As part of the Share Our Spaces, HSN created a series of profiles like this one featuring Alison who rents a local ADU as her home. See the full set of profiles at the bottom of this story.
According to the Washington Center for Real Estate Research, Jefferson County is one of the most expensive counties in Washington state. Rental vacancy rates in Jefferson County hover between zero and one percent, so even those with stable incomes can’t find available housing. Given this, it’s not surprising that housing is both an acute local challenge and a major barrier to economic development.
As a conservation organization, Jefferson Land Trust is dedicated to preserving the farms, fish, and forests of Jefferson County, but without affordable housing, our community cannot attract the people needed to keep working lands in production and steward the land we love. This problem also prevents nonprofits like the Land Trust, local businesses, and other organizations, including our first responders, from attracting and retaining talented employees. This problem threatens the legacy of our working lands and our community’s future security and vitality.
Despite the local housing crisis, enough developed land, houses, and bedrooms actually exist in Jefferson County to supply a substantial proportion of our local workforce housing needs.
With this in mind, Housing Solutions Network (HSN), an initiative of the Jefferson Community Foundation, recently launched the Share Our Spaces campaign.
The education and resource campaign is designed to provide information and support to help local homeowners jumpstart workforce housing solutions using existing housing inventory.
In the 2020 census, 3,380 homes in Jefferson County were listed as vacant. According to HSN, that’s about 20% of our entire housing stock.
“Beginning to use what we already have is the fastest and least expensive way to house our local workforce,” says Liz Revord, who is acting as point person for the Share Our Spaces campaign. “By using unused bedrooms, basements, backyards, empty houses, and ADUs [accessory dwelling units] — or by adding ADUs to backyards where they make sense — our community can create more immediate rental options for our neighbors, while also preserving habitat.”
As Network Weaver for HSN, Liz works alongside HSN Director Justine Gonzalez-Berg. The dedicated duo and a corps of committed volunteers are focused on local workforce housing resources and issues.
Workforce housing is essentially housing available to people living at an area’s median family income. According to the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), which sets the limits of who is eligible for subsidized affordable housing, Jefferson County’s median family income (for a family of 4) is $67,400. HUD defines housing costs as “affordable” when a family spends no more than 30% of their income on rent or mortgage and utilities.
“Share Our Spaces is an effort to inspire and empower community members to create immediate and near-term housing solutions,” says Justine. She acknowledges that long-term solutions, both policy-based solutions and those that involve building permanently affordable housing, are absolutely key for our community’s long-term viability, but those solutions take considerably greater time and resources, in addition to careful planning.
“Meanwhile, families are being forced to move away or live in substandard conditions and businesses are struggling to continue providing their services,” explains Justine. “Our community has everything to lose if we can’t speedily avert these human and economic crises.”
That’s where the Share Our Spaces campaign comes in. The HSN team identified five solutions that could quickly increase local workforce housing and outlined them in this one-minute video.
In addition to being the Land Trust’s Executive Director, Richard Tucker is also President of the Board of Directors for the Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce. In both roles, he sees the impact that the lack of workforce housing has on our community and economy. “I appreciate the approach Justine and Liz are taking with this campaign,” said Richard. “It’s thoughtful, informative, and could make a difference for our community and the conservation values we’re all working to advance.”