Tiny houses to the rescue, or not. Or is it small-ish houses, or ADUs, or temporary worker housing, or how about intentional communities, or cooperatives, or , or …? A recent article in one of the local papers, the South Whidbey Record, published the article, “County ponders code changes – Proposals meant to increase affordable housing options“. Applause for the paper for publishing the article. Applause for the County for considering the possibilities. Applause for residents asking for change and suggesting solutions whether through choice or necessity. As simple as it may seem, it isn’t.
Whidbey Island is attracting people. Some of that is a consequence of marketing campaigns that draw in tourists, some of whom decide to stay. Some of it is a consequence of the US Navy closing bases elsewhere and relocating personnel and their families here. The rest is a mix of natural growth, retirees, people ironically seeking housing that’s more affordable than the mainland, and even a climate refugees fleeing fires and floods. They all have to live somewhere. As simple as that may seem, it isn’t.
Scroll back through several of the posts on this blog: the Whidbey Is Changing series, Affordable Living on Whidbey, More About Too Little Housing. Finding enough affordable and acceptable housing has not been easy. The article in the Record describes code changes being considered by the County. “Being considered”, not necessarily being enacted. Despite the island’s rural reputation, there’s such a mix of rural, urban, agricultural, historic, and preserved areas that one rule doesn’t rule them all. A topic that seems simple rapidly gets very complex as maintaining diverse cultures and characters, while accommodating new people and their needs and wants, while also staying with sustainability limits means any change creates many discussions.
One person’s solution is another person’s problem.
There are trends. There are frequent requests for many of the possibilities listed above. Regulations that allow ADUs (Auxiliary Dwelling Units) may also encourage short-term rentals like AirBnB, which challenge an established B&B community. Temporary farm worker housing make some fear the construction of sub-standard structures that may not be safe and can be visually unappealing. Even something as conventional as manufactured housing meets resistance, and gets confusing as high-end modular homes try to find build sites. It would be nice to summarize it all, but the County’s “DRAFT – Proposed Housing Code Changes” is 41 pages of intricate details – and it is a draft. Not simple.
As simple as it isn’t, Whidbey Island may be a good place to practice many of the proposed changes. There’s a history of innovative housing going back to early logging, farming, and fishing communities. Look around the island and find a wide selection of owner-built houses. Some innovated in ways that became standard, or at least acceptable. Others are wonders because they cause people to wonder at how, why, and whether it’s time for a change. Pick from a long list: geodesic domes, yurts, octagons, straw bale, rammed earth, cobb – and yes, tiny houses, ADUs, RVs, state-of-the-art modulars, and the nautical classic of living aboard a boat (whether on water or on land.)
There is something that is simple. The County recognizes the need for new solutions. For people who have an idea and wonder if it can work, one suggestion is to simply call or visit the County Planning department. They know best what has a better chance of working. Who better to know how a slight modification can allow a new idea to fit within an old code? Who knows? Your idea may let you live more affordably and sustainably and happily. It may be that simple.