5 Reasons to Reconsider Living in South Whidbey, WA

Freeland, WA, photo by Patricia Herlevi

When I lived in Oak Harbor, Washington on the north end of Whidbey Island, I visited the south end of the island. I wore rose colored glasses and thought the grass was greener in the village of Langley or Freeland.

And while there are breathtaking views from the south end (if not all parts of the island), there are some serious downsides to living on Whidbey as a whole. I grew up here and I can tell you that this island has changed dramatically since my childhood. The car traffic on the north end of the island causes frustration, not to mention air pollution. The city planning adopted the sprawl model and the city has sprawled out of control. Without a car it takes hours by bus to run the simplest errands. You can walk but…

The noise of supersonic jets flying over the north and central parts of the island can cause hearing loss or for us more sensitive types, nerve damage. But if that’s not enough, depending on where you reside, it’s not walking distance to the necessary businesses such as grocery stores and the post office, or even a pharmacy. In Oak Harbor for instance, all the grocery stores are in one quadrant of the city off Highway 20. However, this article isn’t about the entire island, just the south end which begins around Green Bank and ends in Clinton at the ferry terminal.

Let’s focus on the reason to reconsider living on the south end of the island since this is the most desired region for people to live (and work).

Septic Systems

From Coupeville southward, all the homes and businesses are on septic systems. While I’m not an expert on septic systems, I have found that they are inferior to a water and sewage treatment plant, and this is coming from someone who promotes permaculture.

With septic systems we must be extremely careful what gets flushed down the toilet and the drains. If we don’t the sewage backs up into the basement or home. The odor in the septic fields is unbearable and septic systems can release methane gas, especially during an earthquake. In fact, during an earthquake, septic systems can explode causing fires.

But for most of us, the most annoying part of the septic system is the alarm that sounds off if the water levels get to high or something that shouldn’t have been was washed down the drain such as cooking or other types of oils or chemicals.

The City of Langley (or Village by the Sea) is planning the construction of a water and sewage treatment plant. This needs to happen since too much growth has occurred on the south end of the island, especially after the period of lockdowns which allowed workers to escape the cities and work remotely from anywhere. Many moved to the south end of Whidbey as well as, nearby Port Townsend.

Housing Shortage

In Langley most of the housing is second homes for snow birds who head to Arizona or California in the winter. Some of the houses get rented out as temporary rentals and other homes remain empty for six months out of the year.

If you are a renter (or you work in the service industry for minimum wage), good luck finding a home or apartment to rent on the south end. And if you do manage to land a lease on a property expect to pay premium dollars on the rent and utilities. Or you might end up in a snow bird’s home like I did and only have a limited time before you need to move again. Is it worth the hassle?

If you’re in the market to buy a home, expect to pay $600K and upwards. Expect to compete with potential buyers from wealthier parts of the US looking for a second home. In fact, on the south end, you won’t find many homeowners who were born and raised in the area. They hail from Seattle or other states. Not that there’s anything wrong with moving to another state, but it does jack up prices of homes and rentals, making it impossible for the everyday working class person to home themselves and their families.

Lack of Diversity in the Demographics

While there are some young families and younger singles on the south end of the island the bulk of residents and part-time residents are white baby boomer retirees. Many of them sold homes in other more lucrative states so purchasing a home on Whidbey was an investment in their retirement.

Now, I’m not dissing these folks because many of them have shown me generosity and they do volunteer in the community. However, if you’re looking for ethnic and age diversity, you will find little of it here. I believe the community on the south end of the island is 90 percent white. I’m Hispanic so I stand out most places I go.

When you do see people of color or who are younger, they are usually visiting from other places such as Seattle or tourists from further out. Or they might be traveling from the north end of the island which consists of military families (which does bring in ethnic diversity).

If diversity is important to your well-being, then the south end is not for you. And this trend of little diversity tends to happen in more progressive towns and cities. I just don’t get that at all. You will find similar situations on the Olympic Peninsula and Bellingham.

Fewer Services and Amenities

If you enjoy slow internet speeds then the south end of the island is for you. I personally don’t mind staying clear of 5G, but at the same time, it takes hours to upload HD videos. So, for someone who makes their living off a YouTube channel or needs to have an online presence, this could be a problem. There might be high-speed internet available but you would need to research it.

There is no curbside recycling. It’s old fashion where you need to haul your sorted recycling materials to a central location which is outdoors (and it rains a lot). It can take a good chunk of time out of your day to sort, pack, and haul, then sort again. I personally don’t enjoy it because I’m crunched for time.

Some people also warn that you need to purchase a generator if you live on the south end of the island because power outages can lasts for days. This part of the island has beautiful forests mixed in with residential areas which means that when the 50 to 60 mph gusts come off the sea, trees fall on power lines creating wide spread outages. The south end has its power restored last. I lived through a three-day outage which I was not prepared.

The South Whidbey Island Fault (SWIFT)

If you think it’s no big deal to live near or on a earthquake fault, think again. Instead of me describing the worse case scenario, I will allow this article to do that for me. However, if you don’t enjoy the excitement of rushing off an island before the tsunami hits or watch your home get eaten by a sink hole or smell methane gas prior to the explosion of septic systems, then reconsider relocating to South Whidbey.