10/29/2008: "CC: Need More Info On New Program"
A staff report and presentation by SJC Affordable Housing Coordinator Angela Lausch (photo rightwas discussed by the County Council on Tuesday. The Staff Report (70\k file) in support of a Housing Authority summed of the need as resulting from the large number of low paying jobs.
The report states that “local businesses (and government) already place high housing costs as their greatest obstacle to recruiting workers and that with an aging workforce this problem will only grow worse.”
While the Council has been supportive of affordable housing, they did not great the idea of a new program very warmly. Councilman Gene Knapp said “I think we have ample government at this time.”
Only one page of the controlling law was included in the information given to the council members, and being an attorney, Knapp had read all thirteen pages about the power the Housing Authority has, and, was not very encouraged to read how much power is granted to a Housing Authority.
”I’m going to be a hard sell on this.” I don’t think the Housing Authority law is aimed at communities like ours; it sets up actually a new government, and has very extensive powers…they have power of eminent domain.. excised by five lay people…that can come and say ‘we want to buy your house and remodel it for affordable housing,; and they could do it.
“You have some high hurdles to get over to convince me that is anything that is needed here.” Knapp said.
Lausch responded that the five people would be from the community and they would have to answer to that community. She did not explain what she meant by that..
Rich Peterson asked where the funding would come from. Lausch said the projects would receive funding from sources outside of San Juan County; but volunteered that they do not pay property taxes; but noted there are benefits to the community that one could say offsets the loss of property tax income.
Councilman Bob Myhr inquired if the housing would be rented at market prices or would it be subsidized, or discounted. There are various ways that it could be structured, Lausch said.
Councilman Howard Rosenfeld asked if it was true that “this would primarily be apartments?” The “seems to be the focus,” he was told, in part due to a goal of keeping at least some of the housing at lower affordable rates, but there could be mixed income.
The Council decided to continue to discuss the matter, and asked for additional information be provided to them for possible future discussion at a December 9th council meeting.
03/11/2008: "Home Trust Grant For Buck Property Turned Down"
The County blessing of a affordable housing grant proposal for one affordable housing group over a lesser request from another group, has been turned down by the state.
The recommendation by the Council to support the grant request was in competition from other recommendations from other counties in the state, and on Tuesday the Council was informed the request was turned down.
When the County Council voted to recommended the San Juan Community Home Trust (Trust) proposal for a one million dollar grant from CTED (Department of Community Trade and Economic Development), over a request from Homes For Islanders, there was concern expressed that by so doing, they might end up with nothing. That is what has now happened.
There is still some hope some money may be forthcoming. Nancy DeVaux is the Executive Director of the San Juan Community Home Trust, and she said “officials at CTED called on Monday with the ‘good news’ that they will support the project with Community Development Block Grant ‘Housing Enhancement’ dollars instead of from the CDBG ‘General Purpose’ Fund dollars.” She cautioned that “the exact amount of funding remains to be seen.”
The Council had been uncertain which recommendation to make, and at the last meeting that decided the recommendation to CTED, Councilman Gene Knapp said it was difficult to decide which one should go forward with a council recommendation; but in the end he was joined by a majority of the council in support for a recommendation of the Buck property.
The grant was to be used to help off-set some of the cost to install utilities/infrastructure in the proposed development on the property. (Link to previous stories) .
The two affordable housing programs are not the same. Homes for Islanders is a “sweat equity” program that provides on-hands assistance in constructing the homes; help with down payments, and group participation in building the homes. The home owners retain the right to sell their home later for a limited profit.
The program the council went with was the San Juan Community Home Trust, which “acquires land, builds homes, qualifies applicants, packages mortgages” and leases the land to the applicant. The house -not the land- can be sold, but the price is strictly controlled by the trust, and the purchaser must meet the buyer criteria of the Trust.
Representatives from the two groups had made presentations to the Council, and both stated the homes are kept affordable for future buyers; although they use different means to do so. Much of the Islanders’ presentation was spent in correcting what they said were incorrect statements made to the council by the Trust as to how the Islanders program operated.
A motion had been made by Councilman Alan Lichter to recommend the Islander’s proposal, because, he said, the Islander’s proposal was more likely to be approved by CTED due to the “readiness” requirement by CTED (the project is already under site construction), but Lichter’s motion failed to receive a second.
Myhr had said that “I have serious concerns on the readiness of the Home Trust project.. the county would be well served by Homes for Islanders.” Councilman Peterson had also seemed to favor the Islander’s proposal, but said he was concerned that the motion would result in a split vote.
Kevin Ranker made a motion to support the Trust proposal, a second was received, and the motion passed with Lichter opposed; and Myhr -as Chair at the time- refusing to vote. This resulted in Lichter making a motion to force Myhr to take a position, which he did by joining the majority in voting for the Trust.
02/14/2008: "UW Study: Regulations Raise Housing Costs"
It is not news that many in San Juan County have said one reason for the lack of affordability of housing in SJC is due to the ever increasing regulations.
But even they may be surprised by a new study that shows regulations can add a lot to the cost of a home: as much as $200,000.00 in Seattle.
Former County Commissioner John Evans and others have repeatedly testified to any group that will listen that the effect of removing the amount of land that can be used to construct a home on, is also driving up the cost of construction on the remaining undeveloped land.
For those who have sounded the tocsin that the county is in danger of becoming a home for only the well-to-do, they have just received support from a member of the economic faculty at the University of Washington.
