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The Puget Sound Regional Council’s Housing Strategy
May 31, 2022
I have written previously about useful information that is readily available on the Puget Sound Regional Council’s website. Currently, several planning documents related to the development of housing are featured there. This is timely, specifically for me, because on June 2nd I will represent Bainbridge Island in a meeting of the Growth Management Policy Board, and implementation of the Regional Housing Strategy will be the principal subject for discussion.
The following documents can be accessed on the website: the Regional Housing Strategy (18 pp.), an Executive Summary of the Regional Housing Needs Assessment (10 pp.), and the full Regional Housing Needs Assessment completed in January 2022 (116 pp.). I have read only portions of the third document; I will be summarizing here what I’ve learned to date, primarily from the shorter documents and the upcoming meeting’s agenda packet.
Let me comment first on how I view the PSRC and the policy documents they publish for the benefit of the four counties in their jurisdiction (King, Pierce, Snohomish, and Kitsap). Here’s a quotation from the June 2nd agenda: “By providing data, guidance, and technical assistance, PSRC supports jurisdictions in their efforts to adopt best housing practices and establish coordinated local housing and affordable housing targets.”
The goals and policies articulated by the Regional Council resemble, on a more general level, those found in our Comprehensive Plan. The policies are not mandatory regulations, and the goals are somewhat aspirational. PSRC guidance is based on an understanding that local circumstances impose limits on what is appropriate and possible. “At the local level, places vary in their needs for housing investments and interventions. A place typology is a way to identify actions based on local conditions such as size, housing needs, market conditions, demographics, growth expectations, and staff capacity” (quoting again from the meeting agenda regarding implementation of the regional strategy).
As I see it, the long-range planning efforts we are undertaking now, culminating in the 2024 Comprehensive Plan, are our opportunity to develop a “place typology” suited to Bainbridge Island that is consistent with PSRC’s broad strategies.
The Executive Summary of regional housing needs states bluntly, “The region is two years behind in housing production.” 46,000 units are needed to address this backlog. Not only that: to accommodate the population growth anticipated by 2050, a breathtaking 810,000 new housing units are needed – 418,000 for King, 187,000 for Snohomish, 161,000 for Pierce, and 43,000 for Kitsap County.
These numbers are daunting, but of course whatever progress is made in the next 25 years will be achieved gradually, in various ways, across the region. Most important, perhaps, is the need for housing of different types, breaking with development practices that have relied too much on building for the single-family home ownership market. “To meet the region’s vision for a more livable, prosperous, and equitable future, more housing is needed of different types, costs, and with access to jobs, transit and services.” This diversity is easy enough to justify, but it will be hard to achieve.
The Regional Housing Strategy is a three-fold program devoted to Supply, Stability, and Subsidy. Implementation of the strategy will not take place from the top down. “Many of the needed actions require work by cities and counties, as zoning and permitting are local functions.” Pages 14 to 16 in the Strategy document display many ways in which a local jurisdiction’s initiatives can be supported by the Regional Council and by policies and funding at the State and Federal levels.
I will have more to say in another essay about information in the Regional Housing Needs Assessment that will be pertinent to our needs on Bainbridge Island. For the time being, I will close with one passage that jumped out at me from p. 17 of the Assessment:
People of color make up about one-third of the region’s current population and increased by 174,000 residents, or 100 percent, from 2000 to 2018. This increase in population is over twice the size of the existing population in Kitsap County. The white population in the region has grown at a much slower rate of 159,000 residents, or 6 percent. People of color represent 83 percent of the region’s population growth since 2000.
Next Steps, Revising Ordinance 2022-02 (Affordable Housing on Church Property)
April 28, 2022
It goes without saying that the paragraphs below are one person’s views, not those of the City Council, which has not yet had an opportunity to discuss Ordinance 2022-02.
The Planning Commission’s April 14 DRAFT of Ordinance No. 2022-02 can be the basis for a revised DRAFT that completes the Ordinance. I think the Council will be able to reach agreement on several questions that divided the Planning Commission. We should discuss the pros and cons of returning the unfinished business to the P C with some policy direction, but I would rather have the Council accept its decision-making role at this point. The choices that have to be made are clear enough.
