeking campaign donations.
On Aug. 16, the couple knocked on the door of Jefferson Healthcare commissioners and urged that board to endorse the proposal. The board asked questions, but took no action that day. It could act on the request at a Sept. 6 board meeting.
Cowan, former chair of the Jefferson County Democrats, told hospital commissioners that organizers have worked with Vicki Kirkpatrick of Jefferson County Public Health as well as Dunia Faulx of Jefferson Healthcare to represent the community health aspect of housing issues.
Cowan noted that the 2014 Community Health Improvement Plan (CHIP), which Jefferson Healthcare was involved in writing and is also involved in implementing, identified housing as a root cause of issues in the community that hamper employment, economic development and the overall health of residents.
A retired elementary school teacher, Cowan reiterated what he has said at other meetings, that he has heard a lot of reasons why a child might not be able to do their homework, but the excuse that broke his heart was the one from a student about having to move during the night because of a loss of housing.
“I’ve learned new words for what I already knew. Adverse childhood experiences. It was tough on me. I can’t imagine what it was like for them,” Cowan told hospital commissioners.
Cowan said Homes Now organizers are approaching public agencies and nonprofits, churches and home builders, and are learning about the challenges that limited housing options pose.
“We chose the hospital board because housing is an integral part of public health and the CHIP report named housing as a challenge, and because they had participated in developing that proposal,” Cowan said.
“I believe we need the fund here because the market alone simply isn't going to provide modest and affordable housing,” said Pedersen. “The fund alone isn't the total solution, but I really hope our community will embrace the opportunity it represents.”
The Homes Now campaign has also drafted a resolution for hospital commissioners to approve, if they choose.
IN PORT HADLOCK, BRINNON
The Homes Now campaign also had a booth at the Jefferson County Fair earlier this month.
“There were a lot of people who were eager to support and endorse the measure, and others who hadn’t heard about it yet,” Cowan said.
“Our takeaway from it was that we need to educate people about the possibilities this will open up and what it will look like when it’s implemented,” he said of needing to spell out how the money raised by the levy through property taxes would be used.
As an example, Cowan said Olympic Community Action Programs (OlyCAP) has 14 units in its South Seven housing project in Port Hadlock, and that it could add another 15 units.
“They already have plans and building approval,” Cowan said of OlyCAP. What’s missing is funding.
Cowan said OlyCAP could use some of the money from the levy as seed money to raise other funds for expanding that project.
OlyCAP also is looking to complete a feasibility assessment of the old Brinnon Motel, with the goal of converting 12 empty rooms into single-resident units for lower-income people, Cowan said, noting that the county-owned building is served by Jefferson Transit.
OlyCAP also could begin seeking partnerships to develop two 20-unit apartment complexes in Port Townsend, by leveraging funds raised by the levy to match loans and grants from the Housing Trust Fund and the Washington State Housing Finance Commission.
Although Cowan said Homes Now has not yet approached school boards, he did say the group has talked to school officials and that they expressed an understanding of the challenges faced by students and families. School staff also face housing challenges, Cowan said, adding that one new principal reported limited options in renting a home within driving distance of Jefferson County.
“And some staff drive from Kitsap County to work here, adding a stress and expense to their lives,” he said.
Cowan said Homes Now is planning a series of coffee talks around the county. Dates for those talks have not yet been set.
The levy proposal is being supported by the Peninsula Housing Authority; Habitat for Humanity of East Jefferson County; OlyCAP; Bayside Housing Services; EDC Team Jefferson; Sarge’s Place, an organization in Forks that established three facilities for veterans; as well as COAST, a nonprofit organization that operates the Winter Shelter in Port Townsend.
Cowan said he hopes to update the Homes Now website
As of Aug. 21, no organized opposition to Jefferson County’s Proposition 1 has been filed with the state PDC.