Mayor Cooney hosted a Town Hall Meeting last Tuesday evening on Affordable Housing at the Chelan Senior Center. By the start of the meeting an estimated 110 people crammed into the Center to hear the presentations. They represented all walks of life from regular residents, real estate agents and brokers, developers, builders and those hoping that some real solutions might be in the making.
“I’m pretty sure we will see ground broken for affordable housing (this year),” said Mayor Cooney in his opening remarks. Unfortunately, he also told the attendees that the meeting would not be discussing rentals, but would be more focused on the building of affordable homes for those in a position to purchase a home. “I think you would all have an idea of what affordable housing is,” he stated.
Cooney continued his remarks by saying he didn’t believe it was hard to find affordable housing in Chelan, but agreed that, “This is a critical period in our town’s history. People starting out are having a hard time finding an affordable home.” A full one-third of the City’s staff lives outside the City and 38 percent of the hospital staff commute from outside the City.
Cooney pledged to work on the issue every week, but added that it takes an entire community working together to provide affordable housing. “We feel it is a right for people to own their own home,” he said. “Our responsibility (as a City) is to provide land for affordable housing in Chelan. We are going to try every possible way to build affordable housing,” said Cooney
The biggest issues facing Chelan is common throughout North Central Washington; No starter homes; High rents; Low inventories; a large number of second homes; and a lack of high wage jobs. According to statistics, the medium income in Chelan is $36,000.
Kevin Ramsey of Berk Consulting detailed issues facing communities in North Central Washington including Wenatchee and Leavenworth. “A limited supply of housing drives up housing prices,” said Ramsey. He used Leavenworth as an example of the affordable housing issue.
Leavenworth currently has a one percent long term rental rate with only 10 long term rentals advertised, but over 300 short term rentals available. More than 30 percent of Leavenworth’s housing is cost burdened (people paying over 30 percent of their earnings on mortgage payments or rentals) and 50 percent are severely cost burdened (over 50 percent of earnings going to rent or mortgages).
Forty percent of Leavenworth’s work force, according to Ramsey’s research are traveling over 25 miles (some over 50 miles) to get to work. The City of Chelan has a similar problem. Reggie Collins said that Chelan Fruit employees “don’t live here not because they can’t afford it, but because there is nothing to rent.”
Tim Flood, Vice President of Catholic Charities, remarked that federal funding was getting more and more difficult to obtain. “Currently (funding) is a domino game,” said Flood. “Funding is being held up because of the Hirst decision. Without a capital budget there is no funding available.” Flood also stated that there isn’t a city in Washington that doesn’t need affordable housing.
Guy Evans said that Weidner Apartment Homes wants to build out by Wal-Mart. However, he said that the current Comp. Plan doesn’t address or consider the two Chelan economies; the 425 economy and the 509 economy. “It is one size fits all.” In conjunction with that statement, Doug Goodell and his partner are building a 14 unit apartment complex in Chelan and said, “We want to build more units, but have to mitigate the costs (of sewer and water hookups).”
Chelan’s hookup fees are outrageous compared to other cities in the state. For example, in Leavenworth, a 1 ½ inch water meter and sewer connection fees for a 14 unit apartment building would cost the developer a total of $24,576. In Chelan the same services cost $164,934. The January 1, 2018 rate the fees to the developer would be $296,910 or more than 12 times more expensive than the comparable City of Leavenworth.
John Olson and Steve Kline have researched the affordable housing issue and are determined to help provide affordable housing in Chelan. “We have taken up the mantle to do affordable housing in Chelan,” said Kline. There focus will be on finding land and contractors to build rental units so that people who are now commuting from outside the City to work can find affordable rentals here. “In the summer 3,000 people work here,” said Kline. “People tend to spend money where they live.” Which, according to Olson and Kline, the money they earn here is not staying in the community?
Bill Fenton, an old time builder in Lake Chelan, asked how you make the Valley affordable. He feels that one answer lies in impact fees. “Impact fees have to be paid by the developer. If that makes it unaffordable for them to build, then build somewhere else,” said Fenton.
Affordable housing isn’t just about having homes that are affordable to purchase, but having affordable rentals for people who are not ready or unable to purchase a home. Chelan, like Leavenworth and other areas that are experiencing this crisis, need to seek a quick resolution to the problem.
The City of Chelan City Council will be discussing affordable housing at its workshop coming up in February and how the City can help with permitting and fees. Mayor Cooney is determined to bring affordable housing to the Valley. “Everyone needs to come and help,” said Cooney.