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No. 1 Story of the Year: Affordable housing

December 30, 2016 GMT

A lack of affordable housing in Kittitas County is the Daily Record’s top local story of 2016.

While many point to the county’s purchase of the Shady Acres mobile home park as a turning point, in reality the county has been struggling with a lack of affordable housing for years. It’s become more apparent recently because of a tighter housing market, a lack of multi-family developments, less affordable land, student sprawl and rising costs.

A study commissioned by the city of Ellensburg found “alarmingly” low apartment vacancy rates, rising housing costs and a mismatch between unit sizes and household sizes, according to preliminary results released earlier this month. The apartment vacancy rate is close to zero percent for one-bedroom and studio apartments, BERK Consulting found. A healthy vacancy rate is around 5 percent.

Some potential solutions for housing have begun to take place. HopeSource has received funding to build a 50-unit affordable housing project. In additional developers have submitted an application to the county to build a 288 unit housing complex on Helena Avenue and Alder Street (see related story).

Meanwhile, people have been talking about how to address the issue. The county Homelessness and Affordable Housing Committee has been working on a 10-year comprehensive plan this year. A draft of the plan has been completed and the final version will be finished sometime in the following weeks.

Looking ahead

Kittitas County Commissioner Laura Osiadacz, who heads the Homelessness and Affordable Housing Committee, said the county has a lot of work to do in 2017.

“What I see in our future is a collective effort through Central Washington University, the city of Ellensburg, Kittitas County and the nonprofits,” Osiadacz said.

Osiadacz likes Kittitas County Habitat for Humanity’s program in particular, because it gives people an opportunity for homeownership. The program, though, only builds one home at a time, which is not a fast enough rate to meet the needs of the community.

This year different agencies in Kittitas County have come together to work on affordable housing, she said. Despite the increased talk, affordable housing is not something that’s going to be resolved over night.

Osiadacz said there are two problems that need to be addressed: one is increasing the housing stock, the second is increasing incomes.

Since the issue has become more public, several private landowners have approached nonprofits offering to provide land, she said. HopeSource in particular has received quite a few calls.

“It’s beginning to look like there is an available pipeline,” Osiadacz said.

The county also needs to address the challenges for low-income families, she said. The county needs to attract small businesses that can provide family-wage incomes. In the future more people will be able to work from their homes, which will help as well.

A year of housing

As part of work the on its 10-year plan, the Homelessness and Affordable Housing Committee put out a survey to gather data this fall. More than 2,000 people responded. A majority, 73.3 percent, either agreed or strongly agreed that affordable housing was a problem in Kittitas County. Respondents said the best solution was for the county to work with nonprofit housing developers and provide incentives to develop low-income housing.

“The pay offered in Ellensburg does not equate to the housing and utility costs in this community,” one respondent wrote. “Essentially Kittitas County is pushing families out of the community.”

Another person wrote that individuals, churches and nonprofits have the potential to make the most significant, long-term impact.

“We need to help find long-term, not Band-Aid solutions,” the person wrote.