The Council must acknowledge that the up-zoning of property currently zoned R-0.4 is controversial. For some people, up-zoning in the “conservation area” can’t or shouldn’t be permitted. However, it should be recognized that R-0.4 zoning was applied across much of the Island in a haphazard fashion. Throughout the R-0.4 zone, many already-platted lots are less than an acre, and properties are far from equal in their value for conservation. Over the years, many things have changed, within the zone and around its edges. The Council needs to decide whether, given the location and characteristics of Bethany Lutheran’s property, any amount of affordable housing is an appropriate use there.
It has come to my attention that our Code provides, in BIMC 2.16.140, for Site-specific rezones. “The city may apply for a rezone of one or more properties as necessary to improve consistency between the official zoning map and the comprehensive plan” (140.D.2). This is a quasi-judicial process, complicated enough to be convincing.
We will need to decide on a rationale for determining how much bonus density – i. e., how many housing units, how much lot coverage, and perhaps other dimensional standards – should be allowed for affordable housing on the Bethany Lutheran site. It should be understood that the enabling Ordinance will only establish limits for a hypothetical project. Several factors, as yet unknown, might modify what will be proposed and what will be permitted. If the limit is set at 21 units, that does not mean 21 units can and will be built.
What is the proper scope for this Ordinance? We will have to choose between a focus on the Bethany site only, and an attempt to provide regulations for churches across the Island, on the assumption that there might be any number of applications for a density bonus.
We will need to determine whether this “pilot project” will set any kind of precedent for development of affordable housing on church property elsewhere on the Island. To my own way of thinking, we are dealing with a one-of-a-kind project, and if there ever is another such project here, very different circumstances will have to be taken into account.
Any such project will, I assume, involve a conditional use permit. It remains to be seen whether Ordinance No. 2022-02 will include CUP conditions suited only to this pilot project, or possibly applicable to another project.
What is most important, in my opinion, is a recognition within the Council, and broadly within the community, that in planning for this development, we are motivated by a commitment to equity in planning. We will be breaking new ground, and we are just beginning to catch up to the world we live in.
With the Bethany Lutheran project, the City can and should take deliberate steps toward the many-faceted goal of social equity: inclusion, free from partiality and prejudice, of people who, in the recent past, have had little or no opportunity to live on the Island. Everybody here knows that for a person or a family interested in moving to Bainbridge Island now, this is an exclusive and expensive place, and it has been for at least the last decade. This de facto policy of exclusion hasn’t happened deliberately. We have just looked the other way, and we haven’t made the effort needed to counteract the consequences of our zonng regulations, planning and development practices, and market forces.
Equity in planning, and planning for equity, should be a pattern in the fabric of our Housing Action Plan. Planning for equity involves imagining a future different from our present – a future that many of us will not live to see. Understanding the importance of equity in planning, we must also understand the multi-cultural history of this country, and the fact that financial and other resources have never been equitably distributed. Now it’s time to make what changes we can, responding better than in the past to the aspirational goals in our Comprehensive Plan.
Regional Population Trends, 2010-20
April 12, 2022
The Puget Sound Regional Council (PSRC), headquartered in Seattle, oversees planning efforts for four counties: King, Pierce, Snohomish, and Kitsap. The PSRC website provides access to a great deal of information about our region, and care is taken to make the facts of life comprehensible and useful. Our region is dynamic, and only by understanding the changes surrounding us and within our own community can we develop policies that will shape the future to our liking.
I have been studying several of the brief reports published in recent years under the heading of “PUGET SOUND TRENDS.” In November 2021 – as soon as possible after completion of the 2020 census – the PSRC tallied the past decade’s population growth, across the region and at the county and municipal levels.
- Regionally, the population now stands at 4.3 million, up from 3.7 million in 2010.
- Of the four counties, Kitsap is the smallest (population 275,611), with the lowest rate of population growth (9.7%).
- King County, geographically the largest and also the most populous (2,269,675), also experienced the most rapid rate of growth (17.5%).
- The other two counties, though each remains under 1 million in population, are close to King in rate of growth: Pierce at 15.8% and Snohomish at 16.1%.
While Bainbridge Island is economically and culturally linked to Seattle, we are geographically closer to the West Sound, with its mix of suburban, small town, and rural characteristics. We can’t be assured that the rate of growth in Kitsap County will remain below 10% for the next decade, but I think there’s no reason to assume otherwise.
Looking at Bainbridge Island in relation to other West Sound municipalities, I see food for thought. The Island’s growth between 2010 and 2020 involved a net increase of 1,800 people, 7.8%. Gig Harbor, in Pierce County, grew at the remarkable rate of 68.8%. Port Orchard grew by 39.9% (partly by annexation). Poulsbo grew by 30.2%, and if Poulsbo’s Urban Growth Area is included, the population there is 12,503 – roughly half of the Island’s.
Such words as “growth” and “development” are divisive – no way to start a conversation here. Population growth is not something to wish for, and there are obstacles in the way of it, both in our zoning code and in environmental regulations. However, there are downsides to our history of resisting growth: we’ve had to take it as it comes, and the housing market benefits some people while others are excluded.
We have an obligation to plan for population growth: this obligation is accepted and articulated in our Comprehensive Plan, and not something being forced upon us. After more than thirty years as a City, it’s about time we got good at planning for the future.
Obstacles to Development of Comprehensive Housing Policies
March 28, 2022
Many obstacles stand in the way of our developing effective housing policies. Under the Growth Management Act, the City has a long-standing obligation to plan for housing that “makes adequate provisions for existing and projected needs of all economic segments of the community.” The GMA wouldn’t exist if its requirements were easy to satisfy; in practice, some of them have seemed impossible. Now, however, we see the consequences of not even trying to make “adequate provisions.” The need for concerted action is recognized in the Housing Element of our current Comprehensive Plan, but we have barely begun to implement those goals and policies.
By effective housing policies, I mean regulations that are not just “on the books,” but are productive of housing that meets a wide range of community needs. In the not too distant past, such needs were met effectively by the housing market and the enterprise of property owners, whether they were building for themselves or for sale. As the Island’s population has increased and the costs of property ownership and development have gone up, however, only the high end of the market has prospered.
The need for housing policies that provide equitably for an economically diverse population has been obvious to some Islanders for at least twenty years, and what has been done? Not nothing, I would say, but not enough. Why is that?
Bainbridge Island may be unique in many ways, but we are not alone in our dearth of affordable housing. Across our region, housing that is accessible to lower-income households is in short supply, and the same is true for people of middle-income means. However, other communities are well ahead of us in responding to the regional need.
What is the problem? It’s not one problem, but many. There are intrinsic difficulties in the crafting of any sort of land use regulations. Whether they emphasize protection of environmental features or the permitting of development, such regulations are all about setting appropriate limits. Except for raising a child, what could be more difficult than that? When the development you desire is to any degree at odds with market forces and the profit motive, the difficulties are compounded exponentially.
Housing policies, like other provisions for the community’s long-term health, safety, and welfare, are designed to solve problems, or at least to make them manageable. This objective has to be broadly understood and supported. What if the so-called “problems” are not apparent and meaningful to the general public? To many, if not most people here on Bainbridge, what is most obvious is that more housing means more people. And – not to put too fine a point on it – would not many more people inevitably mean many more problems?
One of the arguments in favor of establishing Bainbridge Island as a city was that property development and population growth could and would be constrained: we the people would control our own destiny. Since incorporation, our Comprehensive Plan, Municipal Code, and administrative decisions have imposed many constraints on development. Opinions vary on how effective they have been.
Population growth has definitely been constrained in recent years. The Island’s population doubled between 1960 and 1980, going from 6,404 to 12,314. In the next 20 years, the population increased by 64.9%, adding 8,000 people. Then, between 2000 and 2020, the rate of increase was 23.4%, adding less than 5,000 people. The rate of increase was 11.8% in the first decade of this century, and 8.9% in the most recent. The current projections of future growth assume a rate of 1% per year.
How has population growth been constrained so effectively? Not by any policy decisions, unless you count decisions not to go forward with a recommended course of action: there have been several such decisions. To a great extent, market forces and the laws of supply and demand have controlled both the development of housing and population growth on the Island.
Many will say that that’s as it should be. Some people have certainly reaped financial benefits from the housing market. Many others, comfortable in their homes and more or less unperturbed by gradual increases in their property taxes, may want the restrictive status quo to continue indefinitely. I can understand, therefore, why it is difficult to develop long-range plans that will encourage development, and why any proposal for a small-scale change in the density allowed by current zoning regulations is regarded as setting a dangerous precedent.
It should be generally recognized that the housing market, as we’ve known it here on Bainbridge in recent years, provides generously for some people while it excludes many others. An up-to-date Housing Needs Assessment will, I expect, force us to confront some difficult equity issues. (By “us” I mean the general public as well the City Council and other public servants.) I will try to address such issues some other time.
Bainbridge Island’s Housing Needs Assessments, Part Two
March 10, 2022
The 2016 Housing Needs Assessment is more elaborate and data-rich than its predecessor. It responds to guidance from the State level (in the Revised Code of Washington and the Washington Administrative Code) and from the Puget Sound Regional Council and Countywide planning policies.
Here is the opening sentence of the Introduction: “The purpose of this Housing Needs Assessment is to present the City of Bainbridge Island’s current housing goals and policies, along with the City’s current housing supply inventory and demographics, and provide some analysis based on these statistics to determine the current and future housing needs on the Island.”
As a component of the current Comprehensive Plan, the Needs Assessment adds a supplement, in its 62 pages, to the relatively brief Housing element: the “shoulds” and “shalls” in the Assessment could carry just as much weight as those in the Comprehensive Plan itself. To date, however, relatively little has been done to implement the 2016 Housing element’s goals and policies, which is why we need a Housing Action Plan and an updated Winslow Subarea Plan.
As is noted on p. 9 of the Assessment, Kitsap County’s planning policies call for “equitable distribution of affordable housing at all income levels,” and for “implementing regulations to provide a mix of housing types and costs to achieve identified goals.” Those policies focus on dispersing “housing for those below 120% countywide median income throughout Kitsap County” (p. 10).
Pages 12 to 33 provide a Housing Supply Inventory, documenting changes in the supply of different housing types and in the costs of ownership and rental tenancy between 1980 and 2010. It comes as no surprise that “single-family housing makes up 81% of all housing units on Bainbridge Island” (p. 12). Throughout those 30 years, more than 75% of those residences were owner-occupied (pp. 15-16).
As was noted in the 2003 Assessment, sale prices for homes on Bainbridge are well above prices in the rest of Kitsap County. A graph on p. 23 shows that at the peak of the housing market in 2007, the average sale price of a single-family home on Bainbridge was above $800,000, while the average in the rest of Kitsap was below $400,000. As the market rebounded, a similar gap was re-established in 2014.
Pages 33 to 49 provide a wealth of demographic information. The number of households grew from 2,778 in 1970 to 10,584 in 2010, while the average household size decreased from 3.06 to 2.41 (p. 35). Page 38 displays census statistics from 1980 to 2010 to document racial representation by numbers of people and percentages of the population. The percentage classified as White varies from 95.1% in 1990 to 91% in 2010. “African Americans, Some Other Race, and Hispanic categories showed consistent growth through 2010” (p. 37), but the numbers remained low.
As in the 2003 Assessment, changes in the age distribution across the growing population are of considerable interest. “In 1980 Bainbridge Island had a fairly even distribution of age groups. Since that time the population has seen significant increases in the 5 to 17, 35 to 59, and the 60 and over groups” (p. 39). The number of newborns and toddlers peaked at 1,046 in 1990 and was down to 931 in 2010. The largest age group, 35 to 59, went from 3,887 in 1980 to 9,358 in 2010, and it makes sense that a good number of couples of that age would have children of school age.
Has the 35 to 59 age group expanded between 2010 and now, or held steady, or declined? This is one of the questions that the updated Housing Needs Assessment will answer for us. It won’t be my generation, or others who are over 65 now, who will populate and govern Bainbridge Island twenty years from now, but today’s younger citizens, and others who don’t live on Bainbridge now.
It will surprise no one that for a large portion of Bainbridge residents, household incomes have been increasing steadily for decades. The census provides median amounts: half of households will be above, and half below. In 1990, the median household income was $42,135; in 2000, it was $70,110; in 2010, it was $92,558. And the figure for 2020 is $117,990.
The last segment of the Assessment (pp. 49-62) is devoted to Determining Existing and Future Housing Needs. One method used is “Cost Burden Analysis,” on the assumption that 30% of household income is an appropriate amount to spend on housing (rent or mortgage payments and basic utility costs). If these costs are above 50%, a low-income household will be “extremely cost burdened.”
Pages 50 to 53 provide a cost burden analysis based on statistics from 2012. I find the figures and analysis in this section opaque, and the policy implications are not well articulated. The message seems to be that in owner-occupied housing, a significant number of residents (35%) are cost-burdened, but for the majority of homeowners, their incomes are such ($75,000 or more a year) that paying more than 30% for housing is not an intolerable burden. (On the contrary, it may be a smart investment.) Most renters, however, have much lower incomes, and the limited supply of rental units is priced beyond what they can afford.
Pages 53 to 56 look into the availability of housing with reference to different income levels. The population is sorted into Upper, Middle, Moderate, Low, and Very-low income households, with reference to different percentages of the Area Median Income. It doesn’t surprise me to see that 46% of Bainbridge households were classified as Upper-income (earning more than 120% of the AMI), but the percentages in other categories are thought-provoking. A total of 28% are classified as either Low-income or Very low-income (earning less than 50% of AMI): that’s more than I would expect. And on the other hand, only 26% are classified as either Middle-income or Moderate-income (earning between 120% and 50% of AMI). Regionally, the Middle and Moderate categories add up to 40% of the population.
Pages 56 to 62 are devoted to Workforce Housing and the related subjects of Jobs / Housing Balance and Transportation Costs. Regionally and at the County level, growth management planning seeks to reduce the costs (in time, money, and environmental impacts) of long distances between homes and workplaces. It is also worth considering that these costs may fall most heavily on lower-income workers. “Bainbridge Island’s jobs / housing balance is .59 jobs for every housing unit in the City” (p. 61), where a ratio above 1.0 is indicative of a more “complete” community.
As we all know, Bainbridge Island has historically been a bedroom community, with many residents working off-Island. At the same time, many who work on Bainbridge can’t afford to live here, and their transportation costs may tip them into cost-burdened status.
My next essay will consider some of the reasons why, despite recognition of the needs, Bainbridge Island has failed to develop an adequate supply of housing for individuals and families earning below 120% of the area median income.
Bainbridge Island’s Housing Needs Assessments, Part One
March 7, 2022
Last year, the Council voted to approve the design and development of a Housing Action Plan, and now work to accomplish the Plan’s ambitious goals is about to begin. Among the components of that Plan is a Housing Needs Assessment, which will look comprehensively and analytically at our current and anticipated population, considering how well our housing stock meets that population’s needs.
While we’re waiting for an up-to-date Needs Assessment, we can learn a great deal from assessments that were produced at two historic junctures in the City’s past. The City’s first Housing Needs Assessment was completed in September, 2003, to take stock approximately ten years after the creation of our first Comprehensive Plan. Another Assessment was undertaken ten years later; a draft was completed in December, 2014, revised in 2016, and included as an Appendix in the most recent update of our Comprehensive Plan.
In this essay, I will bring to light some significant facts from the 2003 Assessment, and in Part Two I will discuss the 2016 update.
It is startling to see, in a document from twenty years ago, that the issues we are struggling to address today were apparent back then. The need for programmatic action in response to the assessment was also apparent. The 2003 Needs Assessment was conceived as Phase I, to be followed by Phase II deliberations by the Planning Commission and the City Council “to determine what kind of housing programs would best meet the community’s needs and what tools are needed to achieve the desired housing.” Sad to say, I don’t think much was achieved in Phase II.
An Executive Summary of “Key Findings” from the Assessment reports on changes in the Island’s population and residential development between 1980 and 2000 – a period in which the population went from 12,314 to 20,308. These bullet points describe changes over those years:
- The 18-34 year age group declined dramatically (26.2%) and is projected to continue to decrease.
- The 35-59 year age group more than doubled.
- The 60+ age group increased 75%.
- Single parent households have doubled in number while total households increased only 75%.
The summary goes on to say, “The Island is losing the economic diversity it values: the number of households with incomes of $35K or less declined 40.5% while households with incomes of $50K+ increased 778.2%.” The median household income in 2000 was $70,110; between 1990 and 2000, the Island’s median income grew by 60%. During that same period, the average home price increased by 79% -- from $232,687 to $416,975.
Here are a few more bullet points:
- There is a lack of entry level housing for young families.
- Single-family residences have continued as the predominant housing type with almost 10 times as many single-family homes as multi-family units built between 1980 and 2000 – 3,121 single-family versus 329 multifamily units.
- Increasing property taxes place a growing burden on modest-income households and retired citizens on fixed incomes, which could force community members off the Island.
- There is a lack of permanent affordable rental housing, particularly for families needing three- and four-bedroom housing.
Pages 8-11 of the Assessment provide further analysis of population growth and changes in household size and age distribution. It is worth noting that the Island’s population doubled between 1960 and 1980, going from 6,404 to 12,314, and the population increased by 64.9% between 1980 and 2000. (Between 2000 and 2020, we’ve seen a leveling off: 20,308 in 2000, 23,025 in 2010, and 24,825 in 2020.)
The population growth between 1980 and 2000 was very different in its composition from what we’ve seen in the last twenty years. The Assessment notes, “The 35 to 59 age group experienced a 143.7% increase between 1980 and 2002, the largest age group increase,” and the 60+ age group was in second place with a 76.6% increase.
By contrast, almost all of the Island’s population growth since 2000 has been in the cohort over 65. Economic factors, including the very high cost of available housing today, account for this trend. Being elderly myself, I hold nothing against people over 65, but looking ahead, I want to see more people in the 35 to 59 age group bringing their energy and creative potential here. The market now supplies housing for only a fortunate few people of that age.
It is taken for granted today that as a place and as a community of people, Bainbridge Island is different in many ways from the rest of Kitsap County. That was already true before our incorporation as a municipality, and the differences have grown since then. The 2003 Assessment comments on this trend: “In 1990 the difference in the average home sale price between Bainbridge Island and Kitsap County was just over $125,000. By 2002 the price differential had almost doubled to $247,561, despite three years on Bainbridge where the average home sale price dropped” (p. 25). More statistics show that in those years, the population of Kitsap County grew at a faster rate than on Bainbridge, while incomes increased on Bainbridge faster than in the rest of the County.
These are indicators of improvements in the quality of life on Bainbridge, but as the Assessment notes, they are at odds with the Growth Management Act and one of the 13 major goals in the Comprehensive Plan: “Encourage the availability of affordable housing to all economic segments of the population of this state, promote a variety of densities and housing types, and encourage preservation of existing housing stock” (p. 28).
There is much more to the Assessment, going deep into the difficulties of financing and building affordable housing. I will close with one anecdote from the Housing Resources Board (now Housing Resources Bainbridge). In their experience with three projects in ten years, “The per unit cost rose from $77,400 in 1992 to just under $129,000 by 2003,” and the cost (including land cost) per square foot rose from $84 to $213 (see pp. 43-45). Today, of course, everything is much more expensive, but the need for housing suited to all economic segments of the population remains.
2nd Term Oath of Office Ceremony Comments
It is an honor to represent this community for another term. I want to say something about this amazing place. In several key areas, Islanders are model citizens. We rock on vaccinations - 91% of Islanders 12 and up have completed vaccinations against COVID-19, over and above other jurisdictions in the County. We rock on Democracy too, 55% of registered voters here voted in the last election, again over and above other jurisdictions.
This is an exceptionally well-educated, well-informed community. Islanders, naturally then, expect good governance from Council. They want us to listen and be responsive. They want us to plan for a future that, in-all-likelihood, is going to be different from what we have been accustomed to.
These points were driven home to me during my re-election Campaign where I spent a lot of time canvassing door to door talking with people.
Some other takeaways: people here understand that the world is not static. That it is changing. They totally get climate change. I found people genuinely interested in what we are doing to implement the Climate Action Plan, an ambitious plan to significantly reduce GHG on the Island and make us a more climate-resilient community. It is great that we are talking about the Plan tonight. Thank you, Autumn!
They also want us to step up and take action to create more affordable housing. It’s about equity. It is about ensuring the strength and vitality of our community. It’s about doing the right thing. Islanders want us to implement solutions on housing that are going to make a difference - and not just talk about it.
And what is interesting - but not at all surprising - is that people really like bike paths and walking trails, so they can travel around the Island safely without having to get into their car.
Islanders want us to carry on this important work on their behalf. And to do so without high conflict.
This is the people’s expectation and I pledge to carry it out.
Thank you and Onward!