When it comes to developing affordable housing, there is disparity between urban and rural Washington.
That was a theme heard repeatedly Thursday, when more than 40 leaders in nonprofit agencies, business, investment, government, education and other fields around the state convened in Yakima to discuss the challenges of providing quality affordable housing to rural communities.
There’s an imbalance between what projects get started depending on whether they’re in urban or rural areas, said Mario Villanueva, the state director of the U.S. Department of Agriculture Office of Rural Development.
“Washington state does not have a rural agenda,” he said. “There’s not a plan, there’s not prioritization, there’s not a way for communities to feed into decision making.”
He said more often funding and technical expertise go to “whoever walks through the door,” rather than being distributed in a wide and coordinated effort.
“I think we need to take a run at a rural development council,” which could set long-range plans and priorities, Villanueva said.
“There’s no place to go to get a consensus discussion or opinion about what’s most important in rural Washington,” according to Paul Purcell, president of the Seattle-based affordable housing investment company Beacon Development Group.
He noted that previous rural affordable housing coalitions were more regional in scope, but fizzled out despite the need for unity.
“There are also a lot of rural communities on the west side (of the state) that are not here,” he said.
Bryan Ketcham, director of Catholic Charities Housing Services, said the differences between rural areas in the state, be they demographic, geographical or both, present additional challenges to establishing a consortium or consensus on the matter.
“It’s so diverse, when you say the needs of rural Washington, what does it mean?” Ketcham said. “So there are some challenges putting a group together.”