San Juan County Council roundup on housing, property sales

Rental assistance

Low-income seniors and disabled islanders received assistance from county government on Tuesday, March 27, as the council voted unanimously to budget $55,015 for rental help.

The fund is for those who have an extremely low income, according to Ryan Page, San Juan County Affordable Housing coordinator.

The program, Senior and Disabled Rental Subsidies, began in 2009 when the council adopted a resolution to provide rental assistance to extremely low-income seniors as part of the county’s homeless prevention plan, Page explained in his memo to the council. Under state law, RCW 36.22.179, funds charged by county auditors for recording documents and other similar services will be used to implement a homeless housing plan. The Senior and Disabled Rental Subsidy Fund is a part of San Juan County’s homeless housing plan.

This year, the San Juan County Housing Bank Commission solicited applications for rental subsidies, and received applications from OPAL (Of People and Land) Community Land Trust on Orcas; Friday Harbor Village Apartments on San Juan Island; Lopez Community Apartments on Lopez; and Ad-West Realty for tenants on both San Juan and Orcas. Each application was reviewed by the commission, which determined that all applicants were either 62 or older, or disabled and met the extremely low annual income. In San Juan County, extremely low income means approximately $14,250 a year. The total from these requests amounted to $55,015.

Councilman Rick Hughes asked if the Orcas Longhouse had applied. Page answered they had, under the business name of Ad-West Realty, and they have the biggest pool of applicants to the program on Orcas.

After some discussion by the council, including clarifying that the funds from the program can roll over into the following year if not fully used, the council voted unanimously to approve the senior and rental subsidy as recommended by the housing bank commission.

“We want to make sure this program is fully utilized,” Page said, noting that there are likely more islanders who could benefit from the funds. “There is potential to utilize it much more.”

Argyle sale forges ahead

The sale of 1.75 acres on Argyle Avenue, currently owned by the San Juan County Land Bank, moved forward on March 27 when the county council unanimously approved authorizing the sale of the lot. The property was assessed in October at $725,000, and the sale is contingent on meeting a historical preservation deed.

“The historical preservation deed is already crafted and ready,” said San Juan County Deputy Prosecutor Jonathan Cain.

This deed ensures that the purchaser must meet the town’s historical requirements for the development, and match the character of the neighborhood, according to Lincoln Bormann, land bank executive director.

There is at least one potential buyer, the owner of JAC LLC, which owns multiple properties in Friday Harbor. Islander Lynn Danaher also previously made an offer, which has since expired. Danaher’s bid included supplying long-term affordable rentals, as well as commercial space.

“The council will meet again to consider proposals and select a buyer,” Bormann said, adding that the meeting has yet to be scheduled.

For more information, see the Journal article “San Juan County staff plans to secure affordable housing in town” published last September.

Lopez affordable housing project

The county is considering selling 2/5 of an acre near Lopez Village on Fisherman Bay Road, currently owned by San Juan County Public Works, to develop the lot into affordable housing. The plan includes creating long-term rental units, with restrictions to ensure affordability requirements are maintained for 99 years.

“It’s an ambitious schedule,” said Mark Tompkins, director of health and community services, of the project.

The tight and heavy schedule includes a second request for proposals and resolution to the county council on April 10, getting the property appraised as well as having two public hearings before the project is complete.

The first public hearing at 9:15 a.m. on April 24 will include the council’s decision on whether to sell the lot. An appraisal should be done in early May, Tompkins said, and the second public hearing will be scheduled after the county receives the appraisal.

Once the sale is closed, the developer, according to the county council staff report, would be required to break ground on the project within 12 months. That deadline may be changed as there was a concern by council and county staff that it may not provide sufficient time for the developer to acquire the necessary permits. When the county determines a buyer, there will be another public hearing, giving islanders a chance to participate and voice their opinions about prospective developers.

“A second public hearing isn’t really necessary, but we are hoping to be more open and transparent,” Tompkins said. The council approved the April 24 public hearing and agreed to schedule a second public hearing later.