La Conner Weekly News - Your independent hometown award-winning newspaper

By Ken Stern 

Adding to the housing solution

From the editor-


Articles last week in the San Diego Union-Tribune and the New York Times highlighted the causes of homelessness and the needed solution. The west coast headline was “Cause of homelessness? It’s not drugs or mental illness, researchers say,” while the Times answered that question in their headline: “A housing shortfall.” Both stories sourced the University of Washington’s Gregg Colburn, an assistant professor of real estate. His new book, “Homelessness is a Housing Problem,” is co-authored with Clayton Page Aldern, a data journalist.

Editorials on this page have repeatedly made the point that decades of federal commitment – throwing money at the problem, like we used to admit we did against the Soviet Union – along with good jobs at good wages are the twin pillars for solving our homelessness and housing shortage tragedies.

Past editorials also have sought actions to be taken locally, where the readers of the Weekly News live.

The most helpful words last week, however, were in a letter to the Seattle Times on new strategies needed to recruit different types of people to boost that city’s police force. “Offer $20,000 to whistle blowers” and “offer $6,000 for a degree in social work, mental health, addiction or nursing” were among Beth Reis’ half-dozen outside the box incentives. Brilliant. “Hire to raise the bar” is her ending sentence.

Reis’ letter zeros in on the specific future police force Seattle needs in the 21st century by targeting the factors to change so a different type of officer approaches policing differently. She is getting to the root cause of what her city needs. Brilliant again.

Skagit County and the state of Washington need build-solutions-from-the-roots-up thinking to reduce the twin pressures of too expensive housing and too many people without even rental possibilities. The first step is building apartment buildings and starter-sized homes, dwellings for that wide swath of people way below the median income for Skagit County or the state.

Skagit County’s median household income in 2020 was $71,012 Anneliese Vance-Sherman, a regional labor economist with Washington’s Employment Security Department wrote in a report in May. Alas, the federal poverty level is much lower, just $13,590 for a single person; $18,310 for a couple and $27,750 for parents with two children. A single poverty level person spending 50% of her income on rent would pay $566 monthly and have $6,795 to spend on everything else the entire year. That is a bleak existence. No, it is a death sentence against being housed. It is an invitation to homelessness.

Here is an outside the box approach to getting working people into housing: forget home ownership and bet on apartment buildings. Second: move the county and state governments into the landlord business. Either have governments own and manage these apartments – a very 1960s idea very much out of favor – or have the government-owned properties managed under contracts with stellar, track-record-proven nonprofits.

Skagitonians must push their elected officials to lower the bar in building, to riff on Reis’ last sentence. What needs to be lowered are the barriers preventing the massive building of apartment buildings to house those making way below the county’s median income. What needs raising is government subsidized apartment buildings in the urban centers of the county’s four largest municipalities: Mount Vernon, Anacortes, Sedro-Woolley and Burlington.

The investments county residents need are in the purchase of blocks of property where apartment buildings can be built.

The now-closed Cascade Mall comes to mind as a starter project.

Needed now are residents willing to push incessantly until systematic solutions thinking takes hold, plans are developed and projects executed.


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