Many areas in our region and throughout the state have been experiencing affordable housing challenges. Some communities in Chelan County, such as Leavenworth and Chelan, have seen home prices more than triple since 2012. This is a massive challenge because stable housing is fundamental to successful careers, communities, and families.
Our state has a number of programs focused on homelessness and very low-income housing, some of which have only been marginally successful. While our local communities have seen an unfortunate uptick in homelessness in recent years, most state programs do not address the bulk of our challenges because our region mostly struggles with “workforce” housing issues.
Due to the service nature of our local economy — including many health care, agricultural, education, and hospitality workers — people who earn 60 to 120 percent of the area’s average income struggle to live in the communities where they work. This leads to a whole host of other issues, including longer commutes, traffic congestion, and quality-of-life impacts.
To compound matters, we live in a beautiful place with year-round recreation and high-speed broadband connectivity. The frequent purchases of second homes along with the COVID trend of converting second homes to primary homes has greatly increased housing prices, pushing out essential workers. With every passing month communities like Leavenworth and Chelan (and even Wenatchee) are gradually losing their sense of community due to high-cost housing.
I’m grateful to many local leaders who stepped up alongside me last legislative session to enact a bipartisan solution to improve workforce housing options. With their help, we successfully passed my Senate Bill 5868 to provide counties with more flexibility to utilize an existing tax stream (known as the “.09 dollars”) for housing infrastructure. This bill didn’t authorize a new tax but broadened the permissible uses of an existing revenue source, providing county commissioners more options.
Just weeks after the bill was signed by the Governor and enacted into law, the Chelan County Commission awarded over $823,000 in local grants through their Cascade Public Infrastructure Fund, to housing authorities throughout Chelan County.
This action is perhaps just the first step among many the commissioners will advance under this new authority.
Passing any bill through the Legislature is a difficult process. Less than 10 percent of the bills introduced each session actually become law, and housing proposals have struggled more than most. I’d like to especially thank Leavenworth Mayor Carl Florea, Chelan County Commissioner Kevin Overbay, and Chelan County Housing Program Coordinator Sasha Sleiman for their helpful ideas, beneficial suggestions, and active participation throughout the intense and stressful legislative process.
I’d also like to thank the Chelan Valley Housing Trust, Upper Valley MEND, Wenatchee Valley Chamber, Confluence Health, Cascade Medical Center, Washington Hospitality Association, Serve Wenatchee Valley and others who assisted in our collective efforts. It is gratifying to see the combination of everyone’s hard work result in tangible benefits distributed to worthy organizations who will leverage those funds for greater good. We can be proud of what we accomplished together!
Brad Hawkins is the state senator for the 12th District.
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