WENATCHEE — A new report from the nonprofit Our Valley Our Future makes it clear: Housing in the Wenatchee Valley is in crisis, and the market alone can’t fix it.
Instead, the broad-spectrum group of volunteers proposes things like streamlined building codes, housing tax rebates and exemptions, and regional strategies to encourage denser, taller, more efficient middle-market housing. That could help alleviate a shortage of more than 1,600 housing units, and vacancy rates approaching zero.
“We’re not getting the housing stock that we need,” says Jamie Wallace, president of the North Central Washington Realtors Association. “We're not getting the developments approved that need. We’re not getting reuse of things like the downtown corridor, where we could have possibly housing right in downtown. …. So I think that regionally, we need to work together to supply this, otherwise we’re losing too many people to other areas, or they’re leaving because they can’t live here.”
The “middle market” approach compares the Chelan and Douglas County median household income — about $51,000 — with the area’s median home prices and monthly rent — about $300,000 to purchase, $1,650 a month to lease. As it stands now, those numbers are not sustainable.
“There’s a huge supply and demand issue,” says Mike Leeds, an Our Valley volunteer and a relationship manager with North Meridian Title and Escrow. "And with it being such a desirable place to live, to raise a family and to work, to retire, we have a lot of people moving into the area. … By having more inventory in the mid-market price range, that will help come up with solutions for more affordable housing in the lower income. And basically, we’ve been talking about any housing is good housing.”
The report was the work of months and involved some 50 volunteer committeemembers. A key component: Its community survey in which 1,700 respondents gave their insights about local housing. What they said was eye-opening.
“People who are doubling up in homes, people who have moved here for a good job who four or five months later are still in a hotel. These were teachers, these were tech jobs, these were nurses, across the board. So it wasn’t just low-income folks who are struggling. It was the middle-income folks who could not find a place to live here.”
The report offers proposals for city and county leaders, as well as builders, to look at housing in their own communities, and recommends ways they can work together. In the future, more apartments and smaller-sized dwellings will be needed. The trend may move away from single family homes, into multigenerational units.
Our Valley Our Future’s problem-solving work is still ongoing, and anyone in the Wenatchee Valley can join in and contribute. Mike Leeds says with that kind of involvement, there’s reason for optimism.
“Some may call it a housing crisis,” he says, “but we determined naming it the Housing Solutions Group is a lot more positive.”
Jefferson Robbins: 679-7013