Spokane nonprofit promises earlier local involvement in future

By Ann McCreary

Spokane Housing Ventures plans to seek funding to develop new affordable multifamily rental units in the Methow Valley, officials of the nonprofit organization said last week.

A proposal to purchase and renovate the Idle-A-While Motel in Twisp into affordable housing came “really close” to being funded last December, said Fred Peck, executive director of Spokane Housing Ventures. Because funding was not granted, however, that idea has been dropped and Spokane Housing Ventures has begun looking for other property in the Methow Valley.

Photo by Ann McCreary
Dave Roberts, senior developer for Spokane Housing Ventures, answered questions about affordable housing during a meeting with community members in Twisp on Feb. 2.

But Peck and Dave Roberts, senior developer for Spokane Housing Ventures, said they learned a lesson after their foray last year into trying to develop housing for people with limited incomes in the Methow Valley. At a meeting attended by about 30 community members on Friday (Feb. 2), Peck and Roberts said they would work to involve the community as development plans move forward.

“What we learned from that experience is that the Town of Twisp would like to be involved earlier in the process, from the conceptual phase on,” Peck said. “We learned that this community wants to be in at the front end … and we want that input at the front,” he said.

Peck and Roberts held a meeting in Twisp on Nov. 30 to inform community members of the proposed purchase and renovation of the Idle-A-While Motel. That proposal took some residents and local elected officials by surprise, however, especially since the deal to buy the property needed to be closed before the end of the year.

During that meeting, several people — including two Twisp Council members — said they wanted more information and time to evaluate the project before it moved forward. Town officials and some business owners also expressed concern about the prospect of changing the zoning of the motel property from commercial to residential, which would have been required for the project to move forward.

Although funding for that project was not granted, the application got positive feedback from the Federal Home Loan Bank, and that will help Spokane Housing Ventures in applying for a new project, Peck said last week. The Federal Home Loan Bank is a cooperative of financial institutions that support affordable housing programs.

“It was a good opportunity to learn what the Federal Home Loan Bank was looking for and what the community interests are,” Peck said.

Spokane Housing Ventures is a Spokane-based nonprofit organization that develops and manages housing for people with limited incomes around Washington, including two apartment complexes in the Methow Valley — Riverview Apartments in Twisp and Cedarwood Apartments in Winthrop.

Documented need

Spokane Housing Ventures is interested in developing more units in the Methow Valley to address a shortage of affordable rental housing, which was documented in a 2016 housing assessment, Peck said. Expanding in the Methow Valley makes sense from a business standpoint because the manager of Cedarwood and Riverview apartments could also manage an additional apartment complex, he said.

At last week’s meeting at the Methow Valley Community Center, Peck and Roberts said they had looked at several properties with an eye to new construction or renovation, although they did not specify which properties were being considered.

Based on feedback from the Federal Home Loan Bank, Spokane Housing Ventures is considering developments of apartment complexes with 24 units or less, and is looking at parcels of about 1.5 acres that would be appropriate for that type of development, Peck said. Some of the properties are within walking distance of Twisp or Winthrop town centers, he said.

To apply for funding from the Federal Home Loan Bank, Spokane Housing Ventures must submit a “pre-application” by the end of February and a full application in May, Roberts said.

“We’ll get to work but we must pull together a lot of information in a short time frame,” Roberts said this week. “We spent some quality time with our broker in the Methow Valley viewing and discussing candidate sites for an affordable housing development. We don’t have a property under contract at this time, but we don’t have to for a pre-application.”

“Regardless, for the endeavor to be worthwhile, it will be best if we submit an application with regard to a specific site and do our best to accurately forecast costs, revenues, expenses and commitments that we will make for a proposed project there,” Roberts said.

“It’s an art, not a science. Perhaps we’ll choose to focus on a property within the next week, with the perspective that it can blossom into a genuine development by the time we get to full application time in May,” he said.

Danica Ready, executive director of the Methow Housing Trust, said Spokane Housing Ventures offers an opportunity to expand affordable housing options in the Methow Valley. The Methow Housing Trust, created last year, is developing homes for purchase by people with limited incomes, while Spokane Housing Ventures has experience in financing and developing housing that could help fill the need for more affordable rental units, she said at last week’s meeting.

There is a continuum of need for housing in the Methow Valley, including crisis housing, transitional housing, low-income housing and subsidized homeownership, Ready said. “Spokane Housing Ventures brings funding capacity to our community,” she said. “The funding is hard to digest, but the point is, we can’t access that money currently without a partner.”

Step to ownership

For many people, subsidized rental housing offers residents a chance to become financially stable and ultimately move into owning a home, Peck said.

Twisp Mayor Soo Ing-Moody asked whether income guidelines and other requirements for the affordable housing development would adhere to federal Housing and Urban Development criteria. Roberts said most funding stipulates that units be designated for people with certain incomes, people with disabilities, or seniors following federal guidelines.

At the Cedarwood and Riverview apartment complexes, which were built with federal rural development funds, all of the 32 units have rental subsidies to make them affordable, said manager Karie Elsasser.

One local resident said he was “concerned you might be bringing undesirables into the community” by developing housing for people with limited incomes.

“We screen our applicants just like a market rate operation,” Roberts said. “If you drive by Riverview or Cedarwood you wouldn’t know it was affordable housing.”

Bill Miller, a resident of Riverview Apartments in Twisp, said he and his wife moved there after the home they were renting in Twisp was put up for sale.

“We couldn’t find anything in our budget. We’re retired and live on our social security. I’ve been there [at Riverview] over a year. They are some of the nicest people I’ve met. These are the best-screened properties,” Miller said.

Nancy Nash-Mendez, executive director of Okanogan Housing Authority, said she has seen similar fears among Okanogan Valley residents about affordable housing attracting people from outside the area. “Statistically we see the people there [in affordable housing] already lived in the Omak-Okanogan area,” she said.

Nash-Mendez said there are 300 people in the county on a waiting list for federal rental assistance vouchers, which allow renters to pay 30 percent of their adjusted income at any privately owned rental unit — such as an apartment, house or mobile home — with a landlord who accepts the vouchers.

Even when those vouchers have become available to Methow Valley residents, they have been stymied by the lack of rental units. “The bulk of vouchers released in the Methow Valley were not used because they could not find a rental,” Nash-Mendez said. “The way to go is to develop housing.”

Funders of affordable housing developments “look for community support” in considering whether to grant funds, Roberts said at last week’s meeting. He said before submitting a final application for funding in May, Spokane Housing Ventures would plan to host a charrette — a workshop-style meeting that invites community members and local officials to meet with developers to consider the development proposal.

“We felt welcomed by community members and stakeholders and we’ll keep people informed if we get traction with a viable opportunity,” Roberts said this week.