Affordable housing was a problem for the Walla Walla Valley before the pandemic and addressing the issue has only grown in urgency. The fact that manufactured home communities for low- to moderate-income families are under threat is unacceptable.
Aside from defending the affordable housing the Valley already has, we should be increasing what is available to make the cost of living in the Valley more than merely attainable, but sensible and equitable.
According to a 2019 study, 41% of families across the region are in housing that is not affordable, according to standards established by the Department of Housing and Urban Development. That organization defines housing as affordable when costs, which include rent or mortgage, plus utilities, account for no more than 30% of a household’s income.
“Housing prices are going up so quickly in our region, and wages and incomes are not going up as quickly, so we have an ever-increasing housing affordability gap right now,” said Rachel Elfenbein, advocacy coordinator for Community Council.
More specifically, “As of July 2020, total quarterly wages for Walla Walla County were 2% lower than in 2019. Over that same period, housing costs actually increased another 2.5%,” Walla Walla City Councilmember Riley Clubb said to the U-B early in January.
Steps have been taken to address this issue. Last year, for example, Walla Walla, College Place, Waitsburg and Dayton together received state funds to develop a regional housing action plan. The goal of this strategy was to encourage the “construction of additional affordable and market-rate housing in a greater variety of housing types and at prices that are accessible to a greater variety of incomes,” according to official documents.
This is an important step forward. However, in an article published in Thursday’s U-B, reporter Chloe LeValley writes that zoning changes in certain College Place manufactured home parks increase the risk of these parks being redeveloped into costlier housing options.
Elizabeth Brochu and Brian Thorne, two residents of a manufactured home park, wrote the following in a letter to the U-B: “Many, if not most residents, would have nowhere else to go should the park be sold to a developer. With nowhere to go, our homes would literally be hauled to a landfill; it happens more often than you know, here in Washington and elsewhere.”
Housing security is essential for a healthy community. It enables students to focus on school, workers to engage in careers, seniors to enjoy retirement, and residents to participate in their communities.
The bottom line is that this Valley needs affordable and diverse housing.
The least we can do is create measures to protect the Valley’s manufactured home communities.