What can be done to reduce homelessness and increase affordable housing in Skagit County?

Though the two are not always tied together, lack of an affordable place to live does increase the risk. It also makes it more difficult to get people into homes.

In 2016, two out of every five households in Skagit County could not afford the home they occupied, according to a report on a project led by Skagit County Public Health at the time. The project was focused on building an affordable housing strategy for the county.

In the three years since, that goal is still out of reach. Homelessness appears to be growing, for any variety of reasons. Nearly 800 children were identified as experiencing homelessness in the 2017-18 school year.

Housing prices have continued to rise. Rental vacancy rates in Skagit County were recently reported at less than 1 percent, and average monthly rent countywide was $1,072 in 2018.

Numerous local governments have been working together on the issues to make headway, along with other entities.

The Skagit Council of Governments, Skagit County government and various municipalities have looked at everything from land-use regulations to transportation issues to incentives that could spur private development of more affordable housing.

Government regulation plays a key role in any type of solution. But this isn’t a problem governing bodies can solve alone. Much of the heavy lifting already ends up being done by people not connected to government at all. Nonprofits, churches and private businesses play a huge role in helping people already living on the streets. The general understanding is that it will take individual as well as shared public/private efforts to help get people off the streets and into stable homes.

So what can we do?

On Oct. 15, Skagit County Public Health will host a Housing Summit, with a goal of involving the community in addressing these problems — and ultimately, the solutions. Speakers from the Department of Commerce and Sightline Institute will be among those sharing information on just what has been happening so far to address homelessness and affordable housing.

Local government officials, such as a county commissioner and the mayors of this area’s four largest cities will be there to discuss both actions and plans. This particular panel of officials will also answer questions in a discussion moderated by Skagit Publishing. The questions will come from the committee that set up the summit. But they want those questions to reflect the community’s concerns, so they’ve asked us to seek your input.

What concerns you about the lack of affordable housing in Skagit County? What questions do you have about what’s being done and what might be done in the future? Your thoughts and concerns will help shape the discussion.

Please submit questions or comments on this subject to Director of Content Colette Weeks at cweeks@skagitpublishing.com by Sept. 25.

The summit is from 3 to 7 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 15, at McIntyre Hall in Mount Vernon. Attendees can stay for all or part of it, and there will be time for audience conversations. The $15 admission price will help cover the cost of the event, though there is a $5 discount through Oct. 1 and a fee waiver for people experiencing homelessness.

Learn the details at skagitcounty.net/housingsummit.

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