CEO Corner: Workforce housing an economic development imperative

Thursday, April 04, 2019

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Skagit County needs more available workforce housing.

Our kids are growing up and many want to work and live near home. New residents are moving here for jobs and our sought-after quality of life. Higher housing costs in Snohomish and even King County are pushing more people here.

We need more housing options to sustain a healthy workforce and we need to plan for it.

Let’s talk about density, and how it plays into alleviating our housing availability challenges. Density, by definition, means we are taking up less space by fitting in more residences. That helps rural areas stay rural and farmland stay farmland. Denser housing development also comes with the added benefit of having lower price points while preventing sprawl. It is one piece of the puzzle to preserving Skagit County’s rural character.

Developable land here is scarce and there are limited areas left in which to build. This makes developing denser housing stock even more important. That leads me into Opportunity Zones, a program of the new tax law offering investors capital gains reductions for ventures creating housing and/or jobs in designated disadvantaged census tracts. Skagit County happens to have four such Opportunity Zones. EDASC, along with officials in Mount Vernon, Sedro-Woolley, Anacortes and the Samish Indian Nation, are working to find projects and investors to capitalize on this new program.

According to a recent article in the Puget Sound Business Journal, Skagit County’s Opportunity Zones rank quite favorably. On a list of over 300 counties nationwide, Skagit County ranks an impressive No. 15. Those rankings are based on employment, GDP, population growth, poverty rates, the labor force’s educational attainment level and the number of eligible opportunity zones within each county.

Easing demand pressures at any price point along the housing scale eases pressures at adjacent levels. Therefore, adding housing stock at any level, while it may not help directly with every segment of demand, will ultimately help by reducing overall demand and prices. We are already behind the curve, so we cannot let these current opportunities pass us by.

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