By now, I expect most readers are keenly aware of San Juan County’s extreme lack of affordable housing, especially housing for lower-income families who provide the basic services on which we all depend. And that this lack has a huge impact on the ability of these families to live and thrive here.
Most readers probably even know that in November, county voters will be presented with the opportunity to establish a Real Estate Excise Tax of 0.5 percent that will be applied largely to new buyers of real estate in the San Juans – with the proceeds dedicated to providing affordable homes for purchase and rental. (For more information, visit www.yesforhomes.net.)
What readers may not know is that this tax has great potential to actually improve our quality of life, as opposed to other dedicated taxes which seem to be spent largely to maintain the county’s bureaucracy (e.g., the 0.1 percent mental health sales tax) or get frittered away (e.g., the hotel and lodging sales tax).
Reason for optimism is provided by several factors:
• Funds will be managed by the San Juan County Community Services Department, with assistance by the Housing Advisory Board, both of which have a history of sound administration and low overhead.
• Funds may be usable to match other sources of federal and state housing assistance, which means they can be leveraged to provide an estimated four dollars of housing acquisition, construction, rehabilitation, maintenance, and operation for each county dollar expended.
• San Juan, Orcas and Lopez are all blessed by the long-time presence of successful community housing trusts, such as Orcas Island’s OPAL, which will be involved in directing and implementing REET funded projects and in ensuring accountability for the funds spent.
Now is the time to take a tangible step forward in addressing our islands’ most pressing need. I hope we will not squander this opportunity. Please join me in voting Yes for Homes this November!