Professor Theo S. Eicher (photo above -UW photo), a R. R. Richards Distinguished Scholar and the founding director of the UW's Economic Policy Research Center has produced a study entitled “Growth Management, Land Use Regulations, and Housing Prices: Implications for Major Cities in Washington State” “Growth Management, Land Use Regulations, and Housing Prices: Implications for Major Cities in Washington State”, which is scheduled to be published in the Northwest Journal of Business and Economics. His paper sets out compelling arguments for understanding the true costs of regulations.
Professor Eicher’s paper found that not only regulations, but “local approval delays still contributed about $30,000” to the total increase of costs in Kent and Everett, but noted that “regulatory impact is generated largely by statewide measures. By far the greatest impact is generated by statewide restrictions imposed by the level of activity in the Executive and Legislative branches over the past ten years in Washington State”.
It becomes clear in his report that the “level of activity” causing the problem is the Growth Management Act (GMA) that has played a major role in driving up the costs of purchasing a home.
He suggestions that it is “therefore, imperative for any regulation policy intervention at the municipal, county or statewide level to be accompanied by strong follow up analyses regarding their impacts on housing prices.” He also states that “while higher housing prices represent a windfall for sellers, they constitute a redistribution from buyers to sellers and reduce housing affordability.”
Sounds familiar. The question is, will the County do anything about it, pay any attention to it, or address it in any way.
12/14/2007: "Eight More Homes For Islanders"
(Proud new home owners at the Rocky Bay Key Turnover ceremony)
With some help from a nonprofit group, the community, and a lot of hard hands-on labor, eight more homes have been constructed by, and for, those who will live in them. A well attended ceremony was held Thursday to thank those who have helped in the Rocky Bay Homes For Islanders (HFI) project, congratulate the new home owners for their hard work, and perform a ceremonial key turnover to the proud owners.
HFI is a 501 c 3 nonprofit group that works in partnership with a USDA Rural Development program called Self Help Construction, which has come to be know as “sweat equity”. Unlike programs designed to create affordable housing that simply make housing available to qualifying individuals and groups, the USDA program requires active participation by those who will benefit; and this participation includes not only friends and family members, but also others in the surrounding community.
the president of the Board of HFI, Francine Shaw said the “program requires each of the applicants to work at least 35 hours per week -as well as maintain their full time jobs and maintain their families.” She said the “total hours worked by the homeowners amounted to over 16,000 hours in a 13 month period.. or 2,000 hours per home.”
Participation in the project included the larger community as businesses and individuals donated materials and labor, that as Shaw said in her speech “reminds me of the old building technique of barn raising, where neighbors worked together and supported each other”. Shaw said that in addition to the homeowners hours, community volunteers provided over 650 hours per home.
One year ago a similar ceremony took place when HFI completed their first project, called the Leeward Cove development , also on San Juan Island. Work has already started on a third project in Friday Harbor. The next project will take place on Orcas Island.
In the ongoing efforts for funding, HFI recently lost out in a controversial action by the County Council when they voted to not support a grant application for HFI, but gave full support to a competing request from San Juan Community Home Trust , which builds homes, then sells the home to a qualified buyer, but only leasing the underlying land. This allows the Trust to control who is allowed to purchase the house if it is sold, to insure the new owner will meet a criterion of affordability defined by the Trust
10/24/2007: "Owner Builder Program Targeted In Budget"
The Director of the building department has recommended new fees for exempt structures, and a large fee increase for Owner-Builder permits.
Last year, Ron Hendrickson, the director of the CD&PD (Community Development & Planning Department) told the County Council he planned to "Abolish The Owner Builder Permit!". The statement was met with a resounding lack of enthusiasm from the council members and the public, and went nowhere.
This year, Hendrickson has returned with a new plan. At the Tuesday council meeting he informed the council that he is proposing to “change (the) fee structure for owner/builder permits from flat fee to 70% of regular permit fees..”, and to also start charging “40% of regular permit fees” for structures that are now exempt from fees and permits.
The proposal raised eyebrows, and some aside comments from some of the council members, and it was pointed out by Councilman Rich Peterson that such a change would be a legislative policy change that would require a public hearing. and a vote of the council, to change the Owner-Builder ordinance.
The Owner Builder permit (OB) is often confused with the term Owner Contractor, which simply means the owner of a property will act as his own contractor. and is responsible for all aspects of construction. The Owner Builder permit is not the same. The OB is intended for those who wish to build in a manner that can be outside of some of the building codes, and is not inspected to the same degree as normal permits.
The OB program has been seen as a way to produce more affordable housing for the county, and while there have been some abuses of the program, in general it has been very successful. Many families with few assets, and limited incomes, have been able to slowly construct a home on their own property by use of the OB permit.
It was one of the programs that Commissioner Rhea Miller cited when she left office as important to “keep our communities healthy by supporting our working people… through resources for childcare and families, (and) the owner-builder code...” Miller was not alone: Commissioner John Evans was able to build his house by using the OB permit (well, wife Wanda did most of the work) to allow the use of re-cycled building materials and wood cut from storm-downed trees.
The OB was originally passed by the County Commissioners to assist home owners who wish to build their own home without hiring contractors or sub-contractors (except in a very limited way); to use re-cycled building materials (or locally un-graded milled wood); to do so without meeting all of the requirements and inspections of the building codes, and without having to pay a building permit fee based on the value of the home, and to obtain a building permit without having to submit all of the drawing details that are required for standard permits All of which can amount to a savings of tens of thousands of dollars.
