Chelan explores solutions to affordable housing crisis

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by Richard Uhlhorn

Can’t afford to live in the Lake Chelan Valley? Need an affordable home? An affordable rental unit? It’s an issue facing the entire valley and the City of Chelan hopes to change the lack of affordable housing.

Over the next 20 years, the City of Chelan will need to find an additional 720 housing units to fill the expected growth. This would fulfill the need for all types of housing needs including seasonal.

On Tuesday afternoon, February 6, the City held a workshop in Council Chambers to explore how the City can create affordable housing for its growing senior population and the service and hospitality industry.

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City Council, the Mayor, and Staff held a workshop to explore ideas on solving the affordable housing crisis in Chelan on Tuesday, February 6.

Mayor Mike Cooney is serious about pushing for solutions to the housing crisis. He told the group that businesses in the downtown core are having a hard time hiring people because of the lack of housing. “Pretty soon, they won’t have any employees,” said Cooney.

Councilman Tim Hollingsworth remarked that young people can’t afford to move to Chelan. Many of the hospitality and service workers are commuting from outside the area.

Planning Director Craig Gildroy told the group that “We need to provide all housing types for all income levels.” He gave a presentation that included a toolbox for building affordable housing in Chelan. “We’ve never had anyone take us up on that,” said Gildroy.

The department’s toolbox includes:

  • No Density Limitations
  • Expanded downtown zones in 2017
  • Permit outright for attached and detached ADUs (Accessory Dwelling Unit)
  • Multi-Family units
  • Cottage Housing
  • Single Family, Duplex & Triplex Standards

It was brought out in the meeting that many homeowners in the City might not know about the opportunities available to build an ADU on their property. For example, a home owner might have a garage that could be turned into a small apartment for extra income and that is allowed under current regulations for a permit fee from the Planning Department.

Erin McCardle remarked that it is hard to move forward. “I want to make sure we look at solutions that impact the most people,” she said.

Hollingsworth added that there is a general lack of lower priced smaller homes or rentals in the City. “The focus has been on accommodating the higher end market and we’ve been kinda successful at that.” He mentioned the Lookout and Legacy Ridge as examples. “We need to focus on the lower end.”

One of the major problems facing the Council and City is the current one size fits all fees for water and sewer hookups. An 800 sq. ft. housing unit costs the same as a 4,000 sq. ft. residential unit. If a builder wants to build a 10 unit apartment house, he is looking at a huge number in his building costs.

Mayor Cooney stated that this meeting was the time to discuss those fees and how the Council might change them to help developers build lower cost units. Hollingsworth added that this was the stuff the City can do to attract lower affordable housing development by subsidizing the lower end. “We need to make those fees more equitable.”

Serando Robledo told the Council that they need to be very careful that any affordable housing that is constructed doesn’t become a short term rental. Hollingsworth added that this would be a code enforcement issue and a part of the qualification for lower fee structures.

Mayor Cooney moved the discussion along by telling the Council that since the Town Hall meeting, the City has been offered land and asked if the Council is willing to reduce or waive fees to get affordable housing in the City. “People are making offers to the City,” he said.

The question was who would pick up the slack of waiving or reducing fees. Cooney said it would be picked up on the higher end of the market. Dobbs added, “We would get more for larger homes.” Cooney added that a number of developers have said they are not building in Chelan because the fees are too high.

Ty Witt asked what the City was allowed to do and said, “I think it’s time to act on that.”

Hollingsworth suggested inviting some contractors in and have them discuss what would be practical to build smaller affordable units.

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Since the Mayor’s Town Hall meeting in January, developers and land owners have stepped forward to help and a number of trades, land offers and donations are being made to help with the affordable housing crisis.

The Lookout has offered three acres and expertise that could accommodate 20 homes in the $150,000 to $180,000 range, but have said it wouldn’t happen under the current rate structure I the City.

Other offers that have come into the City include 20 acres of surplus land east of the City; two developers willing to make donations; continuing discussions with Weidner for 240 market rate units; negotiations for  potential land purchase for affordable housing.

Cooney asked each Council member to write out a summary of the meeting so the City staff can see where they would like to go.

He then opened the meeting up for public comment and Kevin Sanford who teaches Current World Problems and construction at Manson High School told the Council that his students had conducted research into the problem and came up with similar results that the City has. “It is a problem in the entire world,” said Sandford.

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Kevin Sandford, a teacher at Manson High School has a construction class that is learning a trade and building small 150 to 180 sq. ft. tiny homes in hopes of helping alleviate the affordable housing crisis in the Valley. 

Sandford’s construction class in Manson came up with a solution and are building 180 sq. ft. micro homes on trailers. They are fully equipped with a kitchen, bathroom and living space. “They are learning a trade and they are excited about doing it. My dream is that local vendors will buy into the idea,” he said. The units would cost $10,000 for a single person.

Hollingsworth asked if something like this could be permitted in the City. Sarah Schrock, the City’s new Project Planner, stated that anything build offsite would have to be approved by the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries.

John Olson asked the Council to please read his research on how Bend, Oregon is treating Short Term Rentals. Bend is charging a fee to owners of STRs and the money goes into a pot to help build affordable housing.

Sherri Schneir, Columbia Valley Housing Authority, told the Council that the City needs long term rentals. “Maybe more than home ownership,” she added.

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