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Bridging the Affordable Housing Gap: Clallam County’s Inclusionary Zoning Strategies

Policy and Advocacy
Bridging the Affordable Housing Gap: Clallam County’s Inclusionary Zoning Strategies

As a resident of Clallam County, I’ve witnessed firsthand the ever-growing challenge of affordable housing. It seems like every time I drive around, I see new luxury apartments and condos springing up, catering to the wealthy, while the people who keep our community running – the nurses, teachers, and service workers – struggle to find a decent, affordable place to live. It’s a problem that has been weighing heavily on my mind, and I know I’m not alone.

But just when I was starting to feel disheartened, I stumbled upon a glimmer of hope – Clallam County’s inclusionary zoning strategies. These innovative policies aim to bridge the affordable housing gap, and I couldn’t wait to dive in and learn more.

Understanding the Affordable Housing Crisis in Clallam County

The affordable housing crisis in Clallam County is a complex issue with deep-rooted causes. According to the AHAB Housing Advisory Plan 2023-2028, the county’s median home price has skyrocketed by over 60% in the past decade, pricing out many first-time homebuyers and low-income families.

At the same time, the rental market has tightened, with a vacancy rate of just 1.3%. This has led to a sharp increase in rents, leaving many residents struggling to make ends meet. In fact, the Kitsap AH Recommendations Report found that nearly half of Clallam County’s renters are cost-burdened, meaning they spend more than 30% of their income on housing.

The problem is exacerbated by the fact that the county’s population has been growing steadily, with an influx of retirees and remote workers seeking the area’s natural beauty and laid-back lifestyle. This surge in demand has only further strained the already limited housing supply.

Embracing Inclusionary Zoning: Clallam County’s Innovative Approach

Faced with these daunting challenges, Clallam County has taken a proactive approach, embracing inclusionary zoning as a key strategy to address the affordable housing crisis. Inclusionary zoning is a policy that requires or encourages developers to set aside a certain percentage of new residential units as affordable housing.

The MRSC Homelessness and Housing Toolkit for Cities explains that this approach can take various forms, such as mandating a certain percentage of affordable units, providing density bonuses to developers who include affordable units, or offering financial incentives to encourage the incorporation of affordable housing.

In Clallam County, the inclusionary zoning strategy has been a key focus of the county’s comprehensive housing plan. The plan outlines a multi-pronged approach, including:

Mandatory Affordable Housing Requirements

The county has implemented a policy that requires all new residential developments of a certain size to set aside a portion of the units as affordable housing. This ensures that as the county continues to grow, new housing units are available to low- and moderate-income families.

Density Bonuses

To incentivize developers to include affordable housing, the county offers density bonuses, allowing them to build more units than would normally be permitted on a given parcel of land. This helps offset the cost of providing the affordable units, making it a win-win for both the developer and the community.

Flexible Development Standards

The county has also introduced more flexible development standards for affordable housing projects, such as reduced parking requirements and streamlined permitting processes. This helps to lower the overall cost of construction, making it easier for developers to incorporate affordable units into their projects.

Affordable Housing Fund

To further support the development of affordable housing, Clallam County has established a dedicated affordable housing fund. This fund can be used to provide low-interest loans, grants, or other financial assistance to developers who commit to including affordable units in their projects.

The Impact of Inclusionary Zoning in Clallam County

The implementation of these inclusionary zoning strategies has already begun to bear fruit in Clallam County. Since the policies were put in place, the county has seen a significant increase in the number of affordable housing units being built.

For example, the Kitsap AH Recommendations Report highlights a new mixed-use development in Port Angeles that includes 30% affordable units, thanks to the county’s density bonus program. Similarly, a recent affordable housing project in Sequim was able to secure funding from the county’s affordable housing fund, making it possible to keep rents within reach of low-income families.

But the impact of these policies goes beyond just the numbers. I’ve had the opportunity to speak with some of the residents who have benefited from the affordable housing units, and their stories are truly inspiring. One young couple, both working in the service industry, shared how they were able to finally move out of their cramped studio apartment and into a spacious, affordable two-bedroom unit, giving them the space and stability they needed to start a family.

Another resident, a retired schoolteacher living on a fixed income, told me how the county’s affordable housing fund helped her secure a lovely apartment in a senior-friendly community, allowing her to age in place with dignity and peace of mind.

These personal narratives are a testament to the difference that inclusionary zoning can make in the lives of those struggling with the affordable housing crisis. It’s not just about the numbers – it’s about giving people a chance to thrive and build the kind of lives they’ve always dreamed of.

Overcoming Challenges and Looking to the Future

Of course, implementing these inclusionary zoning strategies hasn’t been without its challenges. As with any major policy shift, there has been some pushback from developers who argue that the requirements may make projects financially unviable.

To address these concerns, Clallam County has worked closely with the building community to find creative solutions. For instance, they’ve introduced flexible compliance options, allowing developers to pay in-lieu fees or provide off-site affordable units if on-site inclusion isn’t feasible.

Additionally, the county has made a concerted effort to streamline the approval process for affordable housing projects, reducing the bureaucratic red tape that can often slow down development. By working collaboratively with stakeholders, Clallam County has been able to navigate these challenges and maintain the momentum of its inclusionary zoning programs.

Looking to the future, I’m hopeful that Clallam County’s inclusionary zoning strategies will continue to make a meaningful impact on the affordable housing crisis. As the county’s population continues to grow, these policies will ensure that new development benefits all members of the community, not just the affluent.

And who knows – perhaps Clallam County’s success story will inspire other communities across the state, and even the nation, to follow in their footsteps. After all, affordable housing is a challenge that knows no boundaries, and the more we can learn from each other’s innovative approaches, the closer we’ll come to bridging the gap.

In the meantime, I’ll keep advocating for these important policies and supporting the incredible work being done by the team at HACC Housing, Clallam County’s affordable housing solutions organization. Together, I believe we can create a more inclusive, equitable, and prosperous future for all who call this beautiful corner of the world home.

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