07/06/2007: "9 More Affordable Homes In FH"
Homes for Islanders (HFI) announces nine new homes will be constructed in Friday Harbor On June 14th the Rural Community Assistance Corp. (RCAC) announced a $640,000 loan to purchase and develop the site at the corner of Park and Guard St. in Friday Harbor. On June 20th a loan of $135,000 of Self Help Opportunity Program (SHOP) funds was approved by Community Frameworks. Community Frameworks is a regional distributor of federal SHOP funds.
All of these awards are loans and will eventually be repaid when owners sell or refinance. The homes will have a resale restriction insuring that they will remain affordable for low to middle income buyers.
In addition to providing water and sewer service, the Town of Friday Harbor has been very helpful at every stage of this development.
HFI is a non-profit 501(c)(3) housing development organization that is currently assisting low income home owners to build their own homes. HFI provides organization, financing, home sites ready to build and the on site direction and training to build the homes. By providing upwards of 2000 hours of labor, home builders earn equity and substantially reduce the cost of their homes.
Site construction is scheduled to begin in July and home construction shortly thereafter. Homes for Islanders is still accepting applications from families and individuals who would like to participate.
For additional information contact the Homes for Islander’s office at 360.370.5944 or visit the website at www.homesforislanders.org.
05/25/2007: "Annexation Of Buck Property Still A Question"
Approximately sixty people showed up Thursday night for a joint Friday Harbor City Council (Council) and Planning Commission (Commission) public hearing (background story below). The hearing was held to receive public comment on a number of requested redesignations of property (Staff Report) , within Friday Harbor, and a proposed plans to expand the UGA (Urban Growth Area) Boundaries of Friday Harbor.
After a staff presentation the floor was opened up to public comment, and it quickly became a one-sided forum for affordable housing in general, and in particular for the inclusion of the “Buck Property” into the UGA Boundaries of Friday Harbor. As Larry Soll of the San Juan Community Home Trust (SJCLT) correctly noted, that of the nineteen people who spoke in favorer of expanding the boundaries to include the Buck property, “no one spoke against it”.
As one participant noted after the meeting, perhaps someone may have introduced at least a counter point to the testimony, if they had felt comfortable enough to speak, but in a departure from normal protocol, neither the Mayor, or the Chair of the Planning Commission, make any effort to stop the audience applause that filled the room after each speaker spoke on the need for affordable housing, and the need to include the Buck property as a site for a proposed affordable housing development by the San Juan Community Home Trust.
At the end of the hearing the Town Council excused themselves so that the Town Planning Commission -and advisory group only to the Council- could begin deliberations on the proposed land use reclassifications and UGA expansion. Once the Commission voted and approved their recommendations, the Council would then review them, deliberate, and then take final action.
All of the reclassifications were quickly approved without further discussion, but the Commissioners quickly became bogged down when it came to how, and to what extent, they should make recommendations to the Town Council on expanding the UGA boundaries.
Because of the demands of the GMA (Growth Management Act), the Town must address the question of where and how future growth may occur, but there are a number of ways it can be accomplished other than simply expanding the Town limits.
Commissioner Laura Arnold -who was once the County Planning Department Director) said that she would like to have some time to review the pros and cons of how the Town can best address the proposals, and suggested the Commission not make a decision then, but come back in a week for deliberations. It was decided the Commission would continue the meeting until next Thursday at 5:30 p.m. The meeting will be open to the public, but not open to public comment.
03/22/2007: "CC & Auditor At Odds On Emergency Funding For Affordable Housing"
Construction of affordable housing on a portion of the Buck property on San Juan Island got a boost last Tuesday from the County Council, when they agreed to an Emergency Appropriation of $25,000.00 to hire a consultant to...Do what, exactly? According to Milene Henley, who may be following former Auditor Si Steven's lead in trying to get the Council to live within the budget, said that while she supports affordable housing programs, the request for an emergency appropriation was not justified for a number of reasons.
Henley told the Council the request for money to take planning action on the Buck property has not been a stated County priority, and also has not been identified as a priority by the Community Development and Planning Department (CD&PC). Henley said that based on a conversation with Friday Harbor Town Administrator King Fitch, the Town has not decided if the Town needs to expand the town (Urban Growth Area) boundaries at all, and if they do decide to do so, they have yet to decide where that would occur.
Henley's testimony brought a quick response from Councilman Howard Rosenfeld, who told Henley that he was shocked to hear her say that, and that it was his understanding the Town was looking at the Buck property.
Town Administrator King Fitch and Town Land Use Administrator Michael Bertrand, in separate interviews, told The Island Guardian the town is in the process of doing an analysis to determine if they need to expand the town UGA, and based on the initial numbers, it appears they can accommodate future growth within existing Town boundaries; but both added that does not mean they will not go to the County with a request for expansion of the town limits.
Bertrand said that an expansion could be requested for reasons other than residential development. As an example he said that if at the end of the analysis by the Town Planning Commission -which is in process- and the Town Council, it was determined that additional commercial or industrial area was needed, that too could be put into a UGA area.
Under the Growth Management Act, it will be the County that decides where, and how large, an expansion of the UGA will be (the town is a UGA), and if an expansion is proposed, it could include both town and county uses. Bertrand stressed that "defining the boundaries of an area does not also define the use"
According to members of the San Juan Community Home Trust (SJCHT), their desire to construct homes on the Buck property is contingent on the Town of Friday Harbor, and the County, agreeing to expand the boundaries of the Town to include the Buck property; which currently is outside of Town limits. And it needs to be done by the end of year.
