San Juan County recently updated its Housing Needs Assessment, which indicated the population of the islands is becoming older and more affluent, the workforce is aging with many approaching retirement age, school enrollment is declining and young families and individuals are leaving due to the prevalence of low wage jobs combined with high housing costs. One scenario it projects is a future need for over 3,400 workers to commute to the islands daily to meet the projected worker shortage.
This is a rather bleak picture of the future of our community if current demographic trends continue without intervention. Developing new affordable housing and maintaining existing affordable housing stock is one of the most important challenges our community faces today.
The County and Town of Friday Harbor are working together with a coalition of affordable housing advocates to look for solutions to our housing problem. This collaborative effort is called Housing Solutions. It is a county-wide affordable housing planning effort focused on the three Urban Growth Areas on Orcas, Lopez and San Juan islands.
The focus of this plan will be on three major areas:
- One is policies and regulation, such as height restrictions, zoning and densities;
- the second is securing a funding source;
- and the third is identifying a vehicle or organization that can meet the various needs that are not currently being met by the existing non-profits.
The plan will address the housing needs of the very low-income up to and including the middle-income workforce. The final planning product will be an actual written affordable housing action plan, which has widespread community support for its content and for a funding mechanism to make implementation of the plan possible.
This effort is being funded in part by a Community Development Block Grant from the Washington Department of Commerce and a Community Service Block Grant from the Opportunity Council.