Housing depends on many factors

Land use, infrastructure part of state toolbox

PORT ANGELES — The state has financial tools available for more than just affordable housing, but land use policy, infrastructure and other factors also are important, said Michael Fong, the director of the Department of Commerce.

Fong was Wednesday’s guest on the weekly Coffee with Colleen segment, hosted by Colleen McAleer, the executive director of the Clallam County Economic Development Council.

McAleer said housing is important and young people are struggling. There’s also a great need for workforce housing for those making above 60 percent of the area’s median income, she said.

And touching federal funding can double the cost of housing because of prevailing wage and other federal requirements, she said.

“How do we get market rate housing?” McAleer asked. “The answer is not in the government projects. We need to leverage the commercial side.”

Fong said the regulatory environment, land use regulation and planning as well as permitting are just some of the factors that can affect the cost of housing construction.

Commerce has some tools available to build housing for people making almost up to 80 percent of the area’s median income, as opposed to 30 percent to 50 percent, Fong said.

“The public works board and infrastructure investment and capital are really important to get opportunity parcels to where they can get to development,” he said.

A lot of housing construction involves “non-headline-grabbing stuff” such as streets and sewers, Fong said.

It is certainly challenging when using federal dollars because the requirements can increase costs, he added.

Commerce wants to know what more it can do to support the thinking around more than just affordable housing, Wong said.

“It also comes down to the conversations about land use planning to get that growth to happen,” he said.

The needs on the North Olympic Peninsula are different from those in the Tri-Cities, which Wong recently visited. He said they had discussions about bringing down the median house cost from $400,000 to $300,000, which is different than building housing for people making 30 percent of the area’s median income.

“Commerce is uniquely able to be in both spaces at the same time, technical and land use policy and infrastructure, and how to bring momentum to the development pipeline,” he said.

There really isn’t a community where housing isn’t at the top of the list of intractable challenges and commitments, Wong said.

“I am confident we are laying a good policy foundation,” he said. “At the same time, funding is one side, but the full toolbox is needed to meet the policy goals over next 20 years. The need for 1 million homes is real.

“That requires 55,000 houses per year, and we’re at 40,000 and that’s a good year. We will be continuing to fall behind until we bring more housing online and keep existing housing,” he said.

People know we need to get creative because our current housing portfolio is not sufficient, Wong said.

“We need to try to keep momentum on the funding side, but we need to work together,” he said. “There’s been a surge in production the past couple years that’s put a lot in the pipeline. We need more analysis on what do we need to get there?”

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Reporter Brian Gawley can be reached by email at brian.gawley@peninsulanews.us.

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