City Council on Monday evening (March 20) provided some of the most compelling public testimony I've had the privilege to witness. As the spouse and I are often the only 'public' at Council meetings, it was refreshing to see so many young people in the chamber. Refreshing, and sad.
The 'young' folk appeared to all be in their thirties, solid millenials. All had strong connections to Port Townsend. Some were born here, most went to school here. Most were adequately employed. None could find adequate housing here and by adequate I mean 'any'. Some were employed and homeless, some were couch surfing. More than once we heard that for those who had been properly housed, their landlords decided to turn the rental into an AirBnB. Unless the owners intend to live in those rentals full time while AirBnB'ing their spare rooms, it is illegal (and always has been per our municipal code) but it is still happening.
One of those testifying mentioned that he works two jobs. What he didn't say was that he is in negotiations to buy a downtown business. But he can't find a place to live.Those who are trying to rent find themselves tenth in line for every advertised unit. Those testifying indicated that it was no challenge to find housing in Sequim or Port Angeles, but they don't want to live in Sequim or Port Angeles. Port Townsend is home, it's where their jobs are, their memories are, their families are.
What is different about Port Townsend that we cannot welcome our own grown children back to this community? A visit to the US Census and the American Community Survey website provided data, but few glaring revelations. Median house value in PT is $100,000 more than in PA, and $70,000 more than in Sequim, yet our median rent charged is in line with our neighbors. We have more total housing units per population than either of our neighbors. We also have a higher percentage of 'vacant' houses (668 at last ACS count), not defined as rentals or owner-occupied, but many are likely second homes for those wealthy enough to have more than one. We have a higher percentage of owner-occupied housing compared to rental housing than do our neighbors. Our rental vacancy rate is half of Sequim's and almost a third of PA's. There are no rentals to be had here, of any quality at any price.
A visit to the Peninsula Housing Authority's website was also revealing. Both PA and Sequim provide opportunities online to apply for Section 8 or other affordable housing. PT's Section 8 housing waitlist is 'closed'. PA has significant public housing and other affordable housing. We have no public housing. We have programs in place to assist lower income people to own homes by building them, but for those who aren't ready to own by that model, we provide no options, no support, and no encouragement. Is this any way to treat our community's children, now grown and home again and teetering into homelessness?