In response to questions from the Council on why is there a rush to do this, Hendrickson responded that his understanding is that there is "some tax befits for the owners of the property" that will soon end, and the Home Trust have been told they may loose the opportunity to purchase the property unless the redesignation is accomplished this year. Councilman Rich Peterson wondered if this was one of those "tails that is waging the dog".
According to Peter Kilpatrick, fellow board member Larry Soll has made and offer to the Buck family to purchase the property, and he will receive a significant tax break if he can purchase the land and then donate it to the SJCHT by the end of the year.
Adding to the pressure is the desire of the Buck family to sell the property -a process they had embarked on by beginning a Long Plat development that would allow a simple way of divining the property for the family members that share ownership. Vincent Buck told The Island Guardian that the family is interested in assisting the SJCHT, "since it seems like a synergist sort of thing to do ...that would help solve the affordable housing problem for both the county and the town"; but he added that a tax write-off that would benefit the Buck family "has not been any part of the discussion at all".
Because the County will have to make changes to accommodate the change in boundaries between the county and the town lines, and because the CD&PC has "a full plate", Ron Hendrickson informed the Council he cannot do the work as quickly as the Home Trust wants, without additional funding.
The Town and the County have different deadlines for completion of their UGA review and updates, so Hendrickson made the pitch for additional money to hire an outside consultant, instead of completing the county analysis in-house, which would allow him to followi the county deadline, and not the Towns'. The County cannot do any work on the Buck proposal unit they receive a report from the Town, since the Town needs must be added to any needs of the County. While it is possible the Town will not have the Buck property on their preferred list of sites, it now appears the County will have it on the County list.
The Council agreed with the presented arguments and testimony, discounted concerns and recommendation by the Auditor, and voted to spend $25,000.00 of unbudgeted money to fast track the land use changes the Town may, or may not, need or want; but the Council decided if the Buck family and Larry Soll want to help the Home Trust take advantage of what Councilman Lichter called a "God given" offer, they would -come what may- do their part too.
The "net Increase" in the 2007 budget of all of the Emergency Appropriations approved was $688.091.00, and was necessary "for certain emergencies that have occurred in relation to unanticipated carryover obligations, long-range planning needs for growth management and environmental compliance, pandemic influenza preparedness, recovery of derelict vessels, accelerated computer maintenance fees, grant-funded community nursing needs, loss of ability to fund certain emergency management staff costs from grants, and utility projects; and storm recovery costs"
01/23/2007: "Robert F. Buck Family Sells Land For Affordable Housing"
( One Third of the 46 Acre Parcel outlined in blue will be made available to Home Trust)
Robert F. Buck's three children and their spouses have agreed to sell one-third of their 46 acres to a supporter of the Home Trust, and to collaborate on the creation of permanently affordable housing. The San Juan Community Home Trust announced the new partnership with Vincent and Jane Buck, Carolyn and Bob Norman, and Jai and Bequin Boreen. The land is adjacent to the former gravel pit, and within several blocks of Friday Harbor Elementary school.
The vision shared by the Buck family and the Home Trust is for a high quality mixture of detached single-family homes, town homes and co-housing, with an emphasis both on fitting in with island traditions and green building techniques. The goal would also be to provide for a diversity of family incomes and ages, including homes specifically for seniors. Both the Home Trust and the Buck family are interested in cooperating with the Trails Committee to provide a pedestrian access route from town to both the future park on the gravel pit site and Jackson Beach.
Home Trust board members Larry Soll and Peter Kilpatrick, and local realtor (and Buck cousin) Sam Buck Jr. facilitated the agreement with the owners. Kilpatrick said, "We need to really acknowledge the Buck family's contribution as being much more than just a land sale. They feel strongly that it is something that their father would have supported as a lasting contribution to this community."
Their father, Bob Buck, was San Juan County Prosecuting Attorney from 1947 to 1952, succeeding his father Sam Buck Sr. in that position. According to Vincent Buck, "He strongly believed that we all have an obligation to make a positive contribution to the communities we live in. It was his hallmark. He also would have appreciated the integration of income levels that this affordable housing neighborhood will bring to Friday Harbor."
Bob Buck's many contributions in both Seattle and in Friday Harbor included: first president of OPALCO, Friday Harbor Port Commissioner, President of the Washington Bankers Association, Chairman of the Virginia Mason Medical Center, Chairman of the Economic Development Council of Puget Sound, President of the Pacific Northwest Trade Association, President of the Rainier Club, and President of the University of Washington Alumni Association. His work included being Deputy Administrator of the Small Business Administration in Washington D.C. during the late 1950's, and Executive Vice President and General Counsel of Rainier Bank in Seattle during the 1960's and 70's.
Bob's first wife, and the mother of Vincent and Carolyn, was Georgina Templin Buck, whose family has even deeper roots in the islands, stemming back to the Hudson Bay Company's Bellevue Farm in 1850. Her great grandfather, Robert Firth, lived in the house at American Camp that is now known as Captain George Pickett's house. Her parents owned and operated Templin's Store in Eastsound for many years.
Bob's second wife, Barbara, is Jai Boreen's mother. She continues to live in a family home near Shipyard Cove and is active in civic affairs in Friday Harbor and Seattle. Buck Park, near Eastsound, is located on land donated by Bob and Barbara Buck to the county in 1980.
A number of steps are required before any development will take place, including the expansion of the county-designated Urban Growth Area around the Town of Friday Harbor. This will require an agreement by the Town and the County and subsequent annexation of the parcel into the Town. According to Home Trust board member Larry Soll, "This is an opportunity for the Town and the County to significantly increase the number of permanently affordable homes on San Juan Island."
