In response to the growing housing crisis in Island County, a South Whidbey nonprofit organization has stepped up to the plate and formed a working group to address this need.
Since April, the group convened by Goosefoot Community Fund has been meeting to discuss possible solutions. One point of interest that has been identified is a gap in workforce housing for renters making less than 80% of area median income in Island County.
“That’s a hard nut to crack,” Goosefoot Finance Director Rose Hughes said. “And there aren’t a lot of other organizations focusing on that particular challenge, and that’s what this organization is there for.”
The new housing organization will establish itself under Goosefoot’s fiscal sponsorship. Eventually, it will become an independent entity with some continued financial and staff support from Goosefoot.
About half of the new group’s current members are, or have been, involved with Goosefoot in some way. Members reside on Central and South Whidbey and they have expertise in affordable housing, development, financing, construction management and fundraising.
So far, the group has focused its energy on a project in Langley. It has engaged in an initial feasibility study to see how the city’s new multifamily infill code applies to the property, which is located at Second Street and DeBruyn Avenue. JR and Cally Fulton approached Goosefoot in early 2022, offering to sell the two lots.
Under the current code, 12 to 15 units of 2- to 3-bedroom apartments in three buildings are allowed between the two parcels of land.
Hughes said the goal of the working group is to develop a model process for how to assess the feasibility of any project, which will differ from site to site.
“Rural areas, it’s now being recognized, have as much of an affordable housing problem as suburban and urban areas do and we have fewer tools in terms of these financing mechanisms,” she said.
Although it isn’t seeking to duplicate any one program, Goosefoot has been researching similar housing organizations around the area and taken some inspiration from Housing Lopez, a grassroots effort to house the working people of Lopez Island. Housing Lopez has completed six rental units for people making between 30 to 115% of area median income, and has 45 more in the pipeline.
“That’s an example of a small island community showing that it can be done,” Hughes said.
Previously, Goosefoot worked with a group of Bayview Rural Area of Intensive Development, or RAID, landowners to look at the possibility of building affordable multi-family housing in the area near Highway 525. The Bayview project is where the Fultons first got involved with Goosefoot.
“While we’d like to continue exploring what we can do in the Bayview RAID, we’ve got this property in Langley where we have a lot already in place,” said Goosefoot Executive Director Sandy Whiting.
Hughes explained that the Langley parcels are pretty much ready to go, since they are located on a relatively flat site with no steep slopes, wetlands or concerns with critical areas or significant tree coverage.
“We feel confident that we will come up with site-appropriate solutions to be able to build housing affordably in the RAID,” she said.