Housing Action Plan Is Critical Element To Address Decades-Old Bainbridge Issue

Crucial Planning Now Underway To Support Population Growth, Affordability 

Housing has long been said to be a priority on Bainbridge Island. It’s been studied and re-studied throughout recent years, policies have come forward only to die before being enacted, though our community land trust – Housing Resources Bainbridge – was created back in 1989 to try to help alleviate the problem.

More often than not, after lengthy public and council discussion, the city’s competing ideals get in the way of finding a clear actionable path forward when it comes time to amend zoning to better meet the island’s housing goals and needs.

That can’t happen in any community in the state any longer.

The state legislature’s passing of House Bill 1220 in 2021 aimed at addressing its housing crisis at the community level – not immediately, but over time. The bill changed requirements in the Comprehensive Plan update process cities and counties must undertake to be in compliance with state law as defined in the WA Growth Management Act (first introduced in 1990).

This creates a new level of impact for the upcoming Winslow Subarea Plan and island-wide Comprehensive Plan, and so the City of Bainbridge Island engaged experts and began working on research and policies to move us in the right direction.  Enter the city’s Housing Action Plan . . .


How Did we Get Here? (Housing Action Plan Background)

Among the high priority implementing actions of the 2017 revised Comprehensive Plan was the establishment of an Affordable Housing Task Force to consider the revised Housing Element and make specific recommendations to the Council for near-term action.

The city council duly assembled an Affordable Housing Task Force which brought together members of the public, community organizations, and City Council, Planning Commission, and Planning Staff members. On July 11, 2018 the task force met for the final time and approved their final report.  The report confirmed that Bainbridge Island was “becoming an increasingly exclusive and rarified place to live,” and that it was “missing out on the vibrancy, creativity, economic benefit and sustainability that a diverse population – diverse in age, socioeconomics, race, ethnicity, and background – brings to a community.”

During that time, the city also began tracking the status of island housing through a Biennial Housing Report including the variety of housing on the island and types of permitted and planned projects in the pipeline. It also included how much progress the city was making at meeting goals outlined by policies in that report including lessening housing costs for families, increasing the availability of affordable senior living units, and promotion of adding commercial space to improve jobs/housing balances.

In 2022, the city was awarded a grant in the amount of $100,000 from the Washington State Department of Commerce to develop a formal Housing Action Plan building from the Task Force Report, Biennal Report, and more.



Housing Options To Meet Affordability Challenges. Image courtesy City of Bainbridge Island.
Housing Options To Meet Affordability Challenges. Image courtesy City of Bainbridge Island.


What Is A Housing Action Plan?

A Housing Action Plan is a planning tool that helps the city identify actions it can take to promote more housing affordability, diversity, availability, and stability. It is supported by community data, mostly in the form of a housing needs assessment and resident engagement as well as policy reviews and best practice identification.

Over the past year, the city’s project team headed by Triangle Associates and ECONorthwest conducted research and public engagement studies to better understand Bainbridge Island’s:

  1. Housing needs
  2. Values
  3. Opportunities to develop and/or change policy
  4. Areas where guidance is needed for implementation

From more than 1,000 local individuals and 30 community organizations, the team created a Housing Needs Assessment that identified several key conclusions:

  1. Bainbridge’s population is growing, but aging and losing young people and families with children.
  2. At $126,000/year, the island’s median income is 1.6 times higher than the county or state, but that level is not keeping pace with rising home costs.
  3. Our workforce no longer predominantly lives and works on-island, and the service sector is growing fast.
  4. Renting a home is difficult (just 19% do) and homeownership is becoming increasingly out of reach for younger homeowners (only 33% of homeowners are 55 or younger).
  5. The housing mix is getting a little more diverse, but single-family detached homes still dominate.
  6. Housing is expensive – the median sale price of a detached single-family home is ~$1.5 million and average rent is above $2,600/month.

In February and March 2023, City Council and the Planning Commission were presented with the project team’s 6 Guiding Principles, Strategies, and Actions in the Draft Bainbridge Housing Action Plan:

  1. Provide More Diverse Types of Housing – Enable development of missing middle housing like duplexes & triplexes and expand supply of tiny homes, Accessory Dwelling Units (up to 1,200 square feet) and cottages (up to 1700 square feet)
  2. Increase Affordable Housing for Low to Moderate Income Levels (households earning 120% of Annual Median Income or less) – Provide affordable housing incentives, allocate resources and funding for affordable housing, facilitate shared ownership models (such as that enabled by Community Land Trust and Housing Resources Bainbridge).
  3. Stabilize Households and Prevent Residential Displacement – Stabilize existing residents from being displaced due to economic insecurity or loss of housing options by developing short-term rental policies
  4. Provide Supportive Housing for Seniors and Special Populations – Help accommodate housing changes over the course of residents’ lives by streamlining tenant/homeowner support, enable transitional housing.
  5. Increase Rental and Ownership Housing for Bainbridge Workforce – Provide more housing for workforce, including current and future employees, around the ferry terminal and promote housing for employees.
  6. Encourage Sustainable Development – Improve quality of life and the environment to support community resiliency through sustainable housing pilots, encourage reuse and preservation of existing building and create housing in designated centers.