11/01/2006: "Permit Director: 'Abolish The Owner Builder Permit!'"
Planning & Building Director Ron Henrickson took the County Council -and the audience- by surprise on Tuesday, when near the end of his budget presentation he asked the Council to "abolish the Owner Builder Permit". Under questioning by the Council, Henrickson strongly attacked the ordinance, listing a litany of complaints, calling it "outdated, dangerous, and expensive to administer".
When it came time for questions and comments from the Council. Councilman Kevin Ranker told Henrickson that he had no interest in getting rid of the ordinance. Under questioning by Chair Lichter, it seemed that Henrickson was not overly familiar with the history of the OBO (Owner Builder Ordinance), and his responses to Lichter's questioning seemed at odds with some of the basic facts and intent of the OBO, and how it works.
According to Henrickson, the OBO allows a house to be constructed without regard for health and safety considerations, and that when the house is sold, the new owners may be surprised to find the building was constructed without meeting code requirements. In response to a question from Councilman Bob Myhr, on what can we change in the ordinance to address Hendrickson's complaints, he said it was not possible to change it, that we were locked into it, so all we could do is abolish it. This was only one of his statements that appeared to be confused with the facts, and at odds with the history of the ordinance The current version of it is vastly different from what it originally contained, and the addition of requirements to the ordinance that have been inserted over the years would seem to be almost the same list of areas that Henrickson said were lacking.
In regard to Hendrickson's concerns about health and safety: the ordnance contains an entire section entitled "Life safety requirements", that lists many of the standard requirements one finds in a "normal" permit, such as smoke detectors, guardrails, fire walls, and clearances for stoves, to name but a few.
As for his concern that new owners may not know what they are buying, that too is hard to square with the facts, since the mechanisms for full disclosure are greater than for a normal permit. A signed statement is filed with the Auditor that the house may not meet all normal code requirements becomes part of the title search in a sale, and the ordinance also clearly states that "No structure built under an owner/builder permit shall be sold, leased or rented" until the seller has given "the prospective purchaser, tenant or renter a written notice that the structure has been completed under the provisions of this article and may not meet all UBC standards."
Hendrickson's statements on the history of the ordinance also seemed out of step with the facts of why the OBO was created. The purpose, and it is spelled out in the very beginning of the ordinance, states that the ordinance is intended to allow "maximum flexibility as to design and materials employed." One of the early proponents of the ordinance was former County Commissioner Rhea Miller, who used the Owner Builder provision to constructed a house using the now widely accepted method of using hay bales to provide inexpensive insulation, and a base for stucco and plaster walls. Another member of the club is also a former Commissioner, John Evans, who was able to use lumber cut from storm downed trees on his property to build his house. In both cases this was made possible by use of the OB permit.
As the Owner Builder ordinance evolved over the years, about the only thing that has remained is the lack of inspections and code requirements for the actual structural aspects of a house, thereby allowing the use of post-and-pier construction, or field rock and mortar foundations, without having to hire an engineer to design and approve it, and also allowing the use of re-cycled lumber or locally cut wood, which, ironically is far superior in structural integrity and resistant to rot than the farm grown trees that has become the norm. As for Hendrickson's concerns about earthquakes and windstorms.
Cliff Lowe, a highly respected and longtime builder on the island, has told the story that when a client wanted to convert one of the old farm barns into a house, they were required to hire an engineer and also spend $5000.00 on special steel brackets "so that the barn, that has withstood countless storms without any damage, would not blow away".
If Henrickson seemed to be on shaky ground with the Council as he listed all of his complaints, it was also clear he was unaware of just how much support the ordinance has had over the years. Councilman Ranker pointed out that at least three County Commissioner's have taken advantage of the ordinance, and that he had personal knowledge of a number of people that were able to build an inexpensive house because of the ordinance, and thereby remain on the island -an early form of "affordable housing".
Ron Henrickson as been the Director of CD&P (Community Development & Planning) since moving here to accept the position eleven months ago, and has in that time expressed some strong opinions about how things should be done, and what the County is doing wrong. Not all of those opinions have gone over very well with the public, or even a number of members of his staff, and any action to now abolish the right of people to try something new, or use wood from there own land, can be expected to -once again- fill the council chambers with a crowd of very unhappy people.
09/21/2006: "Open House" For Homes For Islanders"
The public is invited to an Open House on Friday, September 22, for a ceremony at 2 p.m. and a celebration BBQ (ribs with all the fixin's) from 4 to 7 p.m., for Homes for Islanders official opening of the Leeward Cove Development. (a mile out of town on Beaverton, Look for balloons and signs)
With the assistance of the RCAC (Rural Community Assistance Corporation), and the hard work of volunteers and staff, Homes For Islanders has made it possible for some San Juan Island families to own their homes; a goal they once believed was out of reach due to the high cost of land in San Juan County. Due in part to a $357,000 loan provided by the Rural Community Assistance Corporation (RCAC) to Homes for Islanders, a nonprofit organization formed in 1998, as well as an approved Community Housing Development Organization, the public will be able to see what can be achieved when the private and public sectors come together to help citizens help themselves by hard work and commitment to a goal.
The mission of Homes for Islanders is to work independently -or with other housing organizations throughout San Juan County- to provide all types of housing and housing assistance to low and moderate income and other residents in need. The RCAC loan has been used to purchase and develop five acres of "rural cluster" land just outside of Friday Harbor that is now known as Leeward Cove. The land was split into eight 3,000 square foot lots on which "mutual self-help" homes will be built by volunteers including the homeowners themselves.
