Low-income housing advocates in Klickitat County now have, in black and white, a consultant's report that details what they already suspected: A shortage of "affordable" housing options is a serious problem in the county -- and especially in the Bingen-White Salmon community -- and there is no real solution in sight.
In late 2007, John Epler & Associates, a Seattle-based consultant, was contracted to conduct a "Housing Needs Assessment" for the county "in order to establish the needs of the community and help begin to set new directions."
Linda Schneider, executive director of Washington Gorge Action Programs (WGAP), said the countywide study took six months, and was the first housing needs report for Klickitat County since 1991.
"There has been a huge change since then," Schneider said. "We've had meetings about affordable housing, but we couldn't do anything without a housing assessment."
In the summary of the "Housing Needs Assessment" for Klickitat County, which was completed last month, recent changes in the marketplace were described.
"Klickitat County has long been a location for relatively inexpensive housing," read an excerpt. "However, in recent years the national housing market pushed housing sales prices upward as persons from outside the area purchased properties for use as vacation homes in the scenic Columbia Gorge area, creating a rapid reduction in affordable housing. A small group of individuals became increasingly concerned that housing would only be affordable for those in the upper middle income ranges ... Klickitat County is facing a major crisis in providing for the housing needs of its citizens. Affordable housing is increasingly difficult to find, as the pressure on the housing supply in the Gorge has caused housing prices to soar in recent years ... The intent of this effort is to provide better information on the housing needs of the community so that a sound plan of action can be developed to begin to broaden opportunities for affordable housing."
Schneider pointed out that the study was comprehensive.
"It's great information and lots of it," she explained. "There is a lot of startling information there as well. For example, 60 percent of single moms with kids under 5 in Klickitat County live below the poverty level."
According to Schneider, the shortage of housing in the county is getting worse, not better.
In recent years, the trend has been to see the few relatively low-cost houses in the area being sold to developers who tear down the existing house and put in a much more upscale building -- with a much higher price tag.
"The housing market is like any other. It's driven by supply and demand, and there is very high demand right now," said Klickitat County Commissioner Rex Johnston, who serves on the county's Housing Assessment Board.
Schneider said 39 people have been involved with the Housing Assessment Board, from throughout the county.
"In September, there will be a meeting to review the assessment, develop a strategic plan and action steps. My goal is to make the assessment a working document, not just a shelf ornament," Schneider explained.
Johnston said the problem was a daunting one.
"We need low-end housing, and we don't have much of it, as everyone knows," Johnston said. "How to get it is the problem."
Johnston pointed to the new "cottage development" in White Salmon where Timm's Trailer Court used to be. Although the housing units are relatively small, the cost per unit is relatively high, with the lowest priced units starting at around $229,000.
"We have a very serious problem here," Johnston said. "It's a real tough issue, but one that really needs to be solved. We don't have any real affordable housing in this area, and we really need it bad. If we get any development -- and Insitu and ICE are expanding -- we need places for people to live. If we don't have that, businesses are not going to come here."
The housing study was paid for by Klickitat County, the city of Bingen, WGAP, Washington Community Training and Economic Development Department/Housing Division, and Community Benefit.