In the ongoing and long-running struggle to create more affordable housing options in our communities one asset with have at our disposal is publicly owned land.

Governments, whether Kittitas County or its municipalities, own land — some own more land than others.

As communities change through growth or shifts in development patterns it is useful to look at publicly owned land and ask if it continues to serve its highest purpose under its current use.

One such example is the Kittitas County public works road shop on 13th Avenue in Ellensburg.

For many years that was a fine location for the road shop but Ellensburg has grown in that direction and now that facility is surrounded by residential neighborhoods.

Kittitas County is in the midst of planning a new location for that facility — something that should happen within the next few years.

This has the potential of a win-win situation — the county can develop a better location suited to contemporary needs for the Public Works department and that land could be put to a better use, including possibly for affordable housing of some sorts.

This land is pretty much like hitting the daily double — county owned land within the city of Ellensburg, which means the county can be part of the effort to create affordable housing in the jurisdiction best suited to accommodate affordable housing. It is harder to create these opportunities on county-owned land in the unincorporated areas.

People are justifiably skeptical about affordable housing endeavors because they are not easy to bring about. But there are some positive signs that need to be acknowledged.

In addition to the possibility of future use of the county road shop site, the Ellensburg City Council on Monday approved a resolution to take advantage of sales tax credit that can be used toward the construction of affordable housing. This is not a new tax, it just captures money that otherwise would had been collected by the state.

This should generate about $84,000 a year, which is not a huge amount of money when it comes to housing projects, but it can be added to money the city collects through the .1 percent sales tax for affordable housing that voters approved a year ago.

Being a relatively small city means Ellensburg is not going to generate large sums of money, but what it does raise can be used to match other grant funds for affordable housing and to partner with other agencies whose mission is to create affordable housing. Being able to put even a little bit of skin in the game is a big deal.

Also, the city is looking at property it owns for the purpose of transitioning the use for affordable housing. Housing, in general, is market driven. If people move to a community seeking housing, there’s incentive for builders to provide housing.

People in communities need affordable housing as well, but there is not the same private sector incentive to build affordable housing. Cities, counties and other agencies (government and nonprofit) need to get involved to make sure the need is met.

As has become obvious over the years, there is no one way to meet affordable housing needs. There are a lot of different ways, whether that’s a HopeSource project or a Habitat for Humanity home, housing authority project or some other private-public partnership.

It means that all the various entities and agencies need to be committed to contribute to the best of their ability.

Alone these may look like small pieces, but together they may just get a lot accomplished.


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