Chelan Community Sets Sights On Solving Affordable Housing Crunch

The city of Chelan grapples with affordable housing as its workforce is pushed out by rising prices

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LAKE CHELAN- It’s being called a shortage, a crisis, an epidemic… it’s the affordable housing market in the Pacific Northwest and one community is working together to tackle the issue for the residents of Lake Chelan.

“We are a resort town of 4,000 people and the character and the culture of our town is changing with the advent of more second homes being built,” Mayor Mike Cooney said. “The high cost of these homes are causing a ripple effect to people being able to buy their first home.”

With a vacancy rate of .5-percent and rents on the rise, Cooney said the issue is pushing the local workforce out of the area, forcing some to commute from neighboring cities. In January Cooney hosted a town hall to organize and coordinate community partnerships in an effort to make headway on the housing crunch.

“We did lose 15 families in the school district because the homes were too expensive this past year, I don’t want to see anymore of that,” Cooney said. “It’s not just people without the homes, if you have a home it’s still your issue.”

Affordable housing is an issue that keeps businesses and local agencies from growing whether it’s a restaurant hiring a new server or a school searching for a school teacher– it impacts the local workforce in all industries.

“These people are all looking for homes,” Cooney said. “The town hall meeting had four guest speakers and they all gave us good ideas and lots of things came about after that.”

Following the town hall, community partners came forward offering services such as excavation or construction, and the city is calling for builders interested in developing workforce housing to come forward.

The city of Chelan hosted a town hall in January to collaborate with residents on how to address the dwindling workforce housing.

“We have about 1,600 build-able lots within Chelan that is zoned up to do an affordable four-plex or 8-plex or a single-family home,” Cooney said. “I’d like to put this call out that if you’re in the building community please knock on our door. We’ve done a lot of work already to take away the obstacles of building [affordable homes] in Chelan.”

Estimating that they are about 200 to 300 homes short in the $150- $180,000 range, Cooney said they are studying other resort towns and their solutions throughout the nation. The city is also working to continue to incentivize local builders with lower fees and the right zoning codes to develop the right housing for the needs in the community.

“The city is taking the leadership in doing this and in no way do we consider it a charity event,” Cooney said. “It has everything to do with doing what is right. What is right is for the city to provide enough areas and do their homework to allow for the common citizen of Chelan to live in their town.”

Cooney said that with rising home prices and a large number of short-term rentals and second homes, some feel the town is growing into a community similar to those on the West side of the mountains.

“Most people will say that we’re changing and becoming more like [area codes] 206 or 425,” Cooney said. “I want this administration to say we’re keeping the 509 in Chelan–that attitude and the people that make Chelan great. We don’t want to see them have to move out.”