Bill passed to enable affordable housing

Increase in population, student housing caused rental rates to rise



Pete Dickinson, Pullman planning director, says bill could help increase affordable housing in Whitman County.

LOREN NEGRON, Evergreen reporter

An ordinance was approved by the Whitman County Commissioners on Sept. 3 to adopt State House Bill 1406, which went into effect in late July. It enables the counties in Washington to retain a portion of the state sales tax and direct it toward affordable housing.

Affordable housing is a major issue in Whitman County. For those whose median income was at 30 percent or less, only around 10 percent had access to affordable and available housing, according to the 2015 Washington State Housing Needs Assessment.

Whitman County commissioner Art Swannack said the bill ensures money remains in the community.

“I believe this bill is important because we do have needs for affordable housing and support,” he said.

Rules concerning how the money should be awarded, other than those written in the bill, have not been received by the county, Swannack said. They are still being written by the US Department of Commerce.

“That’s the problem at this point in time. It’s just knowing what the rules are,” Swannack said. “Those rules really guide and drive us towards what we will do.”

Swannack said the county will receive the money from state sales tax in December, at the earliest.

The City of Pullman can benefit from this bill if they pass a resolution of intent and adopt an ordinance, Swannack said.

Jeff Guyett, executive director for the Community Action Center (CAC), said the CAC supported the commissioners’ decision to adopt the house bill.

“We felt that it was a great way to keep some of that local tax dollars in Pullman and Whitman County and have that projected … directly toward affordable housing,” Guyett said.

Pete Dickinson, Pullman planning director, said a variety of factors have contributed to the rise of housing and living costs in Pullman, such as the city’s relatively remote location, hills and the lack of affordable builders.

“Our soils are of clay-type soil that are difficult and challenging to work with. Oftentimes, it makes it difficult to get a solid pad for the foundation, and so some extra work needs to be done. That’s extra expense,” he said.

The increasing population and student housing in Pullman has caused the rental housing rates to increase and become less affordable for people who earn a median or below-median income, Guyett said.

Adam Lincoln, Pullman city administrator, said the city council is participating in a study to better understand housing affordability and availability in Pullman and the surrounding region.

The Community Action Center implemented various projects to help with affordable housing in Whitman County. Tomason Place, Kenwood Square, and Bellevue Duplexes are examples of CAC affordable housing projects in Pullman.

“We’re really looking forward to be involved with some affordable housing options … to help keep affordable housing and available housing more reasonable in the Pullman and Whitman County area,” Guyett said.

Dickinson said the City of Pullman is promoting affordable housing in several ways like housing density.

“The more housing units that you put on any given piece of land, the less miles of roadways, water and sewer lines that you’ll need,” Dickinson said.