While I appreciate Rikki Swin’s thoughts on housing I suggest they don’t address the real issue – the dearth of permanently affordable housing in San Juan County. A review of home values over the past 20 years demonstrates increased difficulty for the average wage earner to enter the home ownership market and a corresponding increase in demand for rentals. Home prices and rents have increased dramatically, and wages haven’t kept pace. The problem has been on “the radar” here for some 20 years and organizations like the San Juan Community Home Trust and Homes for Islanders have had some success, but the need far outstrips the supply.
And I have to ask what other “means” are available for housekeepers and day laborers – import them from the mainland? What solutions are available to those who work in restaurants and tourism businesses who start early in the day and run into the evening – couch surfing? Car camping? And how does our island economy benefit when those dollars go back to Anacortes or Mount Vernon?
All of this ignores those people who are unrelated to restaurants, tourism businesses and vacation rentals but whose presence and efforts are essential to those businesses — teachers, EMTs, firefighters, sheriff deputies, health care workers, retail clerks, delivery drivers, government workers, administrative and clerical employees, agricultural workers, small “mom and pops.” Those are the people, along with those who are employed by the vacation rental and tourism sector, who are the fiber of our local culture and by supporting them we preserve and strengthen our entire community.
The problem extends beyond the vacation and tourism industry, and the solution is not as simple as addressing vacation rentals. To preserve the local culture and allow our communities to prosper we need to create a permanent funding source for affordable housing. We are preserving open land through Land Bank purchases, why not support a similar program dedicated to the creation and preservation of affordable housing all across San Juan County?
Board Member, San Juan Community Home Trust