MOUNT VERNON — The Skagit County Board of Commissioners passed Monday its 5-Year Homeless Housing Plan, while also calling on state and local elected officials do more on homelessness.
Sarah Hinman, Skagit County Housing and Community Services division manager, said in a presentation that the effectiveness of the plan will be limited by the county’s meager resources for housing and social services.
State law mandates each county create a plan based on a realistic estimate of its resources, and allows the counties to include in the plan policy and funding recommendations to the state Legislature.
“Without additional resources, our ability to significantly decrease the number of people experiencing homelessness is limited,” Hinman said.
The plan identifies a need for more state assistance to fill gaps in mental health services, substance abuse treatment and housing, and called for a statewide housing development plan.
“We believe the state needs to create an affordable housing production plan,” Hinman said, adding existing resources don’t meet the current need, let alone projected needs as growth continues.
When homeless support programs and services aren’t properly funded, she said the public is led to believe they don’t work.
Even if the county’s plan is implemented completely, Hinman said at an earlier meeting that the results would equal the need. An estimated 54 more people would get help with stable housing, and 29 would be taken off the street.
Other action items in the plan include the county’s partnership with Catholic Housing Services and the city of Mount Vernon to build a 70-unit permanent supportive housing project, and creating a community court program to help divert low-level offenders away from jail and into treatment.
Ahead of the vote, Commissioner Ken Dahlstedt said resistance from homeowners to the construction of new apartment buildings is one of the primary reasons Skagit County has the most restrictive housing market in the state.
“The haves don’t want the have-nots bothering them,” he said.
That “not in my backyard” sentiment has limited housing development, increasing scarcity and putting more and more people on the street, he said.
He pointed to a recent development in Anacortes, where neighbors of a proposed five-story apartment complex pressured the City Council to pass a moratorium on these kinds of structures.
This resistance happens whenever developers propose a large apartment complex in or near an existing single-family neighborhood, he said.
“That’s what we’re up against,” he said. “At some point we have to realize these are our neighbors that need somewhere to live.”
He suggested resurrecting a proposal shot down by the commissioners five years ago to create an urban growth area at Bayview Ridge, which would allow for the construction of 500 to 1,000 new units of housing.
The state Growth Management Act generally precludes development of this scale outside cities. It calls for 80% of growth to be contained in cities.
Citing a figure from the state Department of Commerce, Commissioner Lisa Janicki said the county would need 3,000 more housing units to meet current needs.
While several cities in the county have made it easier to build accessory dwelling units or duplexes, she said these developments hardly put a dent in a problem of this scale.
“We need to think bigger,” Janicki said.
She also endorsed the idea of looking at establishing urban growth areas outside the cities. However, she said this idea has been opposed by city officials who sit on the county’s Growth Management Act Steering Committee.