Vashon’s housing market is hurting our community
By Isaac Escovedo, Editor-in-Chief
Vashon Island is a wonderful, albeit costly, place to live. A cursory glance at the back of the Beachcomber will paint a picture of a beautiful island with a prohibitively expensive housing market. This consistent increase in house prices may be good for sellers, but it is bad for the island as a whole.
One of Vashon’s best qualities is its sense of community, with Vashonites priding themselves on being welcoming of outsiders. Events like the Strawberry Festival draw visitors from all over the state, and new community members are greeted with open arms. At Vashon High School I have always looked forward to the start of new school years because they guaranteed new people in the school’s community.
Unfortunately, no matter how accepting we say we are of new neighbors, our housing market tells a different story. With so few low income housing options on the island and so many rental properties getting sold or turned into Airbnbs, it is getting more difficult for lower income residents to stay on the island. This expensive housing market encourages more of what we already have in abundance, white upper-middle class families.
The exclusivity of Vashon’s housing market only serves to exacerbate another important topic in our community: Vashon’s homeless population. According to The Vashon Interfaith Council to Prevent Homelessness (IFCH) January 2020 count (which has not been updated since then due to the pandemic), there were 147 homeless individuals on Vashon Island, including couch surfers. IFCH does excellent work feeding and supporting the homeless people on Vashon Island, but food and shelter can only go so far. These people need homes, and Vashon’s housing market does not have them to spare.
The pandemic has accelerated already existing issues. An increase in tourism has prompted more landlords to convert their long term rentals into Vrbo properties and Airbnbs. An increase in jobs that permit remote work has also prompted more buyers to look further abroad at more isolated and picturesque communities like Vashon. This puts house sellers in a great position, but the skyrocketing housing prices are less than ideal for local buyers, renters, and the homeless community.
The strength of Vashon’s community has been one of the best parts of growing up here, but as I have grown up, I have realized that we live in a bubble of affluence. We should not require an expensive property as price of admission— that sort of exclusion benefits nobody. Our community may not be a gated one, but we do have a moat, and right now one of the biggest determining factors for whether new people are allowed in is if they can pay the steep toll.
Vashon is a tight community, and we can use this strong local spirit to improve our island for everyone. We need to indicate that we care about more affordable housing options and long term rentals on Vashon, because our island just isn’t the same when lower income residents are priced out of their homes.