Cascades Meadow North developments benefit from funds
Affordable housing development in the Methow Valley got a big financial boost with the recent award of more than $8.7 million in state funding for construction and infrastructure costs.
The Housing Authority of Okanogan County received $8.5 million in January from the Washington Housing Trust Fund for construction of a 22-unit multi-family rental complex, which is part of the Cascade Meadows North project off Highway 20 on the south end of Winthrop.
“This is big news for expanding housing in the Methow Valley,” said Nancy Nash-Mendez, executive director of the Housing Authority.
Cascade Meadows North is an 8.4-acre planned development near Cascade Condominiums. It includes 24 lots for affordable single-family homes being developed by the Methow Housing Trust, and the multi-family rental complex being developed by the Housing Authority of Okanogan County.
The $8.5 million will be used for construction costs of the Wildrose Family Housing project, which will be the second affordable rental housing complex in the Methow Valley owned and operated by the Housing Authority. The Wildrose project is estimated to cost about $10.5 million.
The multi-family housing development will provide rental units primarily for people who qualify as “low income,” which means earning 50% of the county’s average median income or less. Average median income for Okanogan County was $58,218 in 2022, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
But the Housing Authority will also designate five of the 22 units as “work force housing” for people who exceed low-income guidelines but still struggle to afford housing in the comparatively high-priced Methow Valley market, Nash-Mendez said. Those units will be available to people earning up to 80% of the average median income, she said.
“The board of the Housing Authority of Okanogan County made a very bold decision. They decided Wildrose was going to have some dedicated units for work force housing, because we know that is so highly needed throughout the county, but especially in the Methow Valley,” Nash-Mendez said.
In seeking funding for the Wildrose development, the Housing Authority was successful in convincing the state Housing Trust Fund of the need to provide some housing for people above the designated “low income” threshold usually required to qualify for funding.
The Housing Trust Fund “allowed that flexibility to go up to 80%” of average median income for a portion of the development, opening the housing to a broader range of residents, Nash-Mendez said. The Housing Trust Fund, which is part of the state Department of Commerce, also awarded the Housing Authority of Okanogan County $3.5 million more than maximum award of $5 million for this funding cycle, Nash-Mendez said.
“The limit was $5 million, but we presented the need for affordable housing in the area,” she said.
The Housing Authority also received a separate grant of $120,000 from the state Department of Commerce to help with infrastructure costs of Wildrose Family Housing. The Methow Housing Trust, which is developing 24 affordable homes as part of the Cascade Meadows North project, also received an infrastructure grant of $156,000.
The grants are part of a “Connecting Housing to Infrastructure Program” or “CHIP,” and help pay infrastructure costs and connection fees for affordable housing developments. The Town of Winthrop applied for the CHIP funding for the Cascades Meadows North project on behalf of Methow Housing Trust and the Housing Authority.
Methow Housing Trust has completed roads, water, sewer and stormwater systems for the 24 homes that will be built near the Wildrose apartment complex. The CHIP grant will cover the cost of connection fees to town water and sewer services, allowing the town of Winthrop to waive the usual connection fees. That will save the Methow Housing Trust $6,500 per house, said Danica Ready, executive director of the Methow Housing Trust.
“It means we have to subsidize each home a little less,” Ready said, as “$156,000 is being waived for connection fees.” The savings will help fund future home construction by the Methow Housing Trust, she said. “This grant means our community gets another permanently affordable house.”
The Housing Authority will use its $120,000 CHIP grant to help pay infrastructure construction costs for the Wildrose apartments under a cost-sharing agreement with Methow Housing Trust, Nash-Mendez said. This is the second CHIP grant awarded to the Housing Authority for the Wildrose project, which received $100,000 in 2022 for infrastructure and development charges such as hookup fees, water and sewer connections.
Ready said the partnership between the Methow Housing Trust and the Housing Authority of Okanogan County is helping create needed affordable housing for the Methow Valley. The two organizations teamed up to plan the Cascade Meadows North project and to work with the town of Winthrop to seek the infrastructure grants for the new housing projects.
A number of people who have bought homes built by the Methow Housing Trust have come from subsidized housing owned by the Housing Authority, which provides “a stepping stone” for some people to own their own home, Ready said.
Methow Valley focus
The Housing Authority is an independent, public agency that owns 13 affordable housing developments, which it calls “communities,” throughout the county, with 235 units total. Rental costs are subsidized to make them affordable. The Housing Authority also manages 415 rental assistance vouchers provided through the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development. In the Methow Valley, the Housing Authority owns Twisp Gardens.
“It’s important to know we have only one community in the Methow Valley. Five years ago, the board of directors said our next focus will be the Methow Valley,” Nash-Mendez said.
The Methow Housing Trust, a nonprofit organization, has completed 47 homes in five neighborhoods in Twisp, Winthrop and Mazama. The trust follows a community land trust model, where the trust owns the land and sells houses, leasing the land the house is on to the homeowner. Homeowners agree to sell their homes at a restricted price to keep it affordable in perpetuity.
Work on 12 homes currently underway at the Evergreen Loop affordable housing development in Twisp is expected to be completed by this summer, Ready said. Groundbreaking will take place for the Cascade Meadows North homes in the spring, she said, with construction beginning in the summer. It will take approximately three years to complete all 24 homes, Ready said.
Nash-Mendez said construction on the Wildrose Family Housing will probably begin in 2025. The housing authority needs to secure an additional $1 million to have the full $10.5 million for the project in hand. Construction could start in 2024 if the funding gap is secured this spring, she said.