More affordable homes coming next year
Chris and Keri Moore moved into their newly purchased home in the McKinney Ridge Neighborhood in Mazama during the week before Christmas, filled with awe at their good fortune.
The Moores purchased the last of nine houses completed over the past two years by Methow Housing Trust, which is building affordable homes in Mazama and Twisp. “We got incredibly lucky,” Chris Moore said. “We’ve never owned a house before.”
The couple, who are both 32, moved to the Methow Valley in 2016 from Chicago. “Over the past three years our love for the valley and our jobs and our community has gotten stronger,” Moore said.
They knew they wanted to settle permanently in the Methow Valley, because it offers the sense of community and the outdoor recreation opportunities they both love. Keri is a health educator with Room One and leads a Nordic ski program at Methow Valley Elementary School, and Chris works in a Winthrop restaurant, and as an arborist in summer and ski instructor in winter.
They got married last year and wanted to move from renting a house to owning one. But they found themselves priced out of the real estate market in the valley — even if they worked multiple jobs and more than 40 hours a week, which would leave them little time to enjoy the place they had chosen to live. “There was a nervous tension, wondering if it would be feasible to raise a family here and afford it,” Moore said.
“One of the important things we realized is that for people in our age range, who are making their money here instead of coming in with money, it’s hard to interact with the community. So many people are working three jobs to make rent and don’t have time to volunteer or be part of the community,” Moore said.
They applied to purchase a home from the Methow Housing Trust, and found they qualified for a three-bedroom home in the McKinney Neighborhood in Mazama. “We could afford the mortgage with my jobs and Keri’s jobs and be comfortably within our budget,” Moore said. “There was a big sigh of relief, and a feeling of settling into the valley.”
The opportunity to buy an affordable home means that the couple can be active members of the community, said Moore, who volunteers in community theater and at the local radio station. “The Housing Trust opens for us more time to be involved as community members, rather than just trying to stay afloat,” he said. “Now with a home we can afford, in a place that we adore, we can completely open our hearts to love this place without fear of losing it.”
First phase completed
The Moore’s home purchase marks the completion of Methow Housing Trust’s first phase of affordable home development — four houses in Mazama’s McKinney Neighborhood and five in the Canyon Street Neighborhood in Twisp. The second phase of development is well underway with four more homes in each neighborhood expected to be ready for new owners by next April.
The Housing Trust was created in 2017 and began building homes and taking applications from prospective homebuyers in 2018. “At this point we have processed well over 100 inquiries for houses,” said Danica Ready, executive director of the Housing Trust.
“We’ve grown so fast, and the learning curve has been huge,” Ready said. Investment by early donors helped launch the Housing Trust, and “the leap of faith the first nine homeowner families were willing to take” has helped carry it forward, she said.
The Housing Trust currently has 18 prospective homebuyers in an applicant wait pool — “they’re eligible and we’ve determined they could be fundable,” Ready said.
She encourages people who are interested in the idea of purchasing one of the Housing Trust homes to meet with staff. “A lot of people are surprised that they qualify” to purchase a home. “Whether they are seniors on a limited income or households with mixed incomes … every applicant is really unique,” she said.
The Methow Housing Trust follows a Community Land Trust model, which means that a buyer owns a house that sits on land owned by the Housing Trust and leases the house under a long-term (99-year) renewable lease.
The houses, which cost about $140,000 for two bedrooms and $160,000 for three bedrooms (about half comparable open market prices) are made affordable through community investment in the development of permanently affordable homes. To keep the houses affordable, the maximum increase in resale price is capped for perpetuity at 1.5%.
Basic eligibility requirements for buyers include living in the Methow Valley for at least 12 months or having a written commitment from a local employer; household income that does not exceed 100 percent of the median income for Okanogan County; personal assets that do not exceed 80 percent of the area median income; and the ability to qualify for an approved mortgage.
Ready said the Housing Trust has developed different “pathways” to help applicants obtain financing to buy their homes. About half have received subsidized loans through the U.S. Department of Agriculture, with interest rates as low as 1-3%. “They are able to buy a home at a really affordable cost, usually lower than rent,” Ready said.
Other applicants have qualified for financing from three conventional loan partners that work with the Housing Trust and “have different lending tools they can line up with applicants,” Ready said. Most organizations need a longer track record to work with conventional lenders, but credibility of the Housing Trust’s board of directors and substantial financial support from early donors helped the Housing Trust quickly develop working relationships with lenders, Ready said.
As Housing Trust staff has worked with applicants over the past two years, they have seen a larger number of single or two-person households seeking homes than was initially anticipated, Ready said. “Methow Housing Trust’s aspiration is to serve all types of households. We’re not getting as many larger families as we had imagined.”
The small households aren’t really surprising though, Ready said. A 2016 study of housing needs — which was a catalyst for creating the Housing Trust — found that 75% of households in the Methow Valley are one-and two-person households, she said.
The Housing Trust has modified development plans in response to applications it has received. “We will build the rest of the houses on Canyon Street as two-bedroom rather than three-bedroom homes, because of the composition of the wait list,” Ready said. Eight more homes on Canyon Street will be built over the next two years.
During the next year, the Housing Trust will begin planning for an 8-acre parcel it owns on a bench near the Cascade Condominiums in Winthrop. Ready said needs assessments will be conducted to determine the best development of the property. While the Housing Trust will maintain the Community Land Trust approach to home ownership, it may be possible to partner with other organizations that could develop a broader spectrum of affordable housing at the site, she said. “We’d like to expand the breadth of affordable housing opportunities beyond two- and three-bedroom single family dwellings,” she said.
When it was created in 2017, the Housing Trust got substantial financial backing from three major donors, including Lee Whittaker who donated land and provided funding to build the eight Housing Trust homes in the McKinney Neighborhood in Mazama, Ready said. The McKinney Neighborhood will be part of a larger co-housing community being developed by Whittaker that will include market rate homes and shared facilities and common spaces.
“Moccasin Lake Foundation was instrumental in funding construction costs at Canyon Street Neighborhood, and also providing early operational support,” Ready said. A third, anonymous, donor provided funding for the Canyon Street land purchase and infrastructure development, she said.
The Housing Trust has cultivated partnerships with local businesses that have a vested interest in supporting development of housing that is affordable for their employees, Ready said. About 50 businesses provide support, including 30 that have pledged $600 per year for three years. “It’s a significant confidence builder for us, reassuring us that we are on the right track,” she said.