By my back-of-the-envelope figuring, well over half of Vashon households now earn over $100,000/yr. For perspective, a two-income household working full-time at about $25/hr each, will make this bracket. If you earn below this income, your chances of purchasing a home are virtually nil. For an affordable rental (that means no more than 30% of your income), a household (one or more full-time incomes) would have to earn the equivalent of $13 – $25/hr for a low to moderately priced rental (I’m figuring $800-1500/month). We have rentals in that range, although they are much in demand. Besides the impossibility of buying a home, there are two more problems: many single-income households earn less than $13/hr, and the supply of low to moderately priced rentals is speedily diminishing. The result is that many households are under great stress, paying more than 50% of their income trying to hang on to a place to live on Vashon. If you want to live in a nice place like Vashon or anywhere in the Northwest, you will find it ever more difficult, if not impossible, unless you are amongst a wealthy minority who are competing for those same places.
Consider what would happen if Water District 19 decided to throw out its water share wait list and said, “From now on, the highest bidder gets the next share.” You can see where this would get us. This is how we allocate housing.
Like water, people can’t live without housing. Even the homeless need some way to be warm and dry, and they depend on the other amenities of housing, like food and hygiene, wherever they can get it. Housing is a necessity and a right, and basic housing should be allocated like a utility. When we founded and funded Vashon Household, we said yes to income, racial, and cultural diversity. As long as housing goes to the highest bidder, the income, and much of the racial and cultural, diversity will certainly be lost. We have to take sufficient land and housing off the commodity market! There is no other way to insure that the lower income members of our community have access to affordable housing.
You might say, “That’s fine for you to say, but how are you going to pay for it? How do we compensate people for lost appreciation? Isn’t this just a giveaway to people that can’t pony up their fair share?”
I hope we can gain some perspective on this with another comparison. The Vashon Maury Island Land Trust is a much respected and successful institution. They have been able to leverage tens of millions of dollars to buy land on Vashon, take it off the commodity market, and preserve it in its natural state. We have deemed this a worthy investment for two reasons. We appreciate and value not only the aesthetic qualities, but also the very real goods and services it provides: water and oxygen for starters. The second reason is that we feel that the plants and animals that are native here have as much right as we do to live here (Some might say more, and we aren’t even getting into the rights of native peoples).
We could decide for the same reasons that a diverse human community is both necessary and desirable as well. We might feel that being a microcosm of the multiracial, multicultural world without is preferable to being an isolated, wealthy, white community. We would definitely need to consider seriously the goods and services rendered by the people that may not be able to afford to live here: the people that teach our kids, take care of our parents, provide food, run our stores, make art and music, and fix and maintain virtually everything we use. Let’s consider one stark example. Without restocking, our grocery store shelves would be empty in three days! Imagine for a minute the huge amount of work that needs to be done continuously to insure that everything you want to buy is shipped in and stacked neatly in the proper spot. Don’t these people deserve a secure, affordable place in their/our community? If we can exert the political will to preserve our natural environment, we can make affordable housing readily available to all our community members.
The past projects that we have created at Vashon Household have been valuable and necessary, but they are far from sufficient and have also warehoused our lower income people in isolated projects. Even on Vashon, there is a stigma attached to people in the “projects.” The majority of our affordable housing is still scattered across the island as older single-family housing. It is disappearing fast because of appreciation and conversion to high value private homes. This is the land and housing that we need to take off the market! We need a sufficient and reliable stock of affordable rentals and, as with the Land Trust, we can find a way to do it.
If you want to see what can be done, go to: https://www.psrc.org/housing-innovations-program-hip, click on Development Types, and then click on Preservation and Rehabilitation.