Opinion

PSRC’s goals, actions are inconsistent

Sound Off is a public forum. Articles are selected from letters to the editor or may be written specifically for this feature. Today, Port Orchard resident Karl Duff, president of the Kitsap Alliance of Property Owners, argues that the Puget Sound Regional Council’s stated goals and the policies it would adopt to reach them contradict each other.

It’s axiomatic that concentrating — by means of government regulation, that is — a given community’s available housing within fixed-boundary urban areas and forcing those who live there to rely on mass transit to get from place to place will drastically limit the available choices in housing.

It’s also true that artificially limiting the supply of any commodity, including housing, will drive up the price for it accordingly.

And yet that’s precisely what the Puget Sound Regional Council (PSRC) would do with its Vision 2040 strategy.

The optimistic goal of this regional organization of government officials to which Kitsap County currently belongs is to “(p)rovide a range of housing types and choices to meet the housing needs of all income levels and demographic groups within the region.”

But there is little in the policies or anything else about Vision 2040 that makes this goal even attainable, let alone likely.

In fact, other PSRC policies directly contradict the “choice” concept.

PSRC Policy H-3, for example, requires the creation of “centers.” Likewise, Policy H-6 directs transportation funding priorities to development of “centers.”

Meanwhile, Policy H-4 calls for concentrating housing development near job locations for “accessibility and the opportunity to live in the proximity of work.”

On paper — and in an urban setting like, for example, Seattle, such a goal might make some sense. Unfortunately for us, however, it fails to recognize that in Kitsap County many of the best-paying jobs are located in more rural areas.

More to the point, Vision 2040 completely overlooks the question of choice.

Simply put, if Kitsap County residents wanted to live huddled together like sardines in a tin can, they’d move to Seattle. The fact that we choose to live here suggests living in close proximity to our work isn’t as high a priority for us as the PSRC would like it to be.

The question is, whose vision of where we live and how we live our lives will prevail?

Frequent claims are made in Vision 2040 that these policies will ensure adequate housing is available for all. While much verbiage is directed toward euphemisms such as “affordable housing” (or other buzz words for low-cost or subsidized housing), little appreciation is shown for the question of what makes housing affordable in the first place — namely the ability of the housing market to provide a broad spectrum of desired housing at affordable prices.

Vision 2040 also puts an inordinate emphasis on the development of “green” or “sustainable” housing without any review of past efforts of that nature or the added cost of those practices to the cost of housing.

Nowhere in Vision 2040 is there any recognition that the regulations enacted to implement these Big Brother policies have a direct and significant impact on the cost of housing.

A recent University of Washington economics study revealed that the impact of Growth Management Act-related regulations has been to add approximately $200,000 to the cost of an Eastside home — without providing any added value to the homeowner.

In Kitsap the impact estimate is about $130,000, a dollar impact that clearly explains why first-time homebuyers throughout the region are almost non-existent.

The common theme throughout Vision 2040 is most noticeable in the section on housing policies, which are certainly ambitious-sounding and superficially indicate resolution of all the wants and needs of the population today and in the future.

However, there are no practical descriptions of how these policies will be implemented to successfully achieve the policies.

There are also no realistic means to monitor the outcomes nor any fallback alternatives if the policies do not achieve desired goals.

In theory, Vision 2040 will rely on a series of “reasonable measures” to make sure goals and objectives are achieved.

In reality, reasonable measures are little more than additional restrictive and directive policies or requirements to enforce compliance with ineffective policies, regardless of outcomes.

Also regardless of outcomes, there is no elected official accountability, since the PSRC is nothing more than an ad hoc organization with which local governments like Kitsap County voluntarily affiliate themselves.

With housing development encouraged but concentrated into existing urban areas and centers, homes will be built according to policy rather than market demand.

It is clear that to accommodate new population growth, higher density in small areas will be required, with an emphasis on “up and not out.”

Actual choice for a homeowner will be limited, and how and where we live will be a matter of policy not preference.

Driven by the artificial scarcity of land, the cost of housing will skyrocket. More costly building regulation will likely also be added.

“Affordable housing” will be available only at increased tax burden to all those paying full fare for their housing.

The concept of housing in proximity to work will be meaningless as fewer employers will be able to pay at the levels necessary for home ownership or even rental.

As is the case with other policies developed by the PSRC’s dominant counties (Snohomish, King and Pierce), we find the organization equipped to use federal, state, and local, transportation funds as a fiscal enforcement hammer to force compliance with the housing policies of Vision 2040.

The message is very clear — do it as we direct or funding will not be available.

This is a clear example of regional extortion that would deprive the people of Kitsap opportunity to make their own choices locally and work directly with their elected officials.

In the case of Kitsap housing, the hammer is being used to effectively eliminate any real choice or affordability of non-subsidized housing.

Again, the question we are trying to answer: “Is the impact of Vision 2040 beneficial to Kitsap County?”

And if not, why are we putting up with it?

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