RCAC has been involved in mutual self-help housing projects for more than two decades. Through mutual self-help projects, low- and very low-income rural citizens attain the American dream of homeownership. In a mutual self-help housing program, a group of eight to twelve families and individuals work together under the guidance of a construction supervisor hired by a nonprofit housing developer such as Homes for Islanders. In lieu of a down payment, those in the program provide labor as "sweat equity." Homes in any given program are built simultaneously, with future owners providing at least 65 percent of all labor. No family moves into their new home until all in the program are completed.
Mutual self-help homeowners have mortgages that are generally far less than those of standard new or resale homes and the program -which has seen nearly 25,000 homes built since 1971- boasts a delinquency of a mere 3 to 4 percent.
"This will be the first affordable housing development on San Juan Island with homeownership available on less than five acres," said RCAC loan officer, Lucy Shelby. Affordable housing is desperately needed on San Juan Island, according to John Campbell, Homes for Islanders' development project lead.
"Homes for Islanders was formed in response to a real need for affordable housing that has been exacerbated by growth management legislation in the county," Campbell said. Homeownership has become increasingly more difficult as an influx of retirees have driven the price of homes skyward, leaving homeownership well out of the reach of most local low- and moderate-income working families. In fact, according to Washington State University research, San Juan County residents have the greatest gap between household incomes and housing prices of any county in the state. That research says the median county home price is $300,000 while median household income is only $58,200; meaning a median income family can afford only 66 percent of the payment required for a median price home.
"This RCAC loan is the beginning of Homes for Islanders' help so eight hard-working local families can build and own their own homes," Campbell said.
(Story written with material from Homes for Islanders and RCAC)
06/02/2006: "FH PC Recommends Approval Of 68 Homes"
(Standing room only at joint FH Town Council & Planning Commission Hearing)
In a double header hearing Thursday night, the Friday Harbor Planning Commission recommended approval of two land use applications intended to provide new housing in Friday Harbor.
Both applicants told the combined Town Council and the Planning Commission members hearing the applications that their proposals would provide affordable housing in the -projected- 300 to 400 thousand dollar price range. The first application was proposing a traditional residential subdivision called Country Village, and according to the developer, Bobby Ross, there will be very restrictive and tight controls on the type, and style, of homes that can be constructed. The second proposal was for a planned residential development of clustered housing near the beginning of the FH Labs property north of Friday Harbor.
The first application was a subdivision application & a SEPA checklist submitted by Country Village LLC (Bobby Ross) to create 25 single family residential lots on a parcel of land next to Lampard road, and this in itself resulted in a standing room only crowd at the hearing. Due to the controversial purchase of land in the same area by the County Council for a future County Public Works facility, and a garbage transfer station, Lampard Road has been in the news this past year. The neighbors have rallied in opposition against the plan in general, and in particular have expressed their concerns of what the impacts may be on Lampard road, a narrow dead end road often used as a walking area by local island residents.
This new proposal had some of the Lampard neighbors concerned that Lampard road would either not be able to handle the new traffic loads unless it was widen and improved, and on the other hand, were concerned that improvements would increase it's use and decrease its attractiveness as a walking area.
When all was said and done, the Planning Commission agreed that the subdivision should be allowed to go forward, since in the words of Town Attorney Don Eaton, "If you find the proposal meets the requirements of the Town, then you should approve it, if you think it does not, then you need to say why not". In recommending approval, the Commissioners took note of the public's concerns about Lampard road, and while noting that whatever the problems may be, they are the Town's problems, and recommended the Town Council review and address the issues raised by the public.
While the first hearing had generated a standing room crowd, the next hearing empted the room. The Friday Cove Planned Residential Development (PRD) by an off-island developer was to create a residential subdivision containing 43 clustered single family residents on a portion of the property, and create two additional lots, one of which will be donated to the Land Bank, and the other held for possible future development. After expressing some concerns about landscaping buffers, the application was recommended to the Town Council for approval, with a requirement that a tree/vegetation buffer be protected from removal in the event of the future development of the adjoining lot. As in the previous application, this one also plans to sell their units in the 300 to 400 thousand price range.
While the Planning Commission recommended approval to the Town Council, the process is far from over. The next step will be for the Town Council to review the recommendations and findings by the Planning Commission, then there will be a appeal period, and once that has passed, the property owners will have to submit additional permit applications prior to any actual construction, or alterations of the land.
02/14/2006: "Finally: Hearing On Affordable Housing Tax"
After many meetings on the subject Previous Story , and at times some anger and frustration over the process, the proposed new chapter to the County Code that will allow, and spell out how, a collection of a new one-half of one percent tax on real estate sales, will be collected and spent, is ready for the first round of formal public input. If all goes well today at the hearing (2:30 pm, Tuesday, February 14), the next chance for the public to express their views on the subject will be at an election to be held in May of this year.
In that election, the proposal to collect money from the sale of real estate and make it available to a "Housing Bank Commission" that will become an umbrella group for receiving various funds from the private sector, the State, Federal programs, and now from a tax on real estate, will be on the ballot for voter approval. Any monies collected will be used to fund financing aid for the construction of affordable housing. Previous story on how it will work
12/12/2005: "Affordable Housing "Bank" Still Moving Forward"
(Karen Vedder, SJC Deputy Prosecutor, and John Manning, County lead on the project, discuss proposed Ordinances at an earlier meeting with the BOCC)
The next interesting step to be taken before the BOCC adopts two proposed draft Ordinance that will allow the County to collect, and disburse, a new excise tax on the sale of real estate, is to see what the State Attorney General may have to say on the legality of the draft ordinances.
