Fourteen years ago, I was pregnant and house hunting. We wanted a place to welcome our new baby into the world. A home. We were fortunate. We had savings. In our 30s, both of us working, we had been living on a dime for over a decade, and with help from our family, we had a sizable down payment. The money wasn’t the issue, it was the inventory.
The bubble that had exploded all over the country hadn’t popped in the Methow yet, and we paid a premium for our house — it felt criminal, but there were so few houses on the market. Two years later, prices receded, and it became a buyer’s market again, but only briefly. Prices recovered quickly and have kept climbing ever since only to be blown out of the water with the Great Reshuffle.
So, when I saw Jacquelyn Pacheco’s Facebook Page post this week, with her round belly, pleading the community to find her and her husband Jose Alfredo a place to live, my heart sunk. Eight months pregnant, the young couple have been living in a spare bedroom of her parent’s manufactured home alongside her two younger brothers in Twisp since the fall of 2021.
A 2020 graduate from Liberty Bell, Jacky knows how difficult housing options are in the valley. She moved away to Pasco in 2020 only to return here, where her husband could secure a higher wage. With a baby on the way, she wanted to be near to her family. They figured they’d save money for a place for themselves; nothing fancy just some privacy — anything. But as time has passed, still no rentals have worked out. Like a true millennial, she went to social media to look for help. Still nothing. She’s not alone. Her post is one out of four this week I have seen from people in search of housing.
When we bought our house, I remember someone saying, “great starter home.” But like those trying to get into the market, we too are stuck. There’s no upward mobilization — wages haven’t kept up with the real estate market. This leaves even fewer homes available at the lower buying spectrum for those trying to get in, because those of us in them, can’t move out.
The housing crisis, or as I see it, the housing shortage, is due in part to the lack of housing diversity. This in turn is in part due to the danger of the status quo and to land use policies. The housing market has been building one product for a long time, leaving few choices and little competition. Single-family homes became the battle cry of the republic and the aspirational dream of every American, so much so, that after a couple generations, the idea of living in anything else seems inconceivable. A self-fulfilling prophecy, a positive feedback loop. We build it, they come. Why cook anything else if the recipe works? The status quo wins again and we are having spaghetti again for dinner.
One of the terms being tossed around in the housing policy circle is the “missing middle.” This refers to the dearth of homes that capture a housing stock that is seldom built anymore. Duplexes, triplexes, quads, courtyard apartments centered around a common space are examples. If you watched “Beverly Hills 90210” in the 1990s it’s, Melrose Place. These types of homes, once common in small towns and cities in the early 20th century, fell out of favor, largely due to zoning restrictions favoring single-family homes. The danger in the disfavor is that these housing styles once captured middle-income earners.
With the high demand, it seems to me, if you built it, they would come. Shoot, they are already here, waiting in spare bedrooms, living out of travel trailers, or crashing on couches. The question is, who will take the risk and build it, and will it be in time for the next baby?