The local housing crisis is real.
Islanders are forced into communal living or tight rental situations. People have moved to the mainland in search of better housing markets. Business owners struggle to find employees because the working class has nowhere to lay their heads.
In 2017 we reported that San Juan County has the least affordable housing in the entire state of Washington.
How can we fix the housing problem?
Voters need to pass the affordable housing Real Estate Excise Tax, or REET, this November.
Finally, after years of meetings, talks and research we have a possible solution to help with the island housing crisis.
On May 22, San Juan County Council members unanimously approved to send a measure to enact an affordable housing REET to the November ballots. If passed it would add $2,688 to the selling price of a median-valued county home of $537,500.
County staff would collect 0.5 percent of the selling price of county real estate, with the buyer paying 99 percent and the seller paying 1 percent. They would then decide which applicants would be awarded the revenue, based on the funds’ requirements to develop and preserve local affordable rentals and home ownership.
Placing the measure on the ballot is one item in a long list of possible solutions to helping all islanders find a dwelling that wouldn’t empty their pockets.
Last year the county council reviewed proposed amendments to the local vacation rentals ordinance to see whether an increase in vacation rentals was depleting the islands’ stock of long-term rentals. Typically short-term rentals earn more than long-term, especially in the popular vacation hot spot of the San Juan Islands.
In March 2018, council approved stricter vacation rental rules that included increasing safety measures and curbing nuisance complaints as well as updated vacation rental enforcement regulations. Now county staff can charge larger fees if they find an unpermitted vacation rental.
We agree with the changes, but stricter rules for and better code enforcement of vacation rental permits is just one part of a very complex issue.
The REET measure will be able to better directly support organizations who are already pushing for local housing needs.
We applaud the council’s decision to approve sending the measure to the ballots. If passed, the tax would be implemented just 30 days after the Nov. 6 election is certified, and projects are estimated to be awarded funds by winter 2019. Recipients of the funds could include nonprofits, public agencies, housing authorities and for-profits.
These funds are needed in our community. Make the right choice and pass this measure for all islanders.