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The Obstacles


Ownership:  Our real estate market is brutal on home buyers that are middle and low income as many, if not most, cannot qualify for homes at our median price, which is currently approaching $900,000. 


Every sale in the County generates approximately .5% that is targeted towards affordable housing, the majority of which is paid by the buyer as an excise tax. It is ironic that the buyer that needs affordable housing must also pay this tax.  The total excise tax of 1.5% (1% Land Bank Tax and .5% affordable housing tax) is a large burden on those buyers scraping together their down payment and closing costs.   


Rentals:  Rental homes on the island are few and far between.  Those that become available typically rent out in only a few days with multiple applicants.   A home in town with 1000 sf with 2 bedrooms and 2 baths is now commanding $2200-$2500.


Building:  Costs of building in our county is rarely less than $500 per foot – NOT including cost of land, and costs of permitting.  It is difficult to build a home for less than $500,000.


Why is it important to provide more affordable forms of housing? Because it affects nearly everyone who works and lives here.  If residents want grocery stores, restaurants, plumbers, electricians, housing contractors, nurses, doctors, just to name a few, then we need to provide affordable housing. 


Can small guest houses be the solution to permanent housing?



ADUs in San Juan County


Our land costs could be reduced by increased density in the urban growth areas and our permitting department could expedite their processes and reduce any unnecessary regulation.   Part of the reason it costs so much to build in this County is due to the regulations and the time involved. With our permitting time alone taking 9-18 months, the exposure is too great for a speculative builder, therefore very few exist.


Why is County permitting so onerous?  We have overlapping ambiguous outdated County regulations that may cost a landowner $50K to $80K in environmental studies before the ground is broken on a project. 


Currently, San Juan County Code (18.40.240) allows a detached guest house, or ADU (accessory dwelling unit) only on designated properties in the county of five acres or greater by lottery.  The maximum size is 1000 square feet. The ADU must share a common septic, water system and driveway and must be located within 100 feet of the main home.  If these standards are relaxed, we potentially could create more affordable rental housing units.


Another option is for the County to approve a number of preapproved building plans for a 1000 sf ADU.  This would streamline the plan review, but not the land use review.


We should applaud the existing sweat equity programs in the county and  encourage the expansion of the UGA to accommodate additional multi-family development.  The County should also relax the code provisions to allow a for profit developer to cluster homes on an appropriately zoned property.


Finally - If we could use some of the surplus public lands such as those held in the land bank as a basis for a forever affordable project that would be another solution. The land bank would need to change their mandate at the State level to allow them to participate.  They could request a rewrite of their mandate to allow for land transfers or leases to County or private citizens for affordable housing purposes.


If we don’t start to change the path we are on, we need to be prepared for higher costs of goods and services.  Unlike other high-end locations, the majority of our work force must live here and can’t commute from neighboring areas.  We will lose our work force and the middle class.


Much of the proposed solutions are regulatory.  Regulations are passed by the legislative branch – the County Council.

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