Affordable rental housing project coming to Lopez Village

Submitted by Housing Lopez

A new affordable rental housing project is coming to Lopez Village developed by Housing Lopez, Inc., a local nonprofit organization committed to increasing low and moderate rental housing on our island.

Housing Lopez is pleased to announce that on July 23, the San Juan County Council passed a resolution approving the sale of a parcel of surplus county land to be used for the new project. The property is located on Fisherman Bay Road, just north of Morgantown and Coho, and east of the Children’s Center. It will be used as the site for a six-unit rental project. Each unit is expected to include two bedrooms. Unit rents will be set based on family size, income and rent levels published by San Juan County. Three of the units will be affordable for families at or below 80 percent of median income and three will be affordable for those with income levels up to 115 percent of the median income. Based on current income limits reported by the county, rent (including utilities) for a three-person family at 80 percent of median income ($50,700) would not exceed $1,268 per month and could be as low as $1,035 for qualifying households.

Households living on Lopez Island have one of the lowest wage-based incomes in Washington state. Nearly 40 percent of full-time residents (320-plus families) struggle to find and keep affordable housing.

High construction costs, density restrictions and conversion of existing homes for use as short-term rentals (e.g., Airbnb) have caused a critical shortage of “affordable” rental units. There are only 30 rental-housing units on Lopez Island that are legally restricted as affordable. All units are occupied with waiting lists. A housing needs assessment, conducted by the Lopez Island Family Resource Center in 2017 indicates a shortage of 70-120 rental units on the island for our hardworking neighbors already living here.

The project is expected to be financed with a combination of a loan and donations from private individuals and foundations. To date, approximately $300,000 has been donated by local residents. Project design is expected to continue over the next six months. The Washington Community Reinvestment Association has indicated that it is very interested in being part of this project and supporting the San Juan County investment in affordable housing. Assuming that fundraising continues as planned, construction on the project could begin in 2020. Updates to the status of the project will continue to be provided to the community by Housing Lopez.

Housing Lopez was formed in 2018 as a 501(c)(3) organization, with the goal of providing affordable rental housing to low and moderate-income families on Lopez Island. The organization currently consists of seven board members and 10 advisors, all of whom have long-term commitments to the island. This group brings extensive experience in project development, rental-housing management, finance, construction and community outreach to assure project success. Names of those involved include John Taylor and Rip Van Camp, as co-chairmen; Linda Floodeen; Barbara Schultheiss; Jeff Daggett; Joan Egan; Richard Manderbach; Annie Albritton; Birte Falconer; Jim Ghiglione; Michele Heller; Michael Karp; Angie Lausch; Anne Trench; and Bob and Lois Wardell.

The lack of affordable rental housing has been jeopardizing community stability and economic viability for many years. The school district, health clinic, other health care providers and the fire department, to name a few, have all experienced problems in filling key positions. These problems consistently result from the severe shortage of affordable rental housing opportunities.

Housing Lopez is committed to helping solve this problem. The current project represents the first step in bringing some relief to this crisis. Housing Lopez is extremely grateful to San Juan County staff and council members who have worked diligently with Housing Lopez to make this site available to meet this critical housing need.

Housing Lopez continues to negotiate with potential land sellers so that it will be able to develop future projects which reach an even broader range of rental housing needs in our community.