WHAT ARE WE MISSING? Part 1: Affordable Housing
Updated: Mar 16, 2022
PfA Blog March 7, 2022
The February 23, 2022 joint meeting of Poulsbo’s City Council and Planning Commission laid out the framework for developing Poulsbo’s twenty-year comprehensive plan, which will set policy regarding population growth, housing, natural resources, transportation, and economic development. After a presentation by the planners, Mayor Becky Erickson cheerily asked each leader in the Zoom room: “What are we missing?”
We took her question as being a bit smug, assuming that Poulsbo has covered all the bases. City government obeys the mandates and regulations from the state level down to the local, so what room for improvement could there possibly be?
Poulsbo for All proposes a three-part blog series to consider what Poulsbo is missing.
Part I: Housing in Poulsbo
Poulsbo residents we’ve talked to, especially many who live up the hill from Highway 305, have expressed concern about the changes resulting from the razing of green space to build homes. The further from downtown and its picturesque Nordic trappings, the more everything looks like an anonymous bedroom community. There is little to give character to the new tracts. If you have recently moved to the Noll Road area, you might hanker for a neighborhood center, with a mom-and-pop store, a coffee place, a garden / toy / clothing store to poke your head into, or a friendly ethnic eatery.
Are there any plans such for gentle changes in zoning? Not that we can tell, though it was suggested at the February 23 meeting. Our town is run by a hardworking long-time mayor (of 12 years) who follows those directives for development, and by a city council of seven part-time members. Their meager pay discourages an energetic re-imagining of Poulsbo. Those possessing the initiative—real estate developers—dominate the action. A developer’s goal is maximum profit, which translates to single-family homes at $800,000 a pop.
At that February Council meeting, the Zoom room was asked a question: what in Poulsbo does each of you take pride in showing to out-of-town visitors? Most everyone present answered the same way: Front Street, Sluy’s Bakery, Fish Park, Waterfront Park… i.e., the picturesque little downtown. No one takes visitors to the developments along Noll Road.
A staff report presented to the city council last November—the fruit of valuable research by Heather Wright, Poulsbo’s planning director—analyzed Poulsbo’s housing situation. Here are some of the findings:
- 90% of Poulsbo workers do not live in Poulsbo, largely because they can’t afford to. This is unhealthy, as nonresidents don’t have a stake in the community, and also because commuting wastes time and fuel.
- 60% of Poulsbo jobs are low wage (less than $3,300/month). - 34% of renters and 29% of homeowners are “cost burdened” (spend over 30% of their monthly income on housing. - 28% of Poulsbo’s residents are over the age of 60 and another 11% will reach 60 within the next decade. - Current housing construction is ahead of city goals under the Growth Management Act, and
the houses being built are not affordable for those most in need of housing.
- Poulsbo lacks a “housing middle.” Between houses and apartments, it has few duplexes or triplexes or centrally located townhouses. As families age and family members move or pass away, those seeking to downsize would look for homes centrally located in Poulsbo— but they don’t exist.
Let us add:
- Poulsbo has very little affordable housing. Our city of 12,000 currently has about 350 low-rent or partially subsidized apartment units. To move into any of them, you have to be on a waiting list for 6 months to a year.
- Housing policy has racial implications. The city council proudly reads an opening statement at each meeting:
“Poulsbo is committed to being a welcoming, diverse, and equitable community where all people can access tools and opportunities to improve their quality of life, allowing them to reach their full potential. During its meetings the Poulsbo City Council will use this lens to inclusivity to view its discussions and actions.”
Diverse and equitable? Poulsbo is becoming increasingly whiter (currently 84%, as against 76% for the US), older, and richer.
- Whereas the city uses the mandates of the Growth Management Act to explain the housing boom, the GMA’s mandates do not account for the current breakneck pace of building.
- What is the economic interest of the mayor and other city leaders in allowing not just growth but specifically, the onslaught of single-family homes?
- Whom will this policy attract?
- Whom does it leave out? More of the folks who work in Poulsbo, who greet customers in shops and deliver mail and supplies, who speak other languages, people of color, military folks from Bremerton, young families and singles just starting out.
So. WHAT ARE WE MISSING in terms of Poulsbo’s housing?
In order of importance:
1. Affordable housing. If you Google “Poulsbo low-income housing,” you discover the few possibilities and the waiting lists even for them. In November we visited residents of a charming, modest mobile home community near North Kitsap High School. The management had just raised maintenance fees by $80 per month per unit, and many residents on fixed incomes couldn’t afford the hike. What should they do, where will they go? The City contributes a small annual amount to Kitsap Homes of Compassion, a private non-profit that relies on grants and volunteers to provide (almost self-sustaining) housing and counseling support to homeless people. Kitsap HOC currently operates three homes in Poulsbo, benefiting about 12 qualified people.
What about low wage earners trying to live in Poulsbo, though? We wonder whether the city can address housing issues on a larger scale, seeking subsidies, cooperative arrangements, or limiting market-rate zoning in favor of affordable housing. The Mayor recently mentioned that the City has $943,000 left in government Covid-related funds, which could go a long way toward granting subsidies to strapped renters. Or, as some California cities are hoping to do, providing municipal funding for nonprofit housing acquisitions. Affordable housing encourages diversity, and promotes equity, where—as the city council rosily describes Poulsbo—“all people can access tools and opportunities.”
2. The housing middle. How can we increase population density in the desirable parts of town? What plans might there be for Poulsbo Village, for example? Imagine its transformation from the current parking lots and struggling stores into green space, duplexes and apartments, street-level shops, and convenient transit connections.
3. Neighborhood business cores, as we mentioned at the outset.
Housing policy has a direct impact on the city’s future. What do we want Poulsbo’s population to look like in twenty years?