Thurston County is suffering a housing crisis. To solve it, we need to substantially increase our stock of publicly owned, permanently affordable housing. The Housing Authority of Thurston County is uniquely positioned amongst local entities to make a significant dent in the deficit of affordable homes, due to broad bonding authority under state law, and other tools and resources not afforded private developers.
Against the backdrop of rapid population growth, a strained housing market, record levels of homelessness, and over half of renting households cost-burdened in the metro area, Thurston County and the cities of Olympia, Lacey and Tumwater have embarked on an all-hands-on-deck approach to updating and re-envisioning strategies for incentivizing, enabling, and creating housing affordable for low- and middle-income residents. The goal of these efforts is to ensure nothing is left on the table so we can overcome this crisis and emerge stronger together.
In its Five Year Plan, HATC has the opportunity to do the same.
Housing Authorities, created in the 1930s during our last great economic downturn, have broad powers to meet our community’s housing needs, especially during the market conditions we face today.
Specifically, HATC is uniquely positioned to develop housing for low- and middle-income households due to broad bonding authority granted under state law. HATC can access tax breaks, attractive financing, and municipally-owned land, and should use these resources boldly given the severity of the shortage. In the tight housing market, other housing authorities have found affordable housing to be a low-risk investment. Fully leveraging its resources, HATC could build significant housing stock, stabilize rental prices for cost-burdened households, and emerge as a key regional partner in overcoming the housing and homelessness crisis.
With large scale public housing development absent from the conversation, most solutions offered involve subsidizing or liberalizing the market for private developers. Despite considerable public investment in these strategies, the private market has not met housing needs since the 2007 recession. The lack of public options for housing has contributed to the affordability crisis nationally and locally.
We call upon HATC to amend its Five Year Plan to affirm that HATC can and should be a major provider of affordable housing. Beyond opportunistically acquiring properties, the plan should set numeric annual targets for housing development. It should commit to use HATC’s unique bonding power to aid in that development. Finally, the plan should define HATC’s mission as providing permanent, affordable housing for everyone who needs it.
Our housing crisis is dire, but we have the resources to solve it. Expanding the supply of high-quality, affordable, publicly-owned housing through HATC will be a key part of the solution.
Thank you for your consideration of these comments as you work to finalize the Five Year Plan.