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Bremerton feeling Seattle’s growing pains

Bremerton launched a campaign in 2016 to get Seattle’s residents to hop the ferry for cheaper, more reasonable living. Whether or not it worked is up for debate, but what is certain is that people are flooding into town.

Now the city is scrambling to shift efforts from marketing to managing the influx of new residents.

RELATED: Seattle’s housing boom a bust for commute times

“There’s no slowing it down,” said Bremerton Mayor Greg Wheeler. “What we can do is develop policies to help with affordable housing. We can also develop policies to create more housing …. If we are going to devote energy like that, it should be devoted to helping the folks who are already here maintain their housing.”

Wheeler says that apartments are being purchased, refurbished, then returned to the market with considerable rent hikes. This is displacing Bremerton’s longtime residents. On one hand, many are embracing new neighbors coming to town to fix up homes and add value to the community. On the other hand…

“I don’t want to speak for everybody, but a lot of folks who are having their rents increased quite a bit, or are being forced out are looking at it as a wave of Seattleites coming in and doing this,” Wheeler said.

“The people moving here … are also concerned about the problems with this,” he said. “Let’s face it, they left Seattle because they couldn’t afford rents anymore. Or they had no chance at all, ever, of home ownership. They know what it’s like. They were just there … can’t say it’s a black and white that everybody doesn’t want people from Seattle here. That’s not the case. It’s a mixture of emotions.”

Move to Bremerton

The “Move to Bremerton” campaign was started under the city’s previous mayor, Patty Lent, in 2016. And yes, as The Kitsap Sun reports, it was partially inspired by that MxPx song from the ’90s. It targeted young professionals and families fleeing Seattle’s skyrocketing housing market. There were a series of videos produced showcasing aspects of the town such as its affordability, the businesses, and its inspiring history. And as Kitsap commuters have long known, a scenic ferry ride to work is much more preferable to sitting in traffic on I-5 or I-90.

Bremerton mayor says cheap rent is just a ferry ride away

A few things happened since the campaign began in 2016. The Bremerton/Seattle foot ferry began daily runs for commuters. And the Kitsap County housing market spiked. The demand for cheaper home values drove the price tags up and rents followed.

Eager to avoid Seattle’s problems, The Kitsap Sun reports that Mayor Wheeler shut down the “Move to Bremerton” campaign this past week.

“That effort was never needed in the first place,” Wheeler said. “We had folks moving here already. They were coming on their own looking for affordable housing.”

“We work for the folks that are living here,” Wheeler said. “With that being said, promoting an effort that’s already occurring, I believe, has created a housing imbalance that has now resulted in a shortage of housing and rent increases. And they’re pretty significant rent increases and property value increases.”

As The Sun reports, Kitsap County is the seventh most popular area that people from King County are moving to; and fifth most popular from other Washington counties. Bremerton’s population grew about 1 percent each year between 2010 and 2017 — about 2,900 residents during that time.

Booming Bremerton

With a naval station and a workforce to support it, Bremerton has historically had a significant blue collar population. Just like Seattle, those residents are now competing with tech employees with fat paychecks. Wheeler also points out that affordability is exacerbating the area’s homelessness problem.

“A lot of activity centers in Seattle,” Wheeler said. “The wealth they are creating, the incomes they are producing there are displacing folks. Also, it’s happening with people coming over here for an affordable house …. If you are in Seattle and this mass gentrification is occurring … all of a sudden you are displacing folks. We’re getting the same thing here in Bremerton. The dynamics that are happening in Seattle, it’s coming our way here.”

Wheeler said as much at a recent meeting for the Kitsap Regional Coordinating Council.

“I said, ‘This body needs to address this. We either get in front of it now while we have a chance or we will have to react to something that is out of control,'” Wheeler said. “Frankly, Seattle, what’s going on over there is out of control.”

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