While the first Ordinance collects the tax, a second Ordinance has been proposed that will result in the "restructuring" of the existing Affordable Housing Commission into an Affordable Housing Bank that will be the county agency that is responsible for disbursing the money collected from the new tax.
While the Prosecutors office seems at this point to be comfortable with the legality of the new tax (after forcefully questioning the first couple of submittals) Karen Vedder pointed out to the BOCC that there are a number of questions on how the enforcement and follow-up of operating the housing bank (the second Ordinance) will work once it has been passed.
The questions appear to be generated by the simple fact that the proposed Ordinance is simply silent on a number of questions that come to mind when it is perused. As examples she asked what happens if a loan is not paid? Who will be responsible to take action? What if there is illegal activity in, or on, a property? What happens if the owner of a property fails to maintain it? If someone qualifies for a home, and then -for whatever reason- becomes flush with money, do they get to stay there forever, even if there making huge amounts of money as a result of their job or profession? Can they pass on the ownership to a family member even if that person would not normally qualify?
The questions point out that what has been hotly discussed for adoption these past months (and will be up to the voters to decide in May, if all goes as planned), is not how all of this is going to work, but only that "something"- in addition to existing programs- is going to be done to provide additional affordable housing.
If one were to look for a simple example to understand what is going on, one could say the Ordnance that will result in the creation of the Affordable housing Bank is analogous to our Comprehensive Plan, in that it is a clustering of ideas, policies and goals; but no regulations, as to how the programs are going to work on a day-to-day basis. Whatever is done is going to have to be reviewed at some point by the planners if it is to become a part of the overall County Housing plan, and so far that appears to not have been happening.
The second ordinance is easy to understand, it simply goes out and grabs the money (99% paid by the purchaser of any real estate sale, and 1% from the seller) to pay for both the creation of the ideas and goals in the first Ordinance into a reality, and also to help pay for -at least- some of the expenses of making "it" all happen. That is, making it happen once we decide what exactly, and how, it is suppose to happen. With respect to the imbalance in who pays the bill, the organizers told the BOCC that those who move here create the problem, so they should pay the costs of solving the problem. The tax will not be retroactive to past sales.
At the end of the work last session, the BOCC agreed by consensus to move forward with the ordnances once discussed minor changes have been made, and then the Ordinances will be ready to be advertised for public comment.
09/19/2005: "New Proposed Tax Moves Slowly Forward"
(Left to Right: John Manning & Randy Gaylord from the County, and Paul Losleben & Susan Dehlendorf from the Housing Project)
The Housing Bank concept continues to move slowly toward appearing on a ballot for voter approval -or rejection. After an initial false start, the group organizing the drive to place an excise tax on the sale of property has made steady progress toward completion of the legal steps necessary to comply with state law in presenting the tax to the voters. If approved, the measure will place a one half percent real estate tax on the sale of all property in San Juan County.
The money collected will be used to fund financing aid for housing through an " application process through which it (the Housing Bank Commission) will consider proposals from private and nonprofit organizations. It will work with financial institutions, private builders and non-profit community organizations to assemble teams around specific projects. It will then respond to proposals by these teams and will apply capstone funding to provide the essential last element of funding needed.
The Housing Bank Commission will recommend to the County Commissioners and the county will then award contracts to the most viable projects that meet the Housing Bank's criteria.", Representatives of the housing group recently met with the BOCC to hammer out differences between their suggested ordinance, and the ordinance that the Prosecuting Attorneys office had prepared.
The issue before the BOCC was resolving which of the ordinances, if any, would appear on a February special election ballot, that if approved by the voters would allow the proposed tax. One of the main sticking points was the question of just who would be paying the tax. The Housing Project group (a part of the Navigating Our Future organization) wanted to make the tax burden fall on the buyer, but the County pointed out that state law requires some sharing of the tax by both the seller and the buyer.
After discussion by the BOCC, a resolution (97-2005) was passed that allows the process to move forward. The resolution will restructure the existing Affordable Housing Fund Commission, and re-name it the "Housing Bank Commission", which will bring it more into line with the goal of the proposed Housing Bank concept.
The next step will be a final ordinance draft that will be made available to the public for comment in a public hearing process, and then the measure -in some form or other- will go to the voters for a Yes or No vote.
08/19/2005: "Housing Bank Proposal Will Not Be On Ballot"
After many meetings, planning and a lot of hard work, the Housing Bank concept will not be on the November ballot after all. Why not depends on who you talk to. According to Paul Losleben of the Orcas Research Group, the blame is due to the failure of the Prosecuting Attorney' office. Mr. Losleben states " I contacted the Prosecuting Attorney's office regularly to inquire about progress. Each time, I was assured that they -were working on it.' I and other members of our group kept the County Commissioners informed of our assumed progress on the ordinance and as the time grew short, we asked them to assist in getting the ordinance through the Prosecuting Attorney's office in time."
As far as Mr. Loslesben knew, everything was going along as it should, and the Prosecutors office did not contact him with questions or concerns until "Karen Vedder called to let me know that they had missed the deadline" because the Prosecuting Attorney's office works for other departments and that since no department had been assigned to -bird dog' the ordinance, that it was not given priority in her office".
Mr. Loslesben has talked to Commissioner Lichter (Kevin Ranker was sitting on a week long Shoreline Hearings Board hearing) about the problem and believes that both he and Ranker "will agree that our county government must become more responsive to the needs of the public. This kind of cover-your-butt government cannot be allowed to continue".
While it is too late to be on the ballot, the group plans to keep moving forward on the project, and will be attending the August 23 BOCC meeting, where they have been told there will be a resolution discussion relating to the issue. In the meantime, they are urging the public to express their concerns directly to the BOCC.
Randy Gaylord explained to The Island Guardian that he believed the problem was a result of miscommunication, and that he is apologetic about any role his department may have played in it. Gaylord said the BOCC lead on the project was Commissioner Miller, and the that the BOCC was required to pass a resolution, and approve a plan on how the tax money gathered would be spent, in order for the measure to be placed on the ballot for the election in November, but that did not happen prior to Commissioner Miller departed the Board.
While it is too late to be on the ballot, the group plans to keep moving forward on the project, and will be attending the August 23 BOCC meeting, where they have been told there will be a resolution discussion relating to the issue. If the BOCC approves the plan for the expenditures of the tax money that the measure will generate, and passes the require resolution, the measure will appear on the ballot for the election that will take place in February.
Attendees listen to a presentation on affordable housing
06/08/2005: "Island Housing Solutions Summit"
A "Island Housing Solutions Summit" organized by Larry Soll, Ralph Hahn, and Lee Sturdivant attracted approximately 60 citizens to come out of a sunny Saturday and into a meeting room to discuss the current state of affairs, and the problems that can result from a lack of "affordable" housing. The group was told that one of the causes of the problem is directly related to the inflation rate of property, which is due to the influx of buyers who have more money ("urban based incomes") than the local working residents, and are willing to pay higher prices.
The meeting started at noon and ran to late afternoon, and consisted of talks and power point presentations on the rising cost of home ownership in the San Juans, the need to keep a diversity community, how programs in other communities have provided affordable housing, the advantages and disadvantages of capping the amount of profit one can achieve by owning and selling a house provided under various programs, and how a Housing Bank could solve the problem. And then the floor was open to public input on the presentations.
By the end of the day it was the general consensus that the group would explore a proposal to put a measure on the November ballot to set up a new County committee that would be based on the existing Land Bank model of taxing real estate sales. The proposal would place a -tax on the purchase price of real estate. The money raised would then be used in some yet undefined manner (perhaps a Housing Bank) to provide, or assist, certain members of the community to buy or rent affordable housing. Additional meetings are planned to work out the details; and/or come up with new ideals and proposals.
Paul Losleben of the Orcas Research Group was one of the presenters, and stated: "Our intent in presenting our ideas is to stimulate public discussion, including observations of issues that we may have overlooked. The important thing is to work together toward solutions".
05/04/2005: "BOCC Grants Exceptions To Low Income Housing Loans"
OPAL (Of People And Land) is a community land trust that is currently constructing houses near Deer harbor that will be made available for purchase by low and moderate income buyers. The project is named Lahari Ridge, and four of the purchasers (of the buildings only, the land ownership remains with OPAL) need financial assistance in order to meet their down payment requirements.
In 1999 the County created a RLF (Revolving Loan Fund) designed to allow a qualified homebuyer to obtain a housing down payment through an "Equity Loan Program". In 2002 the County adopted certain policies and procedures that controlled how the program would function. A grant from the State provided the start-up money for the program.
In 2003 and 2004, the local land trusts began to increase the supply of housing, and sought access to the RLF money. To allow this to happen, additional changes were made to the policies that would allow purchasers of land trust homes to apply for the RLF loans. Today, the changes have yet to be reviewed by the County Attorney, or formally adopted by the BOCC. Exceptions to these policies have also been made in the past.
The policies that have been reviewed and adopted do not allow loans to be made if the house to be purchased has limits on the equity of the real property. This was to ensure that the purchasers of the houses could gain equity in their homes, and thereby financially advance their investment. (John Evans has an opinion piece on affordable housing, see his latest column: THE PERFECT STORM
At the Tuesday meeting of the BOCC, the County Commissioners authorized John Manning, the Loan Administrator, to grant exceptions to the (HEL) Home Equity Loan program to extend the maturity date of a Home Equity Loan from the current 20 years, to 30 years. This was done because the mortgages the new home purchaser will be entering into are for a 30 year period, and do not allow for so-called balloon payments for secondary financing -such as the down payment loan that some of the purchasers need from the HEL program- and since the current re-payment policy on the loans runs out at 20 years, there is a problem. To solve the problem, the BOCC authorized this new exception.
03/10/2005: "Joint Meeting Of BOCC And Town Take Up Affordable Housing & Rental Assistance Issues"
John Manning, Carrie Brooks, Howard Rosenfeld, Wally Gillette
Whenever a document is recorded at the auditor's office, ten dollars is collected to be used for low-income housing projects. Well, most of it anyway. The auditor may keep up to, but not more than, 5 percent, and the state receives 40 percent for a housing trust account. State law (RCW 36.22.178) requires:
"sixty percent of the revenue generated by this surcharge will be retained by the county and be deposited into a fund that must be used by the county and its cities and towns for housing projects or units within housing projects that are affordable to very low-income persons with incomes at or below fifty percent of the area median income. The portion of the surcharge retained by a county shall be allocated to very low-income housing projects or units within such housing projects in the county and the cities within a county according to an interlocal agreement between the county and the cities within the county".
When all is said and done, San Juan County ends up with an average of a little over $50,000.00 a year, and the current total availably for disbursement is now $160,000.00. It has been agreed by the County and the Town that 5 percent of that money is to be used by the Town.