Last week I attended the housing crisis panel presentation. And I would like to thank each panelist for their time. I listened carefully and believe that I followed what was being shared. However, I left very frustrated and with many questions.
It is unclear to me what real action is being taken by our local government and organizations. You continue to look outward and ask others to solve this crisis. Private companies are building housing for their employees. Short term rental owners are being asked to take their rentals out of market. Many of these short term owners are our friends and neighbors, members of the community, they are not all absentee second home owners. Community members were asked to help spread the word of the crisis or participate in a housing task force. Let me tell you that many people in our community are already trying their hardest. Continuing to work and volunteer, supporting our businesses, livelihood and families, navigating moves and housing instability, buying and renting homes at exorbitant prices. We are living this crisis. We have been spreading the word. We follow up on every single housing lead, no matter how unlikely. We ask so many people, friends and strangers, if they might know of housing and to keep watch. We post on social media. We vulnerably tell our emotional stories of housing insecurity. We write letters to sellers and owners of vacant homes and rentals. We keep our rents low so that we can house local workers.
One of the panelists shared how in April of this year they realized there was a crisis. A commenter from Jackson shared about how they never imagined this could happen here. Even though we’ve known much of the Jackson workforce lives over here and Jackson has experienced a housing crisis for some time. How did you miss this evolving into a crisis? How did you miss your neighbors being displaced, last year and the year before, pleading on social media for housing and calling out specifically that they may have to move out of the community because of lack of housing? How did you miss rents and home prices rising steadily? Many studies, plans and reports were referenced. Including a Housing Needs Assessment conducted locally in 2014 which clearly indicated a significant housing shortage of almost 500 units. Five years after the assessment an Affordable Housing Strategic Plan was released in 2019. And two years later, in 2021, a Housing Supply Strategy was created. Seven years after the 2014 report there is one confirmed project, affordable apartments on Depot St. Thirty apartments, only 6% of the documented shortage from 2014, are projected to be available for lease in Fall of 2022. I know you care about our community and work hard in your jobs but this feels like too little, too late, when so many in our community are in crisis. The housing supply strategy lists many other wonderful sounding projects, but none are confirmed. And we were told that another study is going to be conducted in 2022, to replace the study from 2014. What good will another study do, how can we trust that anything will come of it? We do not have another 7 years.
What are things you could do? Spend the time you would on meetings and studies and please, take real action. Put all efforts towards advancing real housing projects. Talk to the short term rental owners about why they might not convert to long term. You have gathered data from people looking for housing. What do you know about the home owners? Are they members of our local community and that business is part of their livelihood? Are they unsure how to be a landlord? Is there an organization that could assist with landlord guidance or duties? How often do they utilize their home and if short term rentals were restricted, would the home sit empty between their visits? Create advertising for people who are considering selling their home to urge them to sell to a local resident. Could there be tax or other incentives for landlords who offer housing at affordable prices? What about rent control? Take out large ads in the paper, send colorful mailers about the crisis and options in the Affordable Housing Strategic Plan. Is the ADU program actually in place and do people know about it? To all the panelists, local government and organizations, I ask how YOU will share the word that there is a crisis and what real action YOU will take to help solve it. We do not need another plan, survey or strategy, we need real solutions now. The people of this community that are experiencing this crisis and already doing everything they can need your help.