Though Skagit County’s Housing Affordability Leadership Group held its last scheduled meeting Wednesday, the work of the group will be continued through three subgroups.

The fundamental goals of the group have been to build widespread community investment for affordable housing and homeless services.

The subgroups plan to continue to work to advance the group’s goals through presentations to landlords and service clubs, such as Rotary.

Kayla Schott-Bresler, housing resource coordinator with the county, acknowledged the group left many questions unanswered, including how the county can support the nonprofits that seem the most invested and able to build affordable housing.

“No one is doing less-than-market rate projects except for mission-driven nonprofits,” said Paul Shisler, a consultant with the county on housing issues.

Kevin Murphy, executive director of the Skagit Council of Governments, reminded those in attendance Wednesday that SCOG is awaiting the results of a study on the county’s housing, which will allow county leaders to work off the same set of data.

According to early results, 85 percent of the county’s housing is single-family, and Murphy said this is projected to stay the same.

Murphy added that the county is on track to create the lowest number of new housing units per decade since the 1960s.

Because of a falling median income countywide and rents that remain unaffordable even for many middle-income families, Murphy said it doesn’t appear the rental market is improving.

Many in the subgroups agreed to reconvene after the SCOG study is completed.

Joan Penney, an affordable housing advocate who’s been involved in the group since it formed, criticized the cities for their resistance to discuss changes in zoning.

She said if cities would start seriously discussing higher-density apartment projects, both nonprofits and market rate developers would be able to complete projects that make financial sense.

According to Andrew Miller of the Economic Development Alliance of Skagit County, the housing market hurts businesses too.

Several businesses, he said, are offering $60,000 to $70,000 salaries yet are failing to keep employees long term because apartments are scarce and rent is high.

“Many companies are on a holding pattern until the housing situation gets fixed,” he said.

On a positive note, the county expects responses Monday to its request for proposals on a permanent supportive housing project, and Schott-Bresler said she expects to award the project by mid-February.

Permanent supportive housing combines affordable housing with case management for behavioral health issues.

Meanwhile, Mount Vernon is looking at locations for the 50-unit permanent supportive housing project, said Peter Donovan, project development manager with the city.

Donovan was the only representative from a city at the meeting.

— Reporter Brandon Stone: bstone@skagitpublishing.com, 360-416-2112, Twitter: @Brandon_SVH

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