Local housing activists are hailing the passage of a San Juan County ordinance meant to tackle the county’s growing affordable housing crisis.
The San Juan County Council unanimously approved Ordinance 11-2018 on Tuesday, May 22. The ordinance authorizes the county to collect a one-half of one percent real estate excise tax on the sale of real property. The initiative was crafted after years of work by elected officials, community leaders, and small businesses across the County. The measure is not a property tax, reflecting the coalition’s goal to avoid a financial burden on homeowners with fixed incomes.
“This is an incredibly exciting moment,” said Mallory Hagel, a spokesperson for the Yes for Homes San Juan County coalition. “We’re proud that our county council recognizes the need to keep vulnerable families in safe, affordable housing.”
The move comes after years of booming property values in the county. The median home value in San Juan County is now approaching $600,000, a figure that has increased 8.2 percent over the past year, according to real estate analysts at Zillow. With a tight rental market, local affordable housing experts are concerned about insufficient workforce housing. Populations especially at-risk for displacement include service industry workers, healthcare providers, educators and those on fixed incomes.
“We’ve heard a lot from local businesses, from cafés to healthcare providers, that their employees are unable to find housing,” Hagel said. “This isn’t just the right thing to do – it’s absolutely crucial for our economy, too.”
Now that the council has approved the ordinance, the next stop is the ballot. If approved by a majority of San Juan County voters, the measure will go toward the maintaining and construction of housing for those with very low, low and moderate incomes. The measure is similar to plans previously passed in other Washington locales, including Bellingham, Seattle and Vancouver, although organizers crafted the San Juan County measure to “reflect the county’s unique local needs and character.”
For the Yes for Homes coalition, a November vote means the next step is getting the word out. The coalition is gathering volunteers, with campaign committees formed on Lopez, San Juan and Orcas islands. Right now, the campaign plans to focus on voter outreach and education.
“In a year sure to be full of partisan acrimony, it’s so good to know there will be something on the ballot that can make a meaningful difference for our San Juan neighbors,” Hagel said. “This is a really important, exciting opportunity for our community.”