Politics from the Palouse to Puget Sound

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Choosing Our Destiny

I’m beginning to worry about the Whitman County Gazette now that Thinh Nguyen is gone. The Gazette used to provide some of the best reporting on the Palouse. Now, we get stories like the one on the front page of last Thursday’s edition:
Old ag zone yields housing growth

The rural areas of Whitman County continued to see an influx of houses last year despite stringent stipulations on building homes in the county’s agricultural zone. The county issued 22 building permits for new houses, 18 of which were custom-built dwellings and four manufactured homes. This is the second highest number in the last six years.

In 2005, the county issued 24 permits for custom dwellings and 10 for manufactured homes. This was the high mark for the last six years.

Over those six years, 134 new houses have been located in rural areas of Whitman.
This is “yielding housing growth?” This is an “influx of houses?”

Pullman’s population is 27,030 with an area of 9 square miles. Whitman County, exlcuding Pullman, has a population of 13,710 with an area of 2,150.37 square miles.

Pullman added 1,639 housing units from 2000-2006. That’s one new home for every 16.49 residents or one new home for every 5/1000th of square mile.

Whitman County added 134 housing units from 2000-2006. That’s one new home for every 102.31 residents or one new home for every 16.04 square miles.

In 2000, there were 9,392 housing units in Pullman. 1,639 new units between 2000 and 2006 represent a 17% increase, or about 2.8% a year.

In 2000, there were 7,284 housing units in Whitman County outside of Pullman. 134 new units between 2000 and 2006 represent a 1.8% increase. or about 0.3% a year!!!! That’s not growth!! That’s stagnation!!

Is it any wonder that while Pullman gained 2,082 residents since 2000, that Whitman County (including Pullman) had an overall loss of 570 residents between 2000 and 2005?

Is it any wonder that Whitman County ranks FIFTH worst in the state of Washington for first-time homebuyer affordability?

Is it any wonder that the average home cost $170,000 in Whitman County in 2005 and that figure jumped 20 percent in 2006 and is currently hovering around $200,000?

Is it any wonder a business recruitment expert cited Whitman County’s high housing costs as a major factor against attracting manufacturing businesses to the area?

Is it any wonder that the Pullman “micropolitan” area, which includes Whitman County, was recently rated by a Bizjournals.com study #560 out of 577 U.S. "micropolitan" areas in terms of affordable housing?

Is it any wonder that a study by a University of Idaho economist concluded that because of the underdeveloped housing sector in Pullman and Whitman County, Moscow and Latah County might be benefitting as much from the growth of Schweitzer Engineering Labs as Pullman and Whitman County?

The answer is no. The only wonder is why the Gazette would even try to justify the onerous rural housing ordinance by perpetrating such a fraud of a story.

The Gazette article states:
The original ordinances were laid down as a way for planning and zoning countywide to control their own destiny.
It’s painfully clear now clear what destiny has been chosen by our leadership over the last three decades. Just ask the folks in Colfax, Rosalia, Palouse, Lacrosse, etc. who all face declining school enrollments and boarded-up businesses due to population loss. Just ask the twentysomething couple looking to buy a first home in Pullman.

We need to choose a better destiny for ourselves.

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