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Saratoga Community Housing builds affordable communities

With rural sprawl and development making headlines, Sandra Stipe, executive director of Saratoga Community Housing, wants to spread a different message about growth and development.

“As growth and change are bound to happen, perhaps we should plan for stability and sustainability within our communities,” she said. “Thoughtfully planned communities can reduce the impact of growth and preserve the beautiful rural character of

Whidbey.”

Next Thursday, Whidbey Islanders are invited to learn about a new way of thinking about affordable housing on Whidbey. During a 6:30 p.m. Dec. 13 meeting at the Bayview Cash Store, Stipe and other representatives from Saratoga Community Housing — such as board president Steve Gulliford and Oak Harbor board representative Rob Voigt — will introduce Whidbey to their dream.

“We want to bring the community into the conversation about inclusive housing strategies and get them on board supporting our mission,” Stipe said.

That mission is stewardship of the land while also building affordable communities for generations to come.

“It’s proven that families that own their home have kids who do better at school and parents that vote,” Stipe said. “It’s better for the community.”

When out spreading the word of her organization, Stipe often asks people who have lived in the island for at least two years, “Could you afford to buy your same home at the current market price? Could your children buy your home?” There’s always a sea of shaking heads in the crowd.

“The reality is that the price of the average single family home is moving further and further out of reach of the typical wage-earning family,” she said. “The affordability gap is getting larger and larger and our teachers, police officers, healthcare workers and young

families are having a tough time establishing homes here.”

With lower paying labor and service jobs in constant demand, Stipe said something needs to be done to address the housing needs of these people.

“We all go out to restaurants and get our groceries checked out, but giving people a place to live that they can afford is the only way they’ll put down roots.”

Saratoga Community Housing will follow the national land trust model in which the homeowner purchases only the home. The organization owns the land and leases it to the homeowners, giving them full use of the land through renewable and inheritable lease. The overall cost is substantially lower than market price. If the homeowner ever wants to sell the home they must sell it to another qualified buyer at a predetermined formula that keeps the home affordable.

The housing communities will likely be cottage style homes, Stipe said, modest square-footage, clustered in a thoughtful community landscape design.

The organization is eager to get the community’s construction ideas built, but until land is acquired those ideas remain only on paper. That is why the organization is working to grow its membership and increase awareness.

Stipe said she looks toward community land trusts such as OPAL on Orcas Island with admiration.

“I believe in this and I’m passionate about this, seeing what they have done on Orcas makes me want it to work here and I know it will,” Stipe said.

Saratoga Community Housing will not only work to complete its own housing projects, but it also plans to partner with Habitat for Humanity.

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