I recently went out for dinner with a neighbor, a part-time, mostly-here-in-the-summer- kind of neighbor. He teaches at a university, leads research, and publishes interesting work on human behavior. As we waited to order he mentioned his frustration at it all taking so long — to order, and get served. When I responded that it was one more sign of the local housing crisis, he looked confused. He apparently didn’t understand why I was bringing up an issue in our otherwise lovely social evening, especially when it had nothing to do with the situation. Or did it? — where was that glass of wine anyway …?
I was equally baffled by him. How could he, someone so smart, have a hard time connecting the dots? l thought it was pretty obvious:
– the restaurant owner (substitute hospital, dentist, mechanic, hardware or any other store owner, hair salon, et al) is struggling to find adequate staff, as
– that staff struggles to find housing, as
– the customer, patient, client, this guy here across the table, struggles to find local businesses adequately staffed to provide the services desired (read: how long has it taken you to get a dermatology appointment recently? or your car worked on? Probably a lot longer than even that glass of wine…)
He didn’t get why it seemed worse here in Port Townsend. He thought it had more to do with a general attitude at play. The “Folks these days just don’t want to work like they used to” theory. What he and I’m learning lots of other smart friends and neighbors don’t seem to understand, is some of the realities that make the Port Townsend and East Jefferson County’s housing situation even worse than -what we see state or nationwide. My neighbor had never thought about the impact of leaving his home in Uptown empty for nine months every winter) has on our local workforce (that’s us)– and our economy].
It’s more than a problem and it’s more than a crunch. We’ve all likely heard various stories —the woman who had a great job here with the county, but after having to commute from an hour away for over a year because she couldn’t find housing here —she gave up and moved away for another position elsewhere in the state, the guy with torn rotator cuff, who had to wait over a month to get physical therapy locally. But heck, don’t settle for anecdotes. This guy didn’t want to either. That’s when I started bringing out my favorite factoids.
Check your own housing smarts here.
Did you know…?
• Jefferson County ranks #38 out of 39 counties in the State for affordability for first-time, as well as all, home buyers.
• Jefferson County’s vacancy rate hovers between 0-1%, the national vacancy rate is 5%
• At any one moment, almost 14% — that’s 2733 of the houses in Jefferson County are vacant. That means as we walk through our neighborhoods, the cute houses, we know and love, are empty. No wonder things seem awfully, sort of too, quiet sometimes. But it explains all those drawn curtains and shades.
- 42% of Jefferson County households are single-person occupancy— that’s one person living in the home. No wonder we don’t hear so many kids playing. I can’t help but think about how many empty bedrooms and empty mother-in-law apartments that accounts for.
After I laid out a few of these to my neighbor he got quiet for a second. I saw little tiny lights starting to sparkle in those professorial eyes of his. He actually looked a little embarrassed as he began to understand. For the first time ever, he realized he, his behavior played a part. As we talked, he began extrapolating to see the much larger effect when reflecting on other friends, neighbors, and community members who are also here part-time. Just how many folks could be living in all those homes? My goal was certainly not to guilt trip him my goal was to get us talking, and. thinking. Creatively.
I’ve discovered many of my most learned friends and neighbors see our housing crisis as something vague, or theoretical; something that affects others. “We all had a hard getting started when we were young too” syndrome. Or, most commonly people assume I’m talking about housing for the homeless. That is indeed a problem, a huge one, and although related to workforce housing, a different issue. A lack of workforce housing — for all economic levels, means teachers, doctors, car mechanics, boat builders or waitstaff, folks who want to work here, have jobs here, and can’t find housing.
We can start by being aware of the issue, and our part in it. Wherever you are in the learning process, keep going. If you haven’t begun, then Housing Solutions Network, a local nonprofit committed to providing housing education, resources, and advocacy for the local workforce is a good place to start, with Housing 101; or their survey to see how you, and or your friends and neighbors are affected by the housing shortage. From there, we need to look at ways to help, and that might involve some behavior change.
As seemingly “unpleasant” or irrelevant as it may feel for us, whether we’re homeowners or renters; newcomers or long-time locals, in our tiny homes, mid-century ranch ramblers, and Victorian manors, every one of us might want to begin to look at our housing behavior — and see if there’s anything we can do to help. This is more than just those looking to rent, it’s help for the restaurant owners, the hospital, and everyone else. It helps us, and our community thrive. For example:
- Turn your AirBnb into a long-term rental,
- Move your art studio to your spare bedroom and rent out that ADU,
- Share your home with an on-call hospital staff, barista, or farmer.
- Ask your favorite nonprofit/business/community group- if they have a housing need for even short-term interns, or long-term staff that might fit your space.
Get creative. There are so many great things about home sharing that we don’t hear about. And so many different ways of doing it.
A friend of mine in Berkeley knew she wouldn’t be able to maintain her four-bedroom home after the kids left, but she also didn’t want to move. She wanted to stay in her home. Somehow, starting out by renting one bedroom out to a university student, led to another and another. 20 years later, she now rents 3 bedrooms at a time. She not only made enough money to pay for a small remodel so she could move downstairs and have more privacy but she’s also augmented her retirement (while still keeping the rental rates reasonable). She’s learned what works for her. More than anything, she feels like she has enriched her life significantly..Sharing a home can be a wonderful, positive thing, whether it’s to a student or retiree, boatbuilder, or surgeon. We hear all too often we hear about the downside without hearing about the positive.
To be clear, I am not suggesting we have to turn our homes into communes or rooming houses. I am saying it’s time to think out of the box a little bit. The truth is, we are all impacted by the housing shortage – whether we are looking for housing or not. And sadly, solutions aren’t just going to happen without all of us committing. It’s not like something the City Council can just handle, or the government can just deal with. We are going to have to shift our mindsets around this. We have to work together to brainstorm, create, and employ solutions. Like anything else it starts with understanding and acknowledging the root(s) of the problem. This is real. Now… where’s that glass of wine?
Stats: 2023 Q2 report from the WA Center for Real Estate Research, University of Washington
2022 US Census – American Community Survey