Olympia tenants went through the most challenges during the pandemic, according to an online survey conducted by the city for the Strong Olympia program.
At the Finance Committee meeting on Wednesday, September 21, Strategic Projects manager Amy Buckler gave an update to committee members on Olympia Strong. This public process aims to identify a long-term strategy for how the city can best support the economic resiliency of residents, businesses, and the broader community and their organization.
The program is now in the second phase of the process. On July 15 through August 16, the city hosted an online survey through Engage Olympia.
"This was not a statistically valid survey," Buckler announced. "But we have approximately 500 respondents for some pretty good sampling for something like this."
She added that public engagements would continue through November, including listening sessions, community groups, and advisory board meetings.
According to Buckler, 72% of the respondents are homeowners, and 24% are renters. About 25% who participated in the online survey claimed they have a physical or mental disability, and 32% have children under 18 at home.
In the survey, Buckler said they saw the different realities that renters were experiencing.
She said 96% of renter-respondents had difficulty buying food/groceries in the past year, while only 9% of homeowner-respondent have the same challenge.
In a graph on the survey presented to the committee, Buckler showed that:
"We all know that certain industries were impacted by the pandemic, even coming out of the pandemic. This makes sense because some of the most vulnerable jobs were lower-wage service jobs or in the arts and recreation sector, and these are workers that are more likely to be renters," Buckler explained.
In case of another economic downturn, only 9% of renters said they could meet their expenses if they became unemployed for at least a year. About 41% of homeowners said the same thing.
Bucker said it is important for them to understand the stark difference in experience between homeowners and tenants, noting that 53% of Olympians are renters.
"[But] they are not as readily engaged in the city decision making, and we saw that in this Engage Olympia survey - that we have more homeowners that respond overall," she said, adding, "renters are affected differently than homeowners by city decision."
According to Buckler, they are interested in holding specific sessions with renters to test and build ideas for Olympia Strong.
The respondents in the survey considered affordable housing should be the city's top goal.
Buckler said Olympia Strong sees the housing situation as a significant economic issue.
Working together on the housing issue
She said Olympia's Housing Program and the Community Planning and Development are leading actions around the housing situation.
The Economic Development department, she added, has been working with real estate development.
The Habitat for Humanity project plans to develop over 100 units of permanent and affordable homes on Boulevard Road.
"The Economic Development department should continue to play a strong role in housing for the foreseeable future," Buckler said.
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