County awards land for affordable housing

A large affordable housing project could be built on property currently owned by Island County.

If all goes well, a Bellevue affordable housing developer will build a large affordable housing project on property currently owned by Island County on the north end of Oak Harbor.

Island County commissioners approved a letter Tuesday that awards Shelter Resources Inc. a parcel of land at 820 North Oak Harbor Street for building mixed-income affordable housing units.

An estimated 80 units will be built on the property, which is next to the county’s new stabilization center.

The commissioners chose Shelter Resources after a request-for-qualifications process. The Housing Advisory Board and Human Services staff reviewed the applicants and recommended the company.

The award letter specifies conditions that come with the property. Shelter Resources must create the greatest possible number of affordable units; ensure permanent affordability; create the greatest possible number of supportive housing units while using a mixed-income model that facilitates social stability; create onsite amenities and spaces for services and recreation; create a robust on-site social service plan; and leverage other funding resources.

The letter states that the units will have “a level of affordability” not to exceed 80% of the area median income. The median hourly wage in the county in 2020 was $23.32, according to the state.

Matt Chantry of Shelter Resources said it’s exciting to see the county make this kind of investment in affordable housing, one of the toughest issues facing the county.

“It’s clear that the commissioners care about this community and really want to do some good,” he said.

Chantry explained that this type of public-private partnership isn’t unusual, with counties and cities across the country donating surplus land to encourage affordable housing. In addition, jurisdictions often expedite permit reviews and waive fees to help with feasibility, he said.

Indeed, he said, financing affordable housing projects can be quite a complicated process. Developers can seek funding from a wide variety of competitive government funding sources on the federal, state, county and municipal level.

For example, Cambridge Cove, a senior independent living community, was built in 1991 utilizing a federal program administered through USDA Rural Development that was designed to encourage housing development in rural America, according to Chantry.

Chantry said he hopes that construction may begin in the late summer of 2023.