First new homes for Methow Housing Trust coming soon
By Marcy Stamper
Nine homes that are affordable for ordinary working people in the Methow Valley will be ready to people to move into next year, some as early as the first quarter.
The homes, five in Twisp and four in Mazama, are part of the Methow Housing Trust’s mission to build homes that people earning 60 to 100 percent of the area median income can buy.
The housing trust expects to break ground on the Canyon Street Neighborhood in Twisp in May, where the trust plans two- and three-bedroom homes, each with a small fenced yard, outdoor storage, and its own parking, according to Danica Ready, executive director of the housing trust. There will be a common landscaped area on the property, which is across from the Whispering Rivers apartment complex and near the Methow River.
The McKinney Ridge Neighborhood in Mazama will have similar design values and pricing, but it’s being developed independently. Once the homes are constructed and applicants are matched with the homes, the houses will be donated to the trust to manage like their other neighborhoods, said Ready.
McKinney Ridge is being developed by Lee Whittaker in conjunction with the housing trust. The property, next to Liberty Woodlands on Highway 20, can accommodate 19 homes. Current plans are to create a mixed development, said Ready.
The trust has also purchased property in Winthrop but doesn’t anticipate building there until at least 2020, after completion of the Twisp project.
Because prices are based on the Okanogan County median income, they should be the same for all homes in Twisp, Winthrop and Mazama, said Ready. The pricing formula is based on homeowners not spending more than one-third of their income on housing — their mortgage, property taxes and insurance.
The trust’s design team is still refining the design of the individual homes and the site plan for Twisp, but some aspects have already been determined. Houses will all be single-story with one bathroom. They’ll also be what’s called ADA-ready, meaning they won’t have steps and can be easily modified with railings to accommodate different buyers and the concept of aging in place, said Ready.
In addition to Ready, the design team includes CAST Architecture; contractor Lucas Evans of Methow Valley Builders; Steve Oulman, project manager for the Twisp neighborhood; and John Sunderland, a trust board member who heads the organization’s land and housing development committee.
Potential applicants were also invited to a meeting with the team in March to help the designers understand what attributes are most important. “Ultimately it will be the homeowners that drive homeowner-association decisions that create and maintain a sense of community and common space,” said Ready.
When complete, the Canyon Street Neighborhood will have three or four three-bedroom houses and nine or 10 two-bedroom houses. Houses will be 900 to 1,100 square feet.
“The town of Twisp has worked exceptionally hard to meet our timeline,” said Ready, who said they’ve also received support from TwispWorks and the Methow Conservancy.
The housing trust held three community-outreach meetings over the past month that indicate strong interest in the houses. The trust already has about 25 potential applicants — three times the number of homes that will be available within a year, said Ready.
Interest is expected to grow as people learn about the houses and see the communities take shape, said Ready. Other community land trusts in the state (in Leavenworth and the San Juan Islands) have five to 10 applicants per home, said Ready.
“At this point, I’m not the least bit worried that we’re building homes that aren’t going to be filled,” she said.
Prospective applicants don’t fit any pattern. They include single people and couples, families with one to five kids, and seniors on a fixed income, said Ready. People born and raised in the Methow and people here just a few years have all shown interest.
Regardless of income eligibility, the trust requires all applicants to obtain a mortgage, which can be a multi-year process if people need to improve their credit rating or save for a down-payment, said Ready.
Over the past 10 years, median real estate sales prices in the valley have been outpacing wage increases by a factor of three, said Ready.
A 2016 community needs assessment found many factors contribute to the lack of affordable housing in the Methow. The assessment found that 39 percent of Methow residents put more than 35 percent of their income toward housing and 20 percent spend more than half.
The assessment also found that proximity to Seattle puts pressure on the local real estate market because people want vacation homes in the valley. The assessment found that 41 percent of houses in the Methow Valley are occupied only seasonally.
The housing trust will provide education and counseling to help people with the loan process. Even those who already qualify for a loan will need guidance because many banks aren’t familiar with the ground-lease model that’s used by community land trusts, where the purchaser owns the house but only leases the ground it stands on, said Ready.
There are other requirements for income and assets and purchasers are required to abide by a resale formula that keeps the homes affordable.
The Mazama project began independently, but when Whittaker learned about the housing trust, he contacted the group about ways of working together.
Whittaker and his late wife, Marilyn, have been part-time residents of the valley for years. When Marilyn was ill, they spent a lot of time at their home in Mazama and realized how hard it was for people in the service industry to find housing there.
Whittaker is still working on the permitting process, but expects to start on the first four homes this summer. He envisions a development with affordable and market-rate homes in an invisible mixture of homeownership models, said Ready.
“He loves creative problem-solving, and this is problem-solving specifically around community,” said Ready.
The housing trust plans to open the formal application process in mid-April. It will also hold homeowner-education classes this summer for their applicants and other interested community members.
For more information about Methow Housing Trust, contact 996-5943 or methowhousingtrust.org.