Winthrop, Twisp sites will follow land-trust model
By Marcy Stamper
The Methow Housing Trust took another tangible step toward creating affordable housing throughout the valley with the purchase of a 7.9-acre parcel in Winthrop that can accommodate 25 or more units.
Just one month after buying a smaller lot in Twisp, the trust purchased the Winthrop parcel, on Highway 20 near the Cascade Condominiums, in mid-September.
The Winthrop parcel has a flat area above the highway where houses would be built, with a sloping, forested strip that will provide a buffer between the residences and the roadway and be preserved as open space, according to Danica Ready, the trust’s executive director. The parcel, which is zoned for mixed residential use, offers multiple options for laying out the neighborhood.
The Winthrop land is also within easy walking distance of the Evergreen IGA, the post office and the Confluence Clinic, and is on the TranGO bus route.
The Winthrop parcel cost $233,000. The trust put down $5,000 in earnest money but did not have to make a down payment, said Ready.
Unlike for the Twisp property, for which the trust received an anonymous grant to cover the $311,000 purchase price, the trust obtained two short-term loans to buy the Winthrop parcel.
Borrowing money “was a difficult decision that required the board to balance the current financial needs of the organization (e.g., the costs to develop the Twisp property and daily operations) with our long-term goal of serving housing needs in both towns,” Bill Pope, president of the trust’s board, said in a statement about the purchase.
But given the rapid rate of change in the Methow’s real estate market and the scarcity of suitable properties, the board believed it was important to act on the opportunity right away, said John Sunderland, chair of the trust’s housing feasibility committee. The size and location made it an ideal fit, according to a statement about the purchase.
The trust will seek funding from other sources to replace the loans, said Pope.
The trust intends to focus on developing the Twisp property first, building about five houses a year starting in 2018. The trust anticipates constructing 15 homes on that site, said Ready.
“We know it will be important to focus on one project at a time, learn from that process and the people we are serving, and then refine as we move forward,” she said.
“By the time we begin to plan the Winthrop property in earnest, we expect to have a list of eligible applicants that will help us to define the need and preferences for that neighborhood,” said Ready.
The trust is following the community-land-trust model, where the trust owns the land and sells houses, leasing the land the houses sit on to the homeowner.
Based on a housing-needs assessment conducted last year, the trust expects to create 1,000-square-foot houses with two or three bedrooms that will be affordable for people earning from 60 to 100 percent of the Okanogan County median income of about $40,000 (depending on household size), said Ready. The aim is to bridge the gap between the rising cost of housing in the Methow and the modest wages many people here live on, she said.
To keep the houses affordable, the maximum increase in resale price will be capped for perpetuity at 1.5 percent.
Methow Housing Trust is a membership-based, tax-deductible nonprofit; people can join for $20. For more information, visit methowhousingtrust.org.