Staff will work with local organizations
The Town of Winthrop is about to ramp up its efforts to address the pressing shortage of affordable housing in the town and the greater Methow Valley.
At its meeting last week, the Town Council adopted a resolution declaring a “housing crisis” which requires immediate action at all levels of government. For its part, the council committed the town to a review of all local policies and regulations that affect housing availability and affordability. Town staff and the Winthrop Planning Commission are directed to conduct the review and deliver a report within six months.
“Solving the crisis must include addressing the spectrum of housing needs; including long-term rentals, seasonal and year-round workforce housing, affordable home ownership, and senior housing,” the resolution reads. “Inaction will result in irreversible damage to the fabric of the community and limit the ability of our community to function serving residents and visitors alike. The Town of Winthrop will work collaboratively with officials at all levels of government, as well as citizen groups and organizations that are actively working to address the Methow Valley housing crisis.
“Such actions may include participation in the Methow Valley Housing Solutions Network; participation in the development of a valley-wide housing plan; public hearings to consider substantive policy and code changes that may positively impact the development of affordable housing in Winthrop; and exploring options for public funding that assists the construction of affordable housing units in town.”
In its findings, the resolution cites local employers’ difficulty in attracting and retaining workers; escalating prices for new and existing homes; a vacancy rate of less than 1% for Methow
Valley rentals; and the displacement of local residents by non-resident workers operating remotely.
“It is essential to our local economy and sense of community that workers in local businesses can live in the Methow Valley,” the resolution says.
It’s not an unfamiliar topic. The council has in the past discussed limiting overnight rentals to preserve local housing options. The town will also be the site of a Methow Housing Trust development adjacent to the Cascade Condominiums.
Several people spoke in favor of the resolution at last week’s meeting. Jay Helfrich called it “a good first step,” and David Ebenger noted that “towns are places where growth should occur” because of increased density and more-manageable development costs. He applauded the town for being proactive. Danica Ready, executive director of Methow Housing Trust, said “I commend the town for taking this on.”
Council member Ben Nelson called the action “an important first step. … We need to acknowledge the problem and start working on solutions. We are behind the eight-ball but have a chance to get ahead of it.”
Council member Bill McAdow urged the town staff and Planning Commission to look for ways to incentivize developers to build affordable housing projects.
Council member William Kilby said that the cost of land is a major expense “and the greatest impact we can have on that is through zoning with more density. … It will take more than a cheaper building permit to lure builders.” He encouraged the staff to look at multiple-family zoning options.