By Andy McConkey
The Methow has a housing crisis. For some folks reading this it will seem like old news, for others it could be the first you’ve heard of it. This place of beauty that so many of us love so very much is staggering beneath the weight of a very real, a very difficult and very complicated dilemma.
By some accounts our community is short something like 300 housing units, be they affordable rentals, market rate rentals, transitional and worker housing and attainable housing. Working families are paying the price for this inequity. Housing has always been problematic here, but the current situation isn’t even remotely sustainable.
Admittedly we’re a little late to the game here. It’s true that elected officials have been largely absent from a leadership role regarding attainable housing, but for those of us community members who saw this coming, we could’ve been far more proactive. The community heroes at the Methow Housing Trust have done great things in a relatively small amount of time, but so much more is needed.
So now we find ourselves in a similar position as other communities who’ve been confronted with housing issues also. We find ourselves asking each other what sort of community do we want to be invested in.
Speaking for myself, I want to remain in a community that looks out for its most vulnerable folks. I want to live and invest in an inclusive community that celebrates teachers and carpenters and food servers and grocery clerks and house cleaners and that isn’t OK with folks traveling two to three hours round-trip each day to make coffees or help build second homes.
I would hope we’d all agree that having our kids and our neighbors’ kids returning here to raise their families is a positive thing. I would hope that we’d all agree that safe, senior-friendly housing should be a part of any housing strategies. I’d hope that we’d all recognize that stable housing equates to and begets social equity and that economic stability is directly tied to housing security.
A young single mother I know moved 14 times in eight years. Let that sink in for a moment. A friend who’s a business owner here moved nine times in eight years. Both of these folks grew up here and wanted to return to raise their families here. Another locally raised young man and his wife moved three times in a year. These aren’t isolated incidents. And this isn’t alright.
Multiple ad-hoc groups have formed to address this issue. Every group that has recently sprung forth to discuss and examine the housing problem has come up with similar ideas and identified common culprits:
• Houses that once served as long-term rentals have been repurposed as nightly rentals and/or second homes, or taken out of the rental pool entirely.
• The sheer scarcity of affordable properties.
• Zoning rules that create a problematic climate for the building of accessory dwelling units that could become long-term rentals.
There are a myriad of possible solutions/mitigation strategies, but it’s almost certain that the vast majority will feature some sort of public/private collaboration.
The housing advocacy group I’m sharing a hat rack with is the Methow Housing Perseverance/#wemethow group. Together we’re coalescing around the goal that together we represent a powerful voice of like-minded folks that can bolster the political will of our elected officials, to truly fight for the working families who keep the valley rolling along. Our group is poised to compliment policy-driven groups which will inevitably spring forth from the aforementioned discussion groups/ad hoc think tanks.
In September we issued a call to action imploring — no, demanding — leadership and progress on these hosing issues from our elected officials, town government. We’re seeking 1,000 (or more) signatures from concerned citizens willing to stand behind the cause of a greater community.
For more information and a pathway to join our call to action, please consider joining the Methow Housing Perseverance Facebook page.
Andy McConkey, a contractor, is a 30-year resident of the Methow.