Support affordable housing on budget – Letters

By Shireene Hale

San Juan Island

Next week citizens will have an opportunity to encourage the San Juan County Council to take actions that will support affordable housing and provide property tax equity. The county is holding a hearing to take comment on the 2017 budget and department goals, which will guide county actions for the next year. Work on both of these issues has been delayed far too long, and it is important they be addressed in 2017. The hearing began at 9:15 a.m. Nov. 14 in the council hearing room in Friday Harbor, at 55 Second Street. Comments can be submitted orally at the hearing, or in writing either at or prior to the hearing. Written comments can be mailed to the Clerk of the Council at 350 Court Street #1, Friday Harbor, WA 98250; emailed to; or hand delivered to the council office at the above address. The preliminary budget book can be downloaded at

On the affordable housing issue, additional funding is not needed, but the goals for 2017 should be revised to include adoption of proposed amendments to San Juan County Code section 18.60.230 (Rural Residential Cluster Development). This work, which should be completed before the planned Growth Management Act update, is necessary to enhance incentives, and remove obstacles for the construction of rural residential clusters. Residential clusters are one way to provide affordable housing, but they are rarely used. Over the years planning commissions, housing bank commissions, county councils, and the non-profits that provide affordable housing have recommended these amendments so more residential clusters might be developed. If the county makes these amendments a priority they could be adopted in as little as three or four months.

On the tax equity issue, two actions are necessary. First, the county should adopt amendments to San Juan County Code Chapter 16.50, the Open Space Program. These amendments were proposed by previous planning commissions to ensure the public receives a fair benefit for picking up the property taxes for those participating in the program. These amendments should also be adopted before the GMA update. Second, the county should fund the $50,000 Community Development Department request to hire a contractor to review properties in the Open Space Program. Once this review is complete, property taxes will be revised in accordance with the adopted regulations. This re-evaluation is required by state law, but has not occurred for many years. Until the re-evaluation is completed there are potential property tax inequities, with some people paying too little, and others paying too much. This funding request, which has not yet been approved, is found on page 397 of the budget book.

To receive a summary of either the proposed affordable housing or open space program amendments, email me at