How to make Sequim whole

Officials look to mandate affordable housing

  • Tuesday, March 18, 2014 5:30pm
  • News

The average age in Sequim is about 59 years old. The majority of residents made names for themselves elsewhere and arrived in Sequim with the intent of enjoying retirement, which in the end doesn’t give much opportunity for young people just beginning to make their way in the world.

"Sequim is an unusual market in the sense that it’s much more retirement-based," said Larry Freedman, a local developer and chairman of the Sequim Planning Commission. "Young people who are wage earners for the most part have difficultly finding homes here. I think the numbers are something like 70 percent of the workforce in

Sequim lives elsewhere."

To Freedman’s mind Sequim is out of balance and when a community becomes out of balance he believes it crumbles.

"A community lives well, it lives better if it is a well-rounded, full community with almost all groups represented," Freedman said.

And with an anticipated population of 18,000 residents by 2015, Sequim officials are hoping that Sequim’s demographics will change, offering up a whole spectrum of individuals.

"Let’s hope so. We really hope so. We really have to turn the tide. Your city cannot be fully dependent upon one class of individual living here," said Frank Needham, capital projects manager.

It’s this belief that has prompted Freedman, Needham and others to start seriously pushing for affordable housing and workforce housing, which is characterized by the county’s Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) as anywhere from 30 to 80 percent of the county’s median income. In Clallam County the median income currently stands at $53,300. In 2006, the city council voted in an ordinance giving incentives to developers to create more affordable housing opportunities.

"That ordinance doesn’t mandate it. It only mandates it on parcels of land that are smaller than five acres and in a planned unit development," said Sequim assistant planner Joseph Irving. "Then you had to consider affordable housing and workforce housing."

The operative word is "consider". Without a mandate, the ordinance was not a success and will were no developers willing to include affordable housing in their planned developments. One reason could be that affordable housing does not generally bring in much profit.

"We’ll have, instead of a recommendation or a suggestion an ordinance that will make a requirement. If they’re coming in and saying, hey, we’re going to add 10 units, we’re going to say if you’re adding 10 units of multi-family or 10 units of any kind of dwelling unit, you’re going to at least have one that’s affordable," said Needham, referring to a possible ordinance that would focus on future mixed-use projects. "You have a couple ways you can do it. You can do it through including the construction of it on your site or you can come up with an alternative. Now the alternative is not well-defined and that’s one of the issues we’re trying to solve in inclusionary housing."

But developers aren’t the only ones who might be weary of affordable housing. Often people associate affordable housing with low quality, high density or apartment complexes towering over their neighbors. It’s associated with ghettos, slums and high crime rates.

Planning commissioner and councilwoman-elect Susan Lorenzen is in favor of mandated affordable and workforce housing, but she wants to see it spread out throughout all of Sequim.

"It can’t be done in pockets or else you end up with ghettos," Lorensen said. "It has to be integrated."

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