Housing study requests proposals

Submitted by the San Juan Makers Guild.

San Juan County has a strong agricultural heritage and a growing appreciation of the significance of local food and regenerative agriculture practices. One of the greatest barriers to increasing local food self-sufficiency in the islands is the lack of housing, which in turn directly impacts the availability of an agricultural and food system work force. To address this barrier, funding for a new Housing Study has been secured and the Request for Proposals (RFP) is now open. Consultants interested in submitting a proposal can contact sjmakersguild@gmail.com to request a copy of the RFP. Proposals are due Nov. 19th.

The housing study is designed as a proactive step that supports active county wide efforts to increase locally grown food and agricultural products while also addressing the housing needs of wider food system employers including grocers and restaurants. The goal of the study is threefold: 1) to measure workforce housing needs and barriers, 2) to quantify economic multiplier impacts and community wellbeing indicators, and 3) to identify potential affordable housing solutions.

Nationally and locally, the pandemic has starkly highlighted vulnerable gaps in the inter-dependent food system with labor shortages impacting food production, distribution and public safety. In the San Juan Islands it is extremely difficult to expand the labor pool in any industry without affordable housing. According to the 2021 Agriculture Viability Report conducted by Washington State University’s Social and Economic Sciences Research Center, farmworker housing was reported as an extreme challenge by 25% of respondents – the topmost of the fifteen challenges addressed in the report. This lack of available and affordable housing is a challenge impacting all food system partners – farmers, food producers, grocers, retailers, food banks, restaurants, cafes, chefs and caterers.

San Juan resident’s efforts to solve local housing needs and strengthen our food access network faces the added challenge of well-known real estate pressures. Vacation home conversions are eroding the long-term rental pool and the lack of employee housing needed to support food production and food access directly impacts local services for island residents. Also hard hit is our tourism industry that infuses over 25% of the local economy with visitor revenues yet a recent street survey found guests struggling to find an open restaurant during peak weekend demand. Restaurants in turn report they have had to limit hours due to a lack of labor and attribute that to a lack of housing.

The new Housing Study Request for Proposals period (due Nov. 19) has been opened with the goal of hiring a rural food system housing consultant to research and prepare a Housing Market Study. Working together, The San Juan Islands Agricultural Guild, the San Juan Islands Food System Team, and the San Juan Makers Guild, with advisors from OPAL Community Land Trust and the Lopez Community Land Trust are leveraging newly awarded USDA funding to invite, review and select the consultant. Thanks to support from the Northwest Agriculture Business Center, the contract funding is available and the final report will be shared by the end of 2022. Consultants can contact sjmakersguild@gmail.com to request a copy of the RFP.