There goes the neighborhood

There is a serious and worsening crisis of affordable housing on our island.

This week, The Beachcomber devotes some of its real estate to … real estate, and by that we mean the affordable kind.

There is precious little of it on Vashon — but even that is an understatement. There is a serious and worsening crisis of affordable housing on our island that has already had deep impacts on the quality of life in our small town.

Many of the people who bring economic vitality to Vashon — the folks who care for our kids, grow our food, deliver our mail, toil for our nonprofits, serve us coffee, tend our gardens, bag our groceries, work in our medical, dental and veterinary clinics, and fix our cars and plumbing and all the other things that tend to break — can no longer find rentals that align with their paychecks, much less affordable homes for sale. What happens when they up and leave, as many of them already have?

Add in a ferry crisis, lowering chances to attract off-island workers, and we’re looking at a community in swift decline.

Vashon has also long been known as a haven for artists, poets, thinkers, writers, musicians, and performers, but these free-spirited folks too, for the most part, can’t afford to live or move here anymore.

What will happen to our local cultural scene when our remaining artists and performers — many of whom have quite literally been grandfathered into the low-cost housing they bought or built here decades ago — age out of their professions?

Who will fill our galleries, our stages, and our hearts?

Our schools, too, will suffer as the pipeline of lower-paid paraeducators, office workers, teachers, custodians and food workers dries up, and fewer families with young children can afford to live on Vashon. The feedback loop of lower enrollment, leading to lower state funding, has already begun on Vashon, and it must be stopped.

Lack of affordable housing impoverishes any community — resulting in a lack of diversity, a lack of services, a lack of opportunity, and a lack of culture. It also makes a community more harsh and mean, with no room for those who have suffered economic setbacks through circumstances beyond their control.

Islanders must do everything possible to address this problem.

So this week, The Beachcomber is glad to be able to highlight some good news from local affordable housing nonprofits Shelter America and Vashon HouseHold.

Shelter America’s Creekside Village Vashon — first announced nine long years ago — is now finally coming to fruition, and received another boost last week with a $2 million grant from the state to help bring the project home. (See page 3.)

When the project finally, belatedly opens next year, it will offer something to cheer: 40 units of attractive, affordable workforce housing on Vashon.

Vashon HouseHold, too, has also delivered heartening news — the opening of its long-closed waiting list for housing and growing participation in its Home Share program. (See page 1.)

Islanders are now closer to seeing the completion of Vashon HouseHold’s Island Center Homes — a 40-unit project serving veterans, seniors, people who have experienced homelessness, people using the behavioral health system and adults with developmental disabilities.

A community that cares for and houses its most at-risk citizens is a healthy, thriving one, and Island Center Homes — so prominently located near town on Vashon Highway — will be a visible reminder of the commitment we have to all of our neighbors.

Vashon can do so much more to solve our affordable housing crisis — but we have to want it, work for it, and devote ourselves, collectively, to the cause.

And we have to do it now.

There is too much — everything, really — to lose if we don’t.