Affordable Housing Tax

Justin Brown watches television as he sits in his living room with his dog Lucy, Friday. Brown lives in a converted garage that has been made into a studio apartment, and is supportive of efforts to make more affordable housing available in the community.

As someone who was born in Ellensburg and lived here for the past 37 years, Justin Brown can still remember a time when the Fred Meyer on Water Street was little more than a dirt lot.

In the time since, Brown has watched Ellensburg grow by thousands of people. But for low-income residents like himself, the rising cost of living has been difficult to deal with.

“There are a few more jobs now, and some good people coming into the community, and not too many problems with crime,” Brown said. “But landlords are raising rent with all the college kids coming in and people can’t afford to rent here.”

Brown earns minimum wage as a prep cook working at the local Papa Murphy's.

Elmview, a nonprofit which finds job and housing opportunities for people with developmental disabilities, had worked with Brown for the past eight years helping him find better places to live.

“Working with Elmview has been fantastic,” Brown said. “They’re wonderful people to be around.”

Brown, who is disabled, lived in a two-story house before having to sell it to make alimony payments about three months ago.

Currently, Brown lives in a studio apartment converted from a garage, which costs about $500 a month.

“It took a long time to find that place,” Brown said. “But I’m always looking for bigger and better.”

RENTAL SITUATION

Washington is now the 10th most expensive state in the country for renters, according to a 2017 report by the National Low Income Housing Coalition.

A Housing Needs Assessment was conducted by the city of Ellensburg by BERK last year found that more than half of Ellensburg households spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing. The assessment also found that there is a lack of multifamily dwellings in Ellensburg.

Of renters in the community, 21 percent were “cost burdened” and 43 percent were severely “cost burdened,” the study found. The study also found rental costs are rising locally, though not as fast as Seattle. In Ellensburg, single family rents increased at a rate of 2.9 percent from 2011 to 2016. Multifamily rents rose by 1.8 percent.

THE PROPOSITION

A resolution passed by the Ellensburg City Council in July put a 0.1 percent sales tax funding affordable housing and mental health services on the ballot this November. It would take Ellensburg’s sales tax from 8.2 percent to 8.3 percent.

The tax would bring in an estimated $450,000 to $500,000 a year, according to Elmview Director Bruce Tabb, who supports the measure.

At least 60 percent of all sales tax revenue gained must be spent on affordable housing. If passed, the sales take increase would take effect no later than April 1, 2018.

Brown voiced his support for the tax, saying that it would most help people like himself.

“I think people should vote yes on it,” Brown said. “It’ll help out handicapped and low-income people.”

Under RCW 82.14.530, counties can levy a sales tax for affordable housing and mental health services support. The statute allows municipal government to enact the tax if the county fails to do so in the two-year period after the bill authorizing the tax takes effect. Since Kittitas County did not impose the tax, the city of Ellensburg opted to submit it to voters.

If the ballot proposition passes, a community committee would be established in January to decide exactly where the funding will go. Tabb and proposition supporter Gayl Curtiss said they hope the money will be used immediately to support affordable housing construction projects, adding the goal would be to direct the revenue to a $4 million bond for projects. The money couldn’t be spent on rent subsidies, they said.

“Will this solve the housing situation? It won’t,” Curtiss told the Daily Record editorial board earlier this month. “But it’s one good step in the right direction and it makes it a good effort.”

Tabb said the money could be invested fairly quickly and could be used to jump start a number of projects.

COMMUNITY RESPONSES

Kittitas County Chamber of Commerce CEO Jim Armstrong said that the only concern the chamber has received from one of its members is the sales tax’s effect on consumer’s shopping habits in the long-term for the city.

“The tax isn’t that much,” Armstrong said. “We’re talking about $5 to $10 a year. There’s some fear though that the higher the sales tax goes, the more likely it is that people will shop elsewhere.”

HopeSource CEO Susan Grindle said the demand for affordable housing is immense and additional tax revenue is just a first step in meeting soaring costs.

Meeting the demand for affordable housing has only gotten more difficult, Grindle said, since the Legislature’s failure this summer to pass a capital budget, which includes funding for nonprofits like HopeSource through the state’s Housing Trust Fund.

The organization is currently looking to buy more property in the city limits that would add about 100 two- and three-bedroom apartments.

“One issue is the timeline,” Grindle said. “If the city passes the tax this fall, we could put up a fair number of units next year. Say if it doesn’t pass this year, then we go through a tax credit cycle, which leaves us looking at 2-3 years.”

Correction: Justin Brown works at the Papa Murphy's, not Papa John's.

Comments

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.