Affordable housing remains one of the West Coast’s biggest challenges. Housing that is scarce, expensive, or low-quality affects a region’s ability to attract and retain workers and families—and these issues are even more pronounced on islands, where workers also face long commutes that include ferries or congested bridges. Bainbridge Island, a beautiful—and, historically, expensive—island in Kitsap County, across Puget Sound from Seattle, has a population of about 25,000, a median home sales price of $1.5 million, and a slow pace of housing production. Recently, the City of Bainbridge Island decided to pursue a Housing Action Plan to address an affordability crisis.
ECOnorthwest led a consulting team to develop a Housing Action Plan for Bainbridge Island. The approach for developing the plan was built on robust engagement; a review of how to promote equitable access to housing and sustainable development; and a focus on developing strategies to maximize social, environmental, and economic benefits inclusively.
Our partner, Triangle Associates, carried out extensive engagement with the community at large, targeting stakeholders who have invaluable personal and professional experiences with housing on Bainbridge Island. The team used a variety of techniques to inclusively involve Bainbridge communities to learn about their experiences and insights on housing needs, challenges, and opportunities. Methods included community and employer surveys, listening sessions at existing community meetings, interviews, a series of highly attended focus groups (including for local business owners), and more. We heard about employers having difficulty recruiting and retaining staff due to the lack of affordable housing and long commutes, how regulations can make affordable housing difficult to build, how workers want to live on the island but cannot find housing, how persons retiring are unable to find downsized affordable homes, and how single-parent households have been displaced. Most survey respondents believed people who work on the island should be able to live on the island and that affordable environmentally sustainable housing is needed. We heard that Bainbridge is losing its sense of being a multi-generational and diverse community, with decreasing numbers of families, young persons, and low-income households.
The final plan, unanimously approved by the Island’s city council in June 2023, is organized under 9 diverse strategies and includes 30 detailed actions to be completed during the next five years (or by 2030). Overarching principles guide the plan:
- Diversify and stabilize housing,
- Build more affordable housing for low to moderate income households,
- Provide housing for Bainbridge workers and support sustainable development, and
- Provide more housing support for special populations.
The plan addresses how for-profit developers, non-profit developers, and government entities can tap the current housing market to create new affordable homes, acquire and rehabilitate current market rate housing, and increase the necessary funding for future development. Since there is no single strategy capable of resolving all the complex housing affordability challenges, implementing a diverse set of strategies over the next six years could be key to better meeting the community’s housing needs and easing the housing affordability crisis.
Bainbridge Island’s unique housing challenges involve both demographics and housing supply. More than a third of the island’s residents are over 60 years old, which is 1.5 times higher than the state’s share. As the population ages, younger residents have become less and less likely to own homes on the island. This is compounded by slow population growth, especially compared to the previous era’s boom, and a dramatically slower rate of housing growth. The Bainbridge HAP includes actions that respond to the housing needs identified in the Housing Needs Assessment, a required component of a state funded HAP. The City of Bainbridge Island received a grant from the Washington State Department of Commerce through House Bill 1923 to develop this Housing Action Plan.