Next steps include the project team further refining strategies and actions, then providing an administrative draft to City Council for public comment, which is likely to come in April. After which the draft plan moves on to be submitted to the Planning Commission for their review.


Summary of Themes Across Bainbridge Island stakeholder and public feedback. Image courtesy of City of Bainbridge Island.
Summary of Themes Across Bainbridge Island stakeholder and public feedback. Image courtesy of City of Bainbridge Island.


Why Are We Talking About This? (The Housing Crisis)

By now, most of us have seen or encountered the very real problem Washington has with homelessness and lack of affordable housing options. Whether you’ve seen the encampments by roadsides, under interstates or state highways overpasses, or you’ve encountered it in one of the state’s major cities – you’ve seen the housing crisis and are living within or alongside it.

At a local level, the island has been struggling with affordability since at least 1989 – the year Housing Resources Bainbridge formed as a community land trust to help conserve land for development of affordable housing. Today, the organization has created more than 130 units of affordable housing but still receives more than 150 inquiries a year to purchase homes and has more than 140 families on the waiting list for apartments. HRB currently has another 60 rental/assisted ownership homes in the construction pipeline.

This isn’t just a Washington problem, it’s a West Coast problem and a nationwide problem. In simplified terms, the U.S. between 2010 and 2019 built fewer detached single-family homes than in any decade since the 1960s – nationwide the home deficit totaled 3.8 million. In Washington State specifically, between the year 2000 and 2015, housing supply failed to keep pace with growth by around 225,000 units.

Some of this is due to restrictive zoning practices, policies at the city and county level that dictate where you can and can’t build “middle housing” options like duplexes, triplexes and others that can provide an entry into home ownership. Those same policies have limited equitable opportunities particularly to younger generations of would-be homeowners, aging populations, the historically marginalized, and increasingly, middle and lower-income earners who can no longer afford to live where they work. Zoning practices at the local level were a major reason HB 1220 was passed – to force more equitable change to policy and action.

HB 1220 (Co-Sponsored by 23rd District Rep. Tarra Simmons in 2021)

With information from the most recent U.S. Census, the Comprehensive Plan Update forces municipalities to look at their current physical and human services with an eye to taking on a portion of the state’s anticipated growth by region, county, and city. For Bainbridge Island that means looking at how we will accommodate growth planned within the Puget Sound region.

Most importantly, these plans must include the new mandates outlined in HB 1220 which require the city to plan for the projected housing needs for all economic segments of the population with a focus on better serving households of extremely low to moderate income.

“Before this we were required to encourage housing that was affordable to all income levels,” City Planning Manager HB Harper said at the March 21 City Council Study Session. “But after the passage of this bill, we are required to plan for and accommodate for housing that is affordable to all income levels.”

The State Department of Commerce and the U.S. Census provide growth targets for city to plan to and project goals for into 2044. The adopted population growth for the City of Bainbridge Island was 4,524 people. The Housing Allocation Units from the Department of Commerce was 1,977 units.

When calculated by city staff using the state’s guidance, it leaves Bainbridge Island preparing to develop 1,140 units of housing that serve incomes at or below 80% area median income and 877 units above it.

Today, the city is currently embarking on updating its Winslow Subarea Plan  and beginning to its Comprehensive Plan Update to meet those state standards by 2024.


Strategies Needed for Different Levels of Affordable Housing. Image courtesy of City of Bainbridge Island
Strategies Needed for Different Levels of Affordable Housing. Image courtesy of City of Bainbridge Island

Why Does It Matter?

Bainbridge Island has a long history of balancing environmental protection with human development. On the one hand is a desire to keep the island’s rural character, and on the other a desire to increase diversity of community, keep both younger families and older members in the community as well as house those who teach in our schools and serve and protect the community.

Often the two ideals come into direct conflict when proposals have been made to amend zoning in the Comprehensive Plan which looks at zoning island-wide, subarea plans like Winslow, Lynwood Center and Island Center, and in the neighborhood centers like Rolling Bay.

The legacy of these zoning practices and our inability to keep up with housing as population grows, forces the island, county, and state to create new policies to stem the damaging effects to our island and greater community’s vibrancy by cost-burdened renters and homebuyers as well as homelessness.

If cities and counties don’t undertake policy reform, the state’s Legislature has multiple bills introduced on the floors of each house that would further strip municipalities of what has historically been locally controlled zoning decisions. This includes bills like HB 1110 regarding middle housing, HB 1628 Affordable Homes Act, HB 1245 Lot Splitting, SB 5466 Transit Oriented Development – all of which are outlined and tracked by the Housing Development Consortium.

HB 1110 in particular has the ability to radically shake things up on Bainbridge, by potentially allowing duplexes on all single family lots, and up to 4 housing units per lot within half a mile of transportation hubs (like the Ferry Terminal).

Now is the time for the island’s council members, planning commission members, and residents to determine how and where they would like to see expanded growth, prepare for physical and human service needs to accommodate it, and ensure that conservation, green-spaces, and low-impact transit options are designed in a way that fits Bainbridge Island’s vision for the future.


Why The Chamber Is Engaged:

Bainbridge Island is in desperate need of workers and those workers need housing now more than ever.

Our 500+ business community members generate nearly 8,000 local jobs here in 2023, with that number projected to grow by 20% over the next 20 years. In these post-pandemic times, inflation of goods and supply chain/transit costs have compounded the labor shortage that already existed because we didn’t have affordable housing and/or enough public transportation to attract workers to the island.

Members are having a harder time recruiting, hiring, and retaining staff. The workforce issue is also a major reason why current owners are having to consider their next business steps, and increasingly it’s becoming a question of whether they can afford to stay on the island as they grow.

Bainbridge Island was famously called ‘The Hamptons of the West’ – but now that has a whole new meaning. Parts of the Hamptons are now without basic services, grocery stores, and retail locations, and Bainbridge could be on a similar track without community engagement. From teachers to police and fire, medical personnel to construction, hotels to restaurants, this island cannot function without a diverse, thriving population of all ages to ensure its future.

The updates of the Winslow Subarea Plan and Comprehensive Plan represent a generational opportunity to set our community on a better path towards providing a more adequate and more appropriate supply of housing if our shared goal is aligned with the City’s requirement to “plan for and accommodate for housing that is affordable to all income levels.”

Below you’ll find a timeline of what steps are next in this process and how to get involved. The ongoing items are taking public input, so if you want to join the community conversation, now is the time to provide your feedback as soon as possible.


What’s Next & What Can You Do?

Whether you’re learning about this now or have already placed comment with the city, there’s still plenty left to do in the vital path forward for housing on Bainbridge. Here’s the timeline of things to come and the ways you can get involved.

  1. Complete: Public Engagement (summer/fall 2022) included stakeholder meetings and public surveys
  2. Complete: Housing Needs Assessment (summer/fall 2022) summarizes housing market dynamics, exiting policy and looks at needs in next 20 years.
  3. Complete: Housing Strategy Development (fall/winter 2022) collected input from city staff, key stake holders and city council.
  4. In process: Draft Housing Action Plan & Implementation Plan (2023)
    • Public processes at the Planning Commission and City Council levels, likely in April
  5. Next: City Council Adoption (spring 2023)

At any point in the process, community members can watch the Chamber newsletter to see when this will be on Council and /or Planning Commission agendas, and at any time also send feedback directly to the City’s project manager – Senior Planner Jennifer Sutton at 1-206-780-3772 or via [email protected].


Learn More:

  1. Growth Management Act (1990)Washington State Department of Commerce
  2. House Bill 1220 (2021) – Washington State Legislature
  3. House Bill 1110 (2023)Washington State Legislature
  4. Addressing Washington’s Housing CrisisGovernor Jay Inslee
  5. Affordable Housing Action PlanCity of Bainbridge Island
  6. Affordable Housing Action PlanEngage Bainbridge
  7. Affordable Housing Plan City Council Study Session – Timestamp: 46:32, City of Bainbridge Island
  8. Summary of Public Engagement Findings for the Housing Action PlanTriangle Associates and ECONorthwest
  9. Affordable Housing Task ForceCity of Bainbridge Island
  10. Legislative TrackerHousing Development Consortium
  11. Comprehensive PlanCity of Bainbridge Island
  12. Project Page 2024 Comprehensive Plan Periodic UpdateEngage City of Bainbridge Island
  13. Existing Winslow Subarea Plan City of Bainbridge Island
  14. Project Page Winslow Subarea Plan – Engage City of Bainbridge Island
  15. BI Businesses Need Housing For WorkersBainbridge Island Review
  16. Bainbridge To Grant Density Bonuses To Affordable Housing Projects On Religious Properties Kitsap Sun
  17. Seattle Lowered Its Standards All The Way Under A Bridge The Seattle Times
  18. How California Exported Its Worst Problem To TexasThe Atlantic

The Chamber will also keep our members and community updated on each step of the process over the upcoming months, as well as on the Sustainable Transportation Plan, Winslow Subarea Plan, Comprehensive Plan Update, Lynwood Subarea Plan developments and more.