Affordable housing has been a long-running, perplexing problem in Ellensburg. Voters recognized this and in 2017 passed a .1 percent sales tax increase for affordable housing needs.

The city started collecting the tax in April 2018 and is now in the process of developing the application procedures for potential projects.

As has been clear for the get-go, there is no quick fix that would suddenly create an affordable housing supply in Ellensburg. But there is cause to believe the city is heading in the right direction.

The tax will generate about $450,000 a year. It will need to accumulate but there also are ways to secure grants based on the income the tax will generate.

The tax has specific uses. Residents must have income at or below 60 percent of the area median income of Kittitas County and also fall into one of the following groups: persons with mental illness, veterans, senior citizens, homeless, or at-risk of being homeless, families with children, unaccompanied homeless youth or young adults, persons with disabilities or domestic violence survivors.

The fund created by the tax is not a panacea, but it’s a start to address housing for specific groups with the highest challenges for finding housing in the community.

What it does not specifically address is the mom and dad, both working, with two kids who cannot find an affordable apartment because most of apartments that size go to Central Washington University students who split the rent three or four ways.

But just because the affordable housing tax does not solve every problem does not mean it is not a worthwhile endeavor. It just means it is part of an overall approach to affordable housing.

As frustrating as it can be in a city with an apartment vacancy rate of .5 percent, there is some progress.

This fall, CWU will open a new residence hall. For the past couple of years, there has been construction of apartments geared toward students north of campus. As any non-CWU student looking for housing in Ellensburg can testify, the rental market in this town is geared toward students and shared housing arrangements, not families looking for an affordable place to live.

The more options there are for students, the higher likely families can find other housing.

The city of Ellensburg has an affordable housing commission, which will oversee the application process for the tax funds. In addition the tax fund, the city may also be a source for land.

The city has identified two city-owned lots for potential affordable housing development — the community garden parcel and the Bender and Water streets site.

Affordable housing projects cost more than what the tax generates, but that source of revenue allows the city to participate and contribute in a partnership. For example, HopeSource, which has affordable housing as part of its mission, could partner with the city on a project. Because there’d be more entities involved, there’s a higher likelihood for success.

There are market forces, whether the ready supply of student renters or West Side transplants who see our housing market as “affordable,” working against affordable housing in Ellensburg.

It will take a conscious, concerted, dedicated effort to carve out any affordable housing niche. The fund created by the sales tax increase helps perhaps the most disadvantaged people in the housing market, but more is needed if Ellensburg intends to remain a livable city for those who work and live in our community.


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