Commissioner holding discussion on housing

While officials agree the lack of affordable housing has hit a crisis level countywide, they also agree it looks different for across zip codes.

To promote growth on South and Central Whidbey, District 1 Island County Commissioner Helen Price Johnson will host an informational meeting 5 p.m. Wednesday, May 15, at Trinity Lutheran Church in Freeland.

The commissioner, planning staff and human services staff will discuss resources available and what can be built where, according to planner Meredith Penny.

Land south of Coupeville has comparatively small urban growth areas, which are where state law requires most growth to happen, Penny said.

This limits the amount possible of density, which impacts the affordability of housing, according to Penny.

There are also limitations due to septic capacity and the lack of sewer services.

Discussions will focus on what’s currently allowed for individuals or small developers looking to help provide “economical” solutions to the lack of workforce housing, Price Johnson said.

“There’s quite a bit of capacity given our current regulations and the steps the county has already taken,” she said.

For instance, she’s unsure if many people are aware that attached accessory dwelling units are allowed in rural zoned areas.

This has been seen as a potential solution for seniors hoping to age in place or households hoping to create housing for young residents just entering the work force, she said.

A housing needs analysis, interviews and focus groups performed by the county found a significant lack of available units for low-income households.

Renters in the area are spending too much of their money on housing, causing a financial burden.

Employers, especially on South Whidbey, have also noted a difficulty recruiting workers because of the housing situation.

Price Johnson said she plans to provide resources to those who are struggling to find housing and updates on what the county is doing to facilitate development of affordable units.

Some “creative options” allowed under existing code will also be discussed.

She and staff will also be receptive to feedback about barriers people are facing.

“It’s not going to be a one-size-fits-all solution to meet the needs of Island County,” Price Johnson said.