Affordable Housing for Oak Harbor?

Loss of affordable housing in Oak Harbor will make life increasingly difficult for low and fixed income residents and will force these people to draw from government resources, placing a higher demand on taxpayers for support.

These predictions come from Gary Robinson, a resident of Evergreen mobile home park. He is concerned that he may be forced to move pending a change to the city’s comprehensive plan amendment, which would allow property owner Sean Byrne to develop the mobile home park into a retail space.

Byrne has every right to do what he wants with his property; however, the residents are concerned about the uncertainties. Evergreen residents are well into retirement age and moving their homes would be difficult and costly.

And Byrne said he is willing to help the Evergreen residents.

“I am paying experts, and working with the mayor and council to ease costs to relocate folks. We are trying for state funded grants ... I have even said publicly that I am ready to write personal checks to help,” Byrne wrote in a letter to the News-Times.

For those who can move their homes, there is a diminishing number of mobile home parks on the island and across the state. Some of the mobiles are too old to be moved, forcing the owners to search for an entirely new place to live.

According to Ann Schroeder-Osterberg, director of development for the Housing Authority of Snohomish County, there were 14 manufactured housing communities in 2007. Since then, two have closed and another, referring to Evergreen, is threatened to close, she said.

Statewide, 18 manufactured communities closed in 2007, followed by another 16 in 2008, she said.

Recognizing the community’s concern over the lack of affordable housing on the island, Mayor Jim Slowik invited the Snohomish Housing Authority to make a presentation about the manufactured housing communities in their county.

“Home ownership is one of the basic means for a family,” Schroeder-Osterberg said, noting that people of all ages need affordable housing, not just seniors.

“Homeownership provides stability for communities,” she said.

The Snohomish Housing Authority purchased property, in some cases with existing manufactured homes. In other cases, the housing authority assembled new manufactured homes which were purchased by people who qualified for affordable housing.

Rent paid by the homeowners goes to pay for water, sewer, utilities and debt the housing authority accrued during the community’s development.

“These are real communities that are part of the Oak Harbor community,” she said.

Presently, Oak Harbor has land that could be contributed or sold for a low income housing development, said Schroeder-Osterberg. The property could accommodate about 40 homes, and would most likely be used for a 55 and up community.

Councilman Jim Campbell appeared cautious of the proposal.

“You guys are making it sound easy, but I know it’s not,” he said of the development and financing of such a project.

Councilman Rick Almberg echoed Campbell’s apprehension.

“Providing assistance bothers me,” he said, because it implies that the city will do more than just donate the land.

Bob David, the executive director for the Snohomish County Housing Authority, assured Almberg that the term “assistance” only refers to the city’s donation of land and funding provided by the state.

Since the community would likely be managed by a nonprofit, the operating costs would be lower and the land would be exempt from property tax.

The presentation was just an introduction of the idea of affordable housing in Oak Harbor, said Slowik, adding that the topic has been bounced around for several years.

The possible comprehensive plan amendment, which would allow for the development of the land, and subsequent loss of the Evergreen mobile home park was just one factor in the community that moved the mayor to coordinate the Housing Authority presentation.

Times are tough for extra spending, but it’s important to take care of community needs, the mayor said.

“I know the city cannot afford much. We are a city of 23,000,” he said, adding that he has spoken with Gov. Chris Gregoire and that she is enthusiastic to work with Oak Harbor on the possible addition of more affordable housing.

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