Editorial: A hesitant Yes For Homes

The decision on whether to vote to approve the local initiative to establish a half percent Real Estate Excise Tax is a surprisingly difficult one. It would seem obvious given the housing crisis in the San Juan Islands, that creating an affordable housing funding source makes sense. 

The tricky part is the fact that the affordable housing REET is inextricably entangled with the 1 percent Land Bank REET. The affordable housing REET can exist ONLY if the Land Bank tax is FULLY funded. 

If voters decide 36 years of a 1 percent Land Bank tax is enough, and choose not to renew it when it expires in 2026 - a distinct possibility since it was approved by a margin of only 452 votes last time it was on the ballot - the affordable housing REET goes away. If voters decide to approve a reduced Land Bank REET, the affordable housing REET goes away. 

Perhaps the state legislature can be persuaded to change the law and allow a half-percent Land Bank REET and a half-percent affordable housing REET.  That would require cooperation from the Land Bank supporters. 

With all that being said, voting Yes For Homes is the right thing to do. It will provide some funding that will most likely be able to be used to create or preserve some affordable rentals. It'll provide another tool to use to resolve the ironic lack of  housing in the islands. Ironic because more than 40 percent of homes are unoccupied year round. 

The county needs to do much more to increase affordable housing- rethink the amount of tourism promotion, encourage attached Accessory Dwelling Units (apartments over garages)  for long-term rentals, restrict the number of vacation rentals.  Establishing the affordable housing REET is a small, potentially limited step that makes sense to try. 


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