Housing Lopez receives two new grants

Submitted by Melora Hiller.

In October, both Washington State and San Juan County announced significant grants to Housing Lopez, a local 501(3)c organization, that allows it to jump start development of a 15-unit affordable rental project at the corner of Weeks and Fisherman Bay Road. These 15-units are Phase One of the approximately 45-unit Village North affordable rental community expected to be constructed over the next 6-10 years. The $400,000 Washington State Department of Commerce award, one of twelve grants given state wide, will pay water, sewer, and stormwater infrastructure costs for Village North.

A $616,252 San Juan County award from Real Estate Excise Tax (REET) is the second grant from the county to Housing Lopez in support of affordable rentals on Lopez. In addition to the grant, the County Council also asked for a review of REET revenue in early spring of 2023, with an eye to awarding supplemental funding for Phase 1 of Village North, yet more promising news.

Village North is a follow-up to the successful Housing Lopez initial project, the six FishBay cottages just off Fisherman Bay Road. These cottages, finished in November, 2021 are a fully rented, thriving mini-community in Lopez Village. The success of FishBay demonstrated clearly to government and private funders that Housing Lopez can make affordable rental housing on Lopez happen.

With over $1 million in state and local government funding in hand, as well as continuing, generous support from local donors, Housing Lopez is confidently proceeding with finalizing Village North, Phase 1, site plans and submitting permitting applications. They hope to begin construction in late 2023 or early 2024.

When completed, over the next six to ten years, Village North will provide approximately 40-45 new affordable rental units in the Village on a 9.8-acre parcel that extends along Weeks Road from Fisherman Bay Road to just past the Post Office. The new community will be clustered along Weeks Road, allowing HL to preserve and enhance the extensive wetlands on the north side of the parcel. Tentative plans also call for the proposed Lopez Food Center to bring their operations to the parcel closest to the Lopez Island Family Resource Center.

Phase 1 will include mix of studios, one- and two-bedroom units and will address Lopez’s most pressing need, housing for low- to moderate-income residents, defined as those at 30 to 115% of Area Median Income (AMI). Potential renters who fall in this category will likely include working people, either single or with families, seniors, people with disabilities, and some who are currently homeless or at risk of becoming so.

A 2022 study commissioned by Housing Lopez revealed that behind its beautiful landscapes and wonderful community, Lopez struggles with a housing crisis. More than 450 Lopez households earn less than 60% of the median income for our area. Within this income category, 80% are small, one- or two-person households that either rent or own their home. The assessment identified 227 senior homeowners who have difficulty maintaining their homes and reports that 40% (137) of Lopez households that rent are paying more than a third of their income on housing. Fellow Lopezians in these situations may have trouble covering basic needs like food, childcare, transportation, and health care. In the official terms of needs assessments, they are “housing cost-burdened.”

The mission of Housing Lopez, formed in 2018, as a 501(c)3 organization, is to help Lopez create enough affordable rental housing to meet the community’s needs. Lack of such housing has jeopardized community stability and economic viability for many years and the pandemic intensified the already existing crisis. The school district, health clinic, other health care providers, fire department, and retail/service community, to name a few, have all experienced problems in filling key positions because of the dearth of affordable rentals here on Lopez. Housing Lopez, with the help of fellow islanders and local, county, and state government, is committed to solving this problem.