Sometimes progress seems as slow as Sunday mail, but the city’s Affordable Housing Committee is working diligently on putting the building blocks in place to address more affordable housing options.

Nancy Goodloe, an Ellensburg City Council member who sits on the county committee and helped set up the city committee, said the Affordable Housing Committee is nearing a point when it can entertain request for proposals.

“We’re down to the nitty gritty. We just have a few loose ends to tie up before we’re ready to start issuing the (request for proposals),” said Goodloe, who was an advocate of the city sales tax set up in 2017 and chairs the Affordable Housing Commission. “We can’t give any kind of timeline at this point, but the goal is to be ready for the construction season next spring.”

It’s a work in progress. The city put a 0.1 percent sales tax in place in April of 2018, which is expected to bring in $450,000 to $500,000 a year to affordable housing projects. When the council redid the land development code a few years ago, it added density bonuses for the creation of affordable housing developments. According to city code, a density bonus increase is based on the percentage of affordable housing units integrated into a subdivision, with a minimum of 15 percent to qualify and maximum bonus increase of 50 percent.

The bonus is based on the number of affordable housing units divided by the base maximum density. For example, if an applicant proposes 18 affordable units out of a 60 unit maximum (30 percent) then the development is eligible for a 30 percent density bonus increase (in this case, 18 units).

The two city-owned designated properties include the Bender/Water Street property (parcel 541133) and the Community Garden property (parcels 937033 and 617033) the Community Garden property is just south of another city-owned parcel currently being used for Hal Holmes Community Center parking.

The Affordable Housing Commission revised the RFP and application materials to indicate the availability of city tax revenues, as well as two city-owned properties to support construction of affordable housing. When the time comes, they will issue the RFP and hold off on looking into the bond market until after the proposals have been reviewed.

According to a state housing affordability index from the University of Washington Runstad Center for Real Estate Studies, the median price for a home in Kittitas County is $246,900. While less than King County’s $494,500 median price, Kittitas County is higher than Yakima County’s $163,800 and Grant County’s $151,500.

To be considered affordable, a one-bedroom unit in the Ellensburg area should cost $450-$500 a month; a two-bedroom, $700; and a three-bedroom, under $1,000. But the current rental market lists three-bedroom is $1,500 to $2,000, putting it out of financial reach for a number of families.

As of fall 2017, Kittitas County had the lowest apartment vacancy rate of counties surveyed in state — 0.5 percent, according to the Runstad Center for Real Estate Studies at the University of Washington. That’s down from 0.8 percent the year prior, the report said.

According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, families who pay more than 30 percent of their income for housing are considered cost burdened and may have difficulty affording necessities such as food, clothing, transportation and medical care.

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