Housing Trust adds another homeowner at Twisp site
Aspen Ostlie-Pritchard was born and raised in the Methow Valley, but never thought she’d be able to buy a house here “because the price of homes is so ridiculous.”
But last month she and her 9-year-old son moved to a newly built home on Canyon Street in Twisp, the final house sold this year by the Methow Housing Trust.
“It’s still a bit surreal that this is mine,” Ostlie-Pritchard said. “I’ve rented all my life.”
Her house is one of nine homes constructed on Canyon Street over the past three years by the nonprofit Methow Housing Trust, which develops affordable housing in the valley. Four more houses will be completed by the Housing Trust on Canyon Street by next summer, and eight houses have been built and sold in Mazama.
For the past eight years, Ostlie-Pritchard and her son Wyatt lived in the Twisp Riverview Apartments, which provides rentals for low-income households. Ostlie-Pritchard worked part-time as a bartender in Twisp. If she worked full-time, even at minimum wage, she said her income would have disqualified her from the subsidized apartment — but would not have provided enough income to afford scarce rental units elsewhere in the valley.
“If I worked full-time I would have gotten booted out. If I had savings I’d get penalized. I put my savings in my son’s name,” Ostlie-Pritchard said.
After some “poking and prodding” from her mother, Ostlie-Pritchard said, she approached the Methow Housing Trust to see if she might be eligible to buy one of the new homes. That was about a year and a half ago.
With guidance from Methow Housing Trust staff, Ostlie-Pritchard began working toward becoming a homeowner. She learned she could be eligible for a low-interest rate loan through the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), but there were requirements to be met. One of them was earning enough money to equal full-time employment, either through one job or a combination of jobs.
“One of the first steps I decided on was to look for a full-time job, which we all know in the valley is relatively tricky. A lot of people have two or three part-time jobs,” Ostlie-Pritchard said. To qualify for the loan, she also had to pay down any debt and remain out of collections for six months.
While working on those goals, Ostlie-Pritchard took a homebuyers’ education course that is required by the Methow Housing Trust, and worked to improve her credit rating.
Ostlie-Pritchard now works as a patient navigator at the Family Health Centers clinic in Twisp. She was able to pay off her debts and improve her credit to qualify for the loan. It was hard work, but she felt she owed it to the Methow Housing Trust staff, especially Erika Krumpleman, stewardship director.
“They bend over backward to help you out. Erika was my guru,” Ostlie-Pritchard said. “I thought if they are willing to take a chance on me, I want to show I’m willing to do the work.”
Through the home buying process, Ostlie-Pritchard has become more financially stable. Her monthly mortgage payment is a little less than $700. “It’s nice to be able to not only afford a home, but to afford nice stuff to go in the home,” she said.
The majority of Methow Housing Trust homeowners — 11 (including Ostlie-Pritchard) out of 17 — have been able to finance their purchases through a USDA program called Section 502 Direct Loans. The program assists low-income applicants in rural areas by providing payment assistance that reduces the mortgage payment for a period of time. The amount of assistance is determined by the adjusted family income.
“The USDA 502 Direct lending tool really expands who Methow Housing Trust is able to serve,” said Krumpleman. “It is available for households who make up to 80 percent of the area median income.” The average income of the first 17 homeowners has been 75 percent of the area median income, she said.
Housing Trust staff had to train to become certified to offer the loans, said Danica Ready, executive director. “We had no idea how pivotal these loans would be for low-income applicants seeking to purchase a home. They have more flexibility in terms of the nature of income and employment — in a way that conventional loans through banks would not,” she said.
The loans are targeted to smaller communities and rural areas with populations of 35,000 or less. The lending program is particularly beneficial in places like the Methow Valley, where many people work seasonal jobs, Ready said.
“We all know, living in small towns, that we have made sacrifices to be adaptable. But that can be a barrier” to obtaining conventional financing for a house. “This is a much more flexible tool for the circumstances that people have here. Many of our successful applicants really didn’t think they would qualify. Because of this lending tool, it’s more attainable than people might think,” Ready said.
More homes coming
After the Methow Housing Trust completes the final four homes on Canyon Street next summer, it will begin work on developing affordable housing on an eight-acre parcel at the south end of Winthrop, across from the post office.
The Housing Trust purchased the land in 2017, and was later given a donation to cover the cost of the property, Ready said. The two neighborhoods developed by the trust — McKinney Ridge in Mazama and Canyon Street in Twisp — are also on land that was donated to the Methow Housing Trust. The land donations have been key to enabling the trust to build affordable homes, Ready said.
“In Winthrop we’ll be starting the same model and type of homes” as in those built in Mazama and Twisp, Ready said. They are energy-efficient, two-bedroom and three-bedroom homes, with similar floor plans and durable materials.
There is now a consistent waiting list of 20-24 individuals and families interested in Methow Housing Trust homes, Ready said. “Some are hoping for a Winthrop home, waiting for something a couple years in the future.”
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 land under a long-term (99-year) renewable ground 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 for future buyers, the increase in resale price is set at 1.5% per year.
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% of the median income for Okanogan County; personal assets that do not exceed 80% of the area median income; and the ability to qualify for an approved mortgage.
Methow Housing Trust is currently accepting applications. To apply or learn more, visit the website at methowhousingtrust.org, or call the office at 996-5943.