The high cost of housing is one of the most important issues facing Washington County residents. It affects literally every man, woman and child in the county, regardless of whether they rent or buy, or live in a house or an apartment.
This is one of those problems that we’ve seen government agencies try to solve any number of ways. But what is increasingly obvious is that none of those approaches are working.
One popular approach has been to propose taxing housing for the sake of creating affordable housing. That flies directly in the face of common sense.
Government-subsidized housing has no doubt helped many people and kept them from ending up on the streets. It’s a worthwhile safety net to keep in place. However, there are downsides.
Those kinds of programs often involve keeping needy residents on waiting lists for prolonged periods of time. And if they do anything to improve their standing in life, or raise their income level, they lose out on the opportunity to receive assistance. Any kind of process that involves waiting lists will never help everyone who needs it. Getting help from a government program should not have to feel like winning the lottery. However, it often does for those fortunate enough to qualify and remain eligible for as long as it takes for it to come through.
Our area certainly has an abundance of multi-family housing, such as apartments, townhouses and condos. Even those have gotten expensive for working people. Moving into one typically involves coming up with a first month’s rent and deposit, which can easily cost thousands of dollars. Going from one apartment to another means paying one deposit while waiting to get the deposit back for your current place, assuming that you get it back.
Getting caught up in that cycle makes it difficult to save enough for a down payment on a house. The fact of the matter is that homeownership has traditionally been a key component of the American Dream. It enables people to earn equity and have something they can pass on to their children. It is impossible to create that wealthy by renting housing from someone else or being in government subsidized housing.
What Washington County needs is more options for single home ownership in a moderate price range. There are some policies that the county can put in place to help make that happen, and I will support them as your next county commissioner.
First, we need to take a look at where those costs come from. One inescapable cost is that of buildable land. That, in turn, is based on availability. High property taxes are passed on to property owners and renters alike.
Another area of costs that the county can control is the amount of permit fees and system development charges (SDCs). Some of the SDCs for housing projects in the county can run as high as $50,000. Between that and the cost of the land, it’s easy to see how and why housing is so expensive.
I will work to lower those SDCs, but in a way that is not simply a giveaway to developers or that allows people to take advantage or game the system. Another solution is to encourage more tiny home development. People don’t always need large amounts of property, so anything the county can do to expand housing options for its residents should be explored. There are currently some great modern middle housing developments going in throughout the county. They should be encouraged by the Board of Commissioners and I pledge to do so when elected.
Washington County is at a tipping point with its housing prices. Luckily, there are some common-sense solutions that can be used to help our residents move towards being able to buy their own homes. As county commissioner, I intend to make this issue one of my top priorities.