In our opinion: Affordable housing should top legislative priorities

  • Tuesday, November 19, 2019 1:19pm
  • Opinion

Elected officials across Whidbey Island are completing their wish lists for Olympia.

Around this time each year, the local officials enumerate the things that they most want the state Legislature to do in the upcoming session. They meet with local state Senate and House members and talk about their problems.

One issue that is on all the lists and deserves the state’s full attention is affordable housing. It’s not a sexy issue and it’s something that everyone has heard about countless times, but it’s vital to the economy, the environment and to people’s quality of life.

Whidbey Island is a microcosm that exemplifies this statewide problem. Much of the island’s workforce travels to other counties for housing because there are few affordable options on the island. Some are homeless. Those who find places often pay a disproportionate percentage of their income for housing.

The Association of Washington Cities has a priority list that offers more specific ideas. The proposals would allow cities to have more flexibility in addressing the housing issue on a local level. The ideas include additional councilmanic taxing authority for housing and extending and expanding tax programs that incentivize affordable housing.

The focus should be on funding programs that actually construct new affordable and supportive housing. No more money is needed to be spent on studies or salaries of personnel who are supposed to help people find housing that isn’t there.

The Legislature should also fix a new tax credit program for affordable housing that’s unnecessarily complex and set at a level that makes it pretty ineffectual for smaller counties.

Voters in Oak Harbor passed a measure that would increase sales tax by a small amount and raise nearly $1 million a year for street repair, but there’s nothing similar that cities can do to fund workforce housing.

When it comes to priorities, shouldn’t helping to provide people with homes they can afford be as important as having smooth roads?

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