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Oak Harbor moves on affordable housing

A Jan. 26 deadline for Washington State Community Trade and Economic Development funds added a sense of urgency to two bills before Oak Harbor City Council Tuesday, the passage of which marked a major step forward in the council’s effort to pursue affordable housing.

Councilwoman Beth Munns showed her approval of the decisions with an enthusiastic, “Go for it!”

Council’s first vote deemed a 3.29 parcel of land “surplus.” The second decision authorized the mayor to work with the Housing Authority of Snohomish County to use the proceeds of the surplus land sale to establish an affordable housing project on the north end of Whidbey Island.

Although the need isn’t new, the problem rose to the forefront of the city’s concerns this fall after a dozen residents of Evergreen mobile home park complained they may be forced to move should its zoning change. Their concern was compounded by a lack of available spaces to move if the park does close.

In the last several years one mobile home park closed on North Whidbey and three more currently have development proposals associated with the property, according to Steve Powers, Development Services director.

In line with his campaign promise, Slowik had already started the city’s push to include affordable housing. Two months after taking office in Jan. 2008, Slowik met with Steve Gulliford, former executive director of the Island County Housing Authority.

Gulliford and City Attorney Margery Hite both suggested the mayor contact the Housing Authority of Snohomish County because the organization has extensive experience with the type of project Oak Harbor hopes to develop.

The need for affordable housing again surfaced in December as Evergreen residents’ fears materialized following council’s vote to rezone the mobile home park land to commercial as part of a package of amendments to the Oak Harbor Comprehensive Plan.

Slowik publicly vowed to look out for the seniors. In a series of votes at the most recent city council meeting, council deemed a 3.29 parcel of land “surplus,” and authorized the mayor to work with HASCO to use the proceeds of that land to establish an affordable housing project.

“We found an avenue where we could act,” he said of the grant opportunity

Now the project hinges on the city’s ability to secure grant funds to make up the difference.

A Jan. 26 deadline for Community Trade and Economic Development funds has city staff working with HASCO to complete and submit an application for the spring round of grant awards.

The deadline doesn’t faze Slowik. In anticipation of the council’s vote, HASCO got a head start on the application, he said, adding that the organization has a lot of experience with this process.

Four members of HASCO, Hite, Powers and Slowik met Wednesday for a tour of the city and possible housing sites in what the mayor called “a good working meeting.”

Properties up for consideration must meet a number or criteria including proximity to public transportation, downtown and city services. Preferably, the land will be clear of trees and near water, sewer and electrical hookups, which will help keep costs down, Slowik said.

The project will likely encompass housing for all ages, he said, not just seniors.

“I’m really concerned about young families,” he said. “Military, teachers, firefighters and others in public service. Those are areas we have got to work on.”

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