The Challenge of Housing For Young Lopezians

By Gretchen Wing

One comment Lopezians often hear from tourists (after “what time do the whales come by?”) is some version of, “Lopez is such a community!” The tone of enthusiasm indicates both surprise and appreciation that Lopez is more than a beautiful destination — it’s home, a haven, meeting all the needs of its inhabitants.

Of course, looking beneath the surface, clearly not all needs are met here. Medical trips off island are a fact of life, as well as errands like Costco runs. But now the concern is growing that Lopez can no longer supply that most basic of human needs: housing. Even for its homegrown community members.

Twin brothers Damian and Dalton Taylor were born on Lopez 21 years ago, attending and graduating from Lopez School, and involved in multiple aspects of the community. Their mother cooked meals at the school for years; their dad is an electrician; their older sister, now off island, is an EMT. Ties of family and friendship run strong and deep across the island.

The brothers are working now in two fields on which all Lopezians depend: Dalton is a plumber’s apprentice, Damian an electrician. “Basically all we do is work,” Damian said — perhaps joking, perhaps not. What is serious is their desire to move out of the family home, which, for four adults, begins to feel crowded. While the family gets along fine — “We like to go on family outings, car shows, concerts, race events,” Dalton said — he is also ready to “get out on my own and start my own life.”

Community land trust housing is the answer Damian and Dalton are now considering. Since nothing on the rental market is available in Damian’s price range, he said, “It’s find a place or take my skills that I’ve learned over the years and move elsewhere.”

The Dalton brothers are looking for the opportunity Catalina Kohring found at community land trust neighborhood Common Ground. Kohring’s family moved to Lopez when she was 7. When her daughter Natalya was born in 2010, Kohring said, “I wanted to raise her in the place I grew up.”

Kohring heard about Common Ground from her dad, Chuck Kohring, who worked on the first houses there. She began by renting, still worried about being able to stay on Lopez. But then new construction began, and Kohring was able to build her very own cottage. “It was great timing,” she said. “My dad helped me put in my sweat equity hours,” which Lopez Community Land Trust requires. For a total of 500 hours, Kohring and her volunteer work partners earned her home.

“I learned how to use a hammer, chop saw and nail gun,” she said, “And we did simple carpentry like put on siding… paint, caulk windows, help put in insulation, drywall and basically just assist with whatever needed to be done.”

The Kohrings find a good balance of community and privacy at Common Ground. Says Kohring, “You can be quiet or social. There are lots of gardens, families and animals. Neighbors look out for each other.” Kohring’s cottage is modest, 500 square feet, but with a high ceiling and big windows, so it doesn’t feel boxed in. A half-spiral staircase leads up to Natalya’s loft. The front yard is where Kohring gardens, and in the backyard she and Natalya enjoy a bunny hutch and a swing set, built by Chuck.

This sense of comfort is vital because, like many Lopezians, Kohring works several jobs. During the school year, she assistant-teaches at Lopez Children’s Center; summers, she’s been working at a camp with the Family Resource Center and Lopez Library. Then there’s her employment at the Fudge Factory, and various childcare and house cleaning jobs.

Kohring also appreciates the impact affordable housing has had on her life with her daughter.

“I love the feeling that, as long as I want to live here, I will never have to move again,” she said. “That peace of mind is freeing. I know a lot of islanders are not as lucky, and I am very grateful.”

Sandy Bishop of LCLT notes that, while the trust owns enough land in the Lopez Village Urban Growth Area to build more homes, financial limitations prevent it from meeting the need fast enough.

“The three homes we are building now are all spoken for,” she said. “The earliest we can start another project would be at least one to two years because it takes so long to piece the financing together.”

But when the money is there, young, hardworking Lopezians like the Dalton brothers will be ready to pitch in and secure themselves a place on Lopez for years to come.