La Conner is growing. In 2021 its housing stock will increase with developments on and above Maple Avenue. Ten homes will be built on the current ballfield. Mayor Ramon Hayes’ Maple View complex five blocks south adds four more. On Snapdragon Hill, C.J. Ebert is developing lots for another seven residences.

These will all be market rate homes, selling for whatever price the developer and buyer agree to. These high priced homes will be good news for the town government, increasing the property tax base and adding stable dollars to its budget for decades.

But will this paper’s readers be buying these homes? More properly, will their children and grandchildren be able to purchase them? Will people who work in La Conner be able to live in these homes?

La Conner and Skagit County communities are proud of their heritage, roots and children returning to raise their families where they grew up.

Alas, none of the dozen plus homes going up this year are starter homes. They are all mid-range and higher priced single family dwellings. Where are starter homes for this community? How can they be built in quantity? Where are the apartments?

La Conner and Skagit County are small. Both have lacked sufficient housing stock for rentals and buyers at all price points for more than a decade. Neither government has amassed the resources, invested the planning capacity or considered the amount of long term funding required to reduce the housing shortage. Both are leaning on their small size and philosophical inclination of having market capitalism drive residential growth. But that framework only provides profitable solutions for those with deep pockets, builders and buyers both. It is not comprehensive and it is not a plan.

A commitment to the large number of units of affordable housing this town’s and country’s population needs is long term, government mandated and expensive. No area politician, individual or citizen’s group has offered a vision or a plan adequate to the need.

How to add housing stock for school district and grocery store staff, as Home Trust of Skagit is able to do at Channel Cove? That community land trust model reduces home prices by selling houses while retaining ownership of the land. Its construction is subsidized by a variety of grant sources and construction at reduced costs. The process is painstakingly slow and laborious, as the two year delay in building the last five homes has proven. Land trusts are not championed as a large scale solution. 

No government at any level in this country, from local to national, is willing to make the long term investment in a rational housing planning and build-out program based on population, incomes and geography. That leaves it to local citizens to do the heavy lifting of not only influencing, but visioning and developing housing policy that meets their needs and those of their families and communities.

A community has limited control over its future development through its codes and comprehensive plan. La Conner’s council just approved its planning commission’s recommendations changing density and setbacks as a small nudge for infilling lots and adding smaller Accessory Dwelling Units. Yes, smaller is cheaper, but ADUs will primarily be rentals and there will not be a significant number. It is a small band aid and neither a repair nor a solution.

The community is its citizens and not just the hardworking elected officials and appointed commissioners. More discussion, earlier, more often, by more people on an ongoing basis may one day build a critical mass that will shape housing policies based on the community’s interests and needs and not on what developers will provide.

That day does not seem close at hand locally or in many localities across the United States.

Residents of this community can choose to come together and start the slow, hard and long effort of advocating and organizing for housing policies that benefit them, their children, their grandchildren and the people that live and work in La Conner. That is what citizens do for themselves and to create the future of their dreams.