What are we going to do about affordable housing?

Submitted by Lopez Community Land Trust

A January 2017 Point in Time Homeless Count revealed that Lopez has an estimated 101 homeless people, roughly 4 percent of our population of 2,400. The Lopez Island Family Resource Center conducted the count and estimated that they were able to capture about 50 percent of the homeless population in that count.

Home prices continue to rise while wages remain stagnant. A recent report by Realtor.com revealed that the priciest 10 percent of San Juan County’s real estate market rose faster than any other U.S. county. According to the State of Washington and Counties Housing Market Snapshot, prepared by the Runstad Center for Real Estate Studies, just 37.5 percent of first-time homebuyers can find a home they can afford in this county. This is the lowest in the state.

The average for all 39 counties in Washington state is 71.4 percent. The median home value in San Juan County is $453,100. Only King County records a higher median home value. Back in 2014 the same report showed that 47.3 percent of first-time home buyers could access a home and the median home value was reported at $391,700

Lopez Community Land Trust (LCLT) provides permanently affordable housing for 141 people (6 percent of the population and 10 percent of school-age children) in 42 homes that have been developed over a 25-year period. According to San Juan County GIS services, there are 2,176 homes on Lopez Island – almost one home per resident, but Lopez has a full-time occupancy rate of just 56 percent. Lopez Island isn’t experiencing a lack of housing stock. We are experiencing a lack of access to affordable housing. LCLT has developed 3.5 percent of the 1,200 full-time housing stock on Lopez. LCLT removes land from the speculative market. Those who live in co-op homes on LCLT ground are assured of permanently affordable homes. LCLT provides co-op homebuyers with financial counseling, education about living within budgets and construction training. The homes include passive solar, solar electric and other sustainable features that reduce monthly operational costs.

In 25 years, LCLT has gained a lot of experience. We own more land within the Village Urban Growth Area, a class-A water system and the ability to develop more housing, but the gap between what it costs to build and what working people can afford to pay is over $100,000. The gap requires that LCLT raise $1 million for every 10 homes we develop. If LCLT had access to funds at 1 percent interest we could develop more housing.

What are we going to do about affordable housing? Let’s step up our efforts and put our minds together so that we can discover ways to continue to tackle this issue and strengthen our island community.