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Affordable housing is the topic for the next Record Exchange

While house prices continue to rise on South Whidbey, workers’ paychecks are not increasing.

Add to that a lack of high-paying jobs and it’s easy to see the cause of the affordable housing crisis that’s gripping Island County.

For some, there is hope that solutions can be found in time to revitalize a housing market that would cater to middle income families and first-time home-buyers.

Experts in housing issues will lead a discussion on affordable housing at the next Exchange, a series of issue-orientated public forums sponsored by The South Whidbey Record.

Goosefoot Community Fund, which has a mission to create affordable housing opportunities on Whidbey, is co-sponsoring the Exchange, which is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, March 18, in the Front Room at the Bayview Cash Store.

At next week’s forum, a panel of affordable housing experts will start the dialogue on affordable housing and perhaps provide some answers.

Sherry Mays, publisher of The South Whidbey Record, will also serve as host for the forum.

Mays said rising costs in the housing market are having a negative effect on South Whidbey.

“I think the South End, in particular, is facing a real housing crisis,” she said. “Our median house prices have gone through the roof, there aren’t enough rentals and we’re losing key people in our community.”

Debbie Torget, who serves as Goosefoot’s chief operating officer, agreed.

“What happens when people can’t afford a simple necessity such as a home and what does that do to a community?” Torget asked. “We don’t want to live in an abandoned community where people can no longer afford to live here.”

The housing issue has become an unbalanced equation for Torget.

“As we become a more desirable community, land prices will keep up with that desirability,” she said. “It really starts to close opportunities down. You need that diversity of young families, first-time home-buyers and blended families. We all lose something in that.”

Mays said she hopes the Exchange will foster a deeper understanding of what affordable housing is and what it isn’t.

“’Affordable housing’ is often misunderstood. I hope the forum helps our neighbors understand what it means to them and the entire community,” Mays said.

“There are many people who tend to think affordable housing means diving home values and rampant crime. I think there are enough good models of well-thought-out affordable housing communities that will prove this to be a myth,” she said.

Torget said the panel will answer questions during the evening about who would benefit from low-cost housing and what it is.

“The thing we’re looking forward to with the forum is to have a more common understanding of mainly, ‘What is affordable housing?’” she said. “Affordable to whom, who needs it? What we’re learning from the Housing Authority of Island County is that they have identified working families as being the most severely under-served population on South Whidbey.”

Steve Gulliford, the executive director of Housing Authority of Island County, said one solution to getting more people into less expensive homes might be to get more housing. Lots more.

“There is not enough of it. Our units in Langley (Brookhaven) are serving seniors and persons with disabilities,” Gulliford said. “They are not serving families. That leaves just Saratoga Terrace, which serves 24 families.”

Because of a serious lack of low-income housing facilities,

Gulliford will speak about other organizations that are attempting to fill gaps, he said.

“I am going to discuss the organizations and programs that are available in Island County, such as Habitat for Humanity, Whidbey Island Share a Home and Saratoga Community Housing,” he said.

Not even Island County workers are immune from the issue, said Island County Commissioner Phil Bakke, who will also speak at the forum.

“I don’t know what the answer is going to be,” Bakke said. “It’s tough for our county staff to find affordable housing. Not everybody has $350,000 laying around and that seems to be the average price of a lower-end house. Not to mention if you got something with a view; heaven forbid.”

“The county has been wrapped around this from time to time, trying to think of what the county could do,” he said. “Under Growth Management Act rules that we have to follow, it’s difficult to do affordable housing on 5-acre lots. And that’s a lot of what we have in the county.”

To Torget, even $250,000 for a home is too high for younger workers who return to the island.

“Most starting wages don’t support you getting into a $250,000 home comfortably and being able to keep it,” she said.

Spencer Webster can be reached at 221-5300 or swebster@southwhidbeyrecord.com.

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