Nonprofit trust will likely adopt model used in other communities
By Marcy Stamper
The creation of a new nonprofit housing trust brings the Methow Valley one step closer to solving a long-standing problem, where many people — even those working full time — cannot find affordable housing because housing is expensive and there is very little available.
The Methow Housing Trust was launched last week to work toward creating housing targeted at people earning between $20,000 and $40,000, said Bill Pope, president of the new trust’s board of directors. The trust will most likely follow a model used by other housing trusts in the state and country, in which the trust owns the underlying property and sells a house with restrictions on resale price so that the home remains affordable if an owner decides to sell, said Pope.
While it is too early to say whether the trust would build from scratch or renovate existing structures, the organization has been looking at larger pieces of land with city services where it could create 15 to 20 houses, said Pope. By retaining ownership of the land, the trust keeps property taxes lower for the homeowner, said Pope. Their research found that people in their target population are interested in buying their own home.
While the housing will be subsidized in some way to keep it affordable, it will be different from the approach used by agencies such as the Housing Authority of Okanogan County, which provides vouchers to help with rent, generally for people who need more financial assistance, said Pope.
“We would like to think we could start the project within six months, and then start building houses within a year,” said Pope. But, given the overall challenges to building in the Methow Valley, including weather and contractors’ schedules, Pope predicted that having actual places to sell this year is “highly unlikely.”
“Initially, probably the demand is going to exceed the supply, and we’ll have to figure out a way to triage those choices,” said Pope. “Still, it would be a nice problem to have, since where we are now is little to no housing for people in this market.”
While the nonprofit housing trust and its 10-member board are new, about 30 people have been working in committees on the issue since October, said Pope.
The housing committee is studying the feasibility of various locations and talking to towns about their requirements to get a sense of the cost of utilities, roads and other infrastructure, said Pope.
The policy committee has been exploring different eligibility guidelines and ways of identifying priority populations for the housing, said Pope.
The housing trust has an operating budget for at least one year from money raised by Methow Valley Long Term Recovery, said Jason Paulsen, president of the recovery group. In its strategic planning last year, the long-term recovery group made affordable housing its primary focus, so all recent fundraising efforts have been geared toward this goal, said Paulsen. The group has raised $115,000 from private donors to support the new housing trust, including an executive director and support staff.
That money will also support a fundraising campaign for actual land acquisition and building costs, said Paulsen. Trust leaders have been talking with prospective donors and believe they know people interested in supporting the creation of affordable housing, said Pope.
‘Calling out the problem’
The housing trust grows out of a housing assessment commissioned by the long-term recovery group last year. That study found that, while on the surface the Methow Valley has plenty of housing stock, 41 percent of those approximately 5,000 units are occupied only seasonally. In fact, there are actually nine more housing units used only seasonally than occupied full-time by their owners (2,011 versus 2,002). Of the remaining 1,000 units, fewer than 300 — total — are vacant and available for rent or for sale.
The study also found that 20 percent of people put more than half their income toward housing. That’s a big increase since 2000, when about half of Methow households spent less than 20 percent of their income on housing.
“Everyone knew this was a problem, but it was anecdotal evidence,” said Paulsen. With the housing assessment, they were able to “call out the problem and propose reasonable solutions to move to the action phase,” he said.
“After so many years of people wanting to start this conversation, we finally have the momentum to start an organization and address this challenge,” said Paulsen. “I’m excited about the diversity of the group and the recognition that housing ties into the local economy — into kids feeling safe and stable, and employers feeling they can expand and have a work force,” he said.
The trust is filing with the IRS for status as a 501(c)(3) charitable organization, which will allow contributions to be tax-deductible. The board plans to begin recruiting an executive director, said Pope.
The Methow Housing Trust will be a membership organization with $20 annual dues, but anyone — member or not — is welcome to attend the organization’s board meetings. The board meets on the first Thursday of the month at 4:30 p.m. at the Okanogan County Electric Cooperative, so the next meeting is April 6.
The housing trust also welcomes volunteers. To volunteer or for more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org.