Affordable housing development in works for Oak Harbor

Construction is slated to start on more than 50 new affordable housing units on Pioneer Way in Oak Harbor by the end of 2018.

Some of the units will be reserved for veterans and others on fixed income, such as seniors or those living on disability.

“We’re very happy we’re going to be building 51 apartments there,” said Sharon Lee, executive director of the Low Income Housing Institute, or LIHI.

“They’re going to have great views, be in downtown— very walkable.”

“We just love the location.”

Many of the units will be one bedroom, but there will also be two-bedroom units for families with children, Lee said.

The project is largely going to be funded with a $3-million award from the Washington State Department of Commerce, although the organization is seeking financing from other government agencies as well as private foundations.

“It’s not like we can get one giant bank loan and start construction,” said Lee.

“We’re serving people that can only afford a very low rent and they’re on a fixed income.”

“It’s a lot harder than developing market rate housing,” she later added.

For LIHI to receive tax credit on the project through the low-income housing tax credit program, it has to demonstrate the entire project is funded. The Board of Island County Commissioners recently signed a commitment to cover the $268,000 gap on the project. However, it is possible LIHI will be able to secure that funding from elsewhere and the county won’t have to release that money, said Joanne Pelant, Island County housing resource coordinator.

The developer, which owns about 2,000 affordable units in the Puget Sound area, became involved after Lee gave presentations to the North Whidbey Affordable Housing Task Force.

Lee discussed tiny homes as a short-term solution to homelessness with the group that comprised county and city officials as well as other housing stakeholders.

The owner of the Pioneer Way parcel of land was in the task force and talked to Lee about facilitating a more permanent housing solution.

The owner is currently under a contract agreement with LIHI to sell the parcel to the developer. The rent for the apartments will depend on individual’s income, Lee said.

The goal is for people to not spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing. For people who were previously homeless, the rent will be particularly low.

“We’ll make sure the rent is very affordable because we want them to exit homelessness,” she said.

The developer and county are working with Oak Harbor officials to find ways the city can support the development; LIHI already owns Fir Village in the city. The apartment complex features 29 units for between 30 to 40 percent of the area median income.

Another 51 units will not only help veterans and others on fixed income, but it will take some pressure off of market rate housing, said Pelant. A recent analysis of housing stock in the county found a significant gap in available units for households making less than $50,000 a year, taking into account projected population growth.

“It will be a huge asset for us,” said Pelant.

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