Affordable Housing

The price and availability of housing is having a seriously negative effect on residents in our communities, especially for residents who are earning low and middle incomes. Lack of housing also affects local businesses especially in Leavenworth and the Manson/Chelan areas. Employers in these areas are unable to attract and retain employees because workers cannot find affordable housing within the community and do not wish to commute over a long distance, or they find the public transit schedule doesn’t fit their work schedule.

Having a home is a basic need that helps build a strong foundation for individuals and families. Ensuring that all residents, regardless of income level, have access to housing is key to healthy and vibrant communities.

The county has 38,774 housing units (2023 data). Of this number about 14% are unoccupied and used as second homes or vacation property. This proportion of unoccupied homes is not distributed equally and is much higher in the touristed areas of the state: Lake Wenatchee, Plain, Leavenworth, Manson and Chelan. The demand for vacation properties in Chelan County is increasing the challenge of providing homes for residents.

In 2023, the state Department of Commerce determined Chelan County needs to “plan for and accommodate” 10,531 new homes over the next 20 years (an average of 527 housing units per year), with about 54 percent of those homes for people making less than 80 percent of the area’s median income.

Today, the pace of new home construction has picked up. From January 2020 through December 2023, Chelan County and its various cities issued building permits for 2,285 housing units, an average of 571 housing units a year over that four-year period.

Despite the recent uptick in construction, many of the homes being built today are not affordable to local residents, as well as to many of those seeking to move to the region for jobs. This is especially the case in the 98826 area (Upper Wenatchee Valley, including Leavenworth), Manson, and the City of Chelan. Since all of these areas are in high demand for second homes, the building industry seems to be targeting some portion of their development projects to this market.

There are many agencies and organizations working on the challenge of increasing the availability of affordable housing. Local governments have a key role to play as they have an array of regulatory tools that can be used to steer developers in the right direction. RC3’s focus is on reviewing and commenting on development regulations as well as projects to help make provision of housing appropriate for our communities a priority.