Homeowners in MRAs to have access to septic loans

Low-interest loans will be available as soon as next month for homeowners in Vashon’s marine recovery areas (MRAs) to repair or replace their failing septic systems.

King County, which received funds for the septic loan program last summer, announced last week that it has chosen a lender to administer a $350,000 revolving loan program for islanders in MRAs who have been told to update their systems. It selected Craft3, a nonprofit lending organization that has offices in western Washington and Oregon, to administer the loans.

“We’re very excited about this, and I know the community is excited about it,” