PENINSULA — When ground is broken for 27 apartments on an L-shaped patch of undeveloped land in Long Beach this summer, it will signal one step toward alleviating the region’s housing shortage.
The low-income units in the Driftwood Point complex at 10th Street Northeast and Oregon Avenue North are expected to be completed before the end of 2019.
But community leaders wanting to provide broader affordable housing note several factors, including the lack of sewer connections outside the cities of Long Beach and Ilwaco, mean limited options to replicate multi-unit projects elsewhere.
The Joint Pacific County Housing Authority held an informational meeting in Ilwaco last week, seeking creative ideas on priorities. The authority is completing a 10-year cycle of work and preparing its new 5-year plan.
Kelly Rupp of Ocean Park, a consultant who also sits on the Pacific County Planning Commission, led the charge. “This is a very pressing issue,” he said. “The Joint Pacific County Housing Authority is committed to making a difference — and there’s a compelling urgency.”
He put the discussion in context by describing the Peninsula’s aging population, and a prevalence of veterans, single-parent families and the disabled — way beyond state averages.
The county population of 20,700 has a median (mid) age of 52, way above the state and national figure of 38. One in four county residents is considered disabled; the state average is one in 10.
Salaries are half state averages (which are inflated by Puget Sound). Median household income for the county is $38,400, but this drops to $26,800 for Long Beach alone.
He noted that residents earning minimum wage in the seasonal tourism industries cannot get ahead. “In the hospitality industry here, our wages are half of other coastal cities like Hilton Head, South Carolina.”
The U.S. Housing and Urban Development agency has determined that there is no place in the United States where a minimum wage earner can afford a two-bedroom rental.
On the Peninsula, many are squeezed into overcrowded accommodation with inadequate facilities and kitchens. “It’s staggering how many people don’t have adequate plumbing,” Rupp said.
Barbara Faley of Long Beach noted some landlords fail to keep their rentals maintained. “Some of these places that are advertised I wouldn’t put my dog there,” she said. “You can see daylight though the wall. It’s ridiculous.”
Skewed to ‘unoccupied’
After more than two hours of discussion, he and Chris Pegg, Longview-based executive director of the housing authority, took away pages of suggestions from the 12 people in attendance.
Tiffany Turner from the Adrift Hotel attended, in part, to advocate for workforce housing.
Elly Rosaire from Ocean Beach School District described trying to serve Peninsula students whose unacceptable living conditions in moldy RV parks rarely produce a positive environment for learning.
One theme that emerged throughout the discussion was the prevalence of short-term rentals.
Rupp’s slide presentation included several eye-catching statistics. Of 15,977 “housing units” in the county, only about 9,000 are occupied. About 6,700 are statistically considered “unoccupied” — meaning they are used for seasonal, vacations or short-term rentals, or are being sold. Of these, 5,400 are in the Peninsula. Maps used by two national vacation rental organizations advertise more than 350 locations.
Last Wednesday’s meeting was held in the Ilwaco Community Room, the same venue for heated debate during the last two months about a hillside short-term home rental proposal in Ilwaco. It alarmed neighbors, but also raised the broader question of how many should be allowed. Seaview has already rejected allowing more, although some addresses are grandfathered in.
Rupp said Toronto, Los Angeles and smaller communities in North America are pondering whether stricter regulations, including higher fees, are the answer. “We are in the midst of wrestling with what this phenomena of short-term rentals is going to mean,” he said.
Rosaire, the school district’s family resource coordinator, said it is a serious problem. “It’s difficult because part-time renters are pushing out full-time employees,” she said. “They don’t have anywhere to live.”
Four subsidized housing complexes, Westwind Manor, Willapa Independent Living and Pacific Sands in Long Beach plus Surf Pines in Ilwaco, with a total of just under 100 units, all have significant waiting lists.
She held up a sign about rental listings from one Long Beach property management company that read simply: “Don’t ask.”
However, County Commissioner Frank Wolfe of Nahcotta noted that many luxury vacation homes owned by Seattle and Portland residents who use them for occasional rentals could not be considered “workforce housing.” But he agreed with Rupp, who stressed that they should all be paying lodging taxes, and said Pacific County is tracking the issue.
Rezoning and other suggestions
Kevin Coy, who moved to Klipsan from Eastern Washington about three years ago, offered several ideas. After hearing Rupp lament that there were few buildable lots, Coy suggested rezoning commercial land for housing.
“I think you are going to find the planning commission being very flexible on this,” Rupp replied.
Mobile homes came under the microscope, with 4,000 in the county, including 2,400 unoccupied, many rotting away from exposure to sea air.
Nichole Lopez of Long Beach suggested the Housing Authority look at funding for rehabilitation. “These are the things that are going to make quality homes, and replace mobile homes with newer units that are up to code,” she said.
Other suggestions were having agency buy foreclosed houses, encourage the “tiny home” movement, promote programs for down-payment assistance, and have Grays Harbor College using its under-used Ilwaco and Raymond campuses as business incubators to create jobs.
Problems identified included a shortage of storage units, many of which are full with significant waiting lists. One issue was a desire to broaden programs to restore credit to make it easier for people to obtain housing. Success stories about the Housing Authority’s projects in Raymond and elsewhere mentioned offering a range of useful services for tenants at facilities, not just a roof over their heads.
Rupp said the ideas would be broadly circulated. The next meeting of the Joint Pacific County Housing Authority will be in Long Beach June 21.
For more information about the Joint Pacific County Housing Authority, contact Chris Pegg at firstname.lastname@example.org or 360-423-0140, ext. 15, or Kelly Rupp at email@example.com or 360-665-0115.