Moving the needle on affordable housing

Carmen Jaramillo
cjaramillo@ptleader.com
Posted 11/20/19

Meeting in special session on Nov. 12, Port Townsend’s City Council adopted several changes aiming to increase the amount of affordable housing in the city through deregulation.

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Moving the needle on affordable housing

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Meeting in special session on Nov. 12, Port Townsend’s City Council adopted several changes aiming to increase the amount of affordable housing in the city through deregulation.

One such measure was a change to the city’s existing accessory dwelling unit ordinance, which had required homeowners to live on the property if they plan to rent either their ADU or the main house.

City Council members said they hope this will increase the likelihood of more ADUs being built and rented.

In 2012 the city conducted a study in which it attempted to contact all legal operators of ADUs in Port Townsend to ascertain how much the owners charged in rent. The study found that 41% of all the ADUs surveyed were being rented and of those rentals 35% were being rented for less than $800.

Local housing advocate Barbara Morey spoke against the proposed ordinance amendment. She said she didn’t see how undoing it would prompt people to create more rentals. She said she felt the measure did not incentivise people to rent their ADUs and if there was no landlord living on the property then there was no one truly managing the property.

Another member of the public spoke against the ordinance as well. She said she believes the change could allow a consolidation of property ownership. The loss of the landlord and renter relationship, she said, would also be detrimental to the character and community of local neighborhoods.

Council member David Faber said he was sensitive to the issue of consolidation of property ownership. He said he too was worried about what he called “slum lords” who don’t live in town buying up property and renting them at substandard conditions.

However, he said he has personally witnessed several occasions when a person who was a local was looking to build a house and an ADU to rent on a property they owned, but was unable to do so because of the ordinance in its current form.

The new ordinance passed unanimously. This was just one of several ordinance changes and resolutions the City of Port Townsend is pursuing in order to encourage property owners to build and rent ADUs and to attract property developers to build new housing in Port Townsend.

The City Council also passed a resolution to adopt legislation that would authorize a sales and use tax for affordable housing. This is not a tax increase, but instead allows the city, through state legislation passed in 2019, to take .073% of the state’s sales tax. Based on the 2018 sales numbers, the city could reap $21,000 for affordable and supportive housing in one year.

Other ordinances included deferrals of building fees and utility connection charges for multi-family developments, a reduction of the daylight plane requirements (which govern how close you can build to your property line), minimum ground floor clear ceiling height and increased dwelling units in the R2 zone with a conditional use permit.

The ordinance changes started as concepts in the City Council ad hoc housing committee with input from developers who identified the requirements that were most restrictive of their efforts to build in Port Townsend.

Lance Bailey, City of Port Townsend development services director said this is just the first round of ordinance changes the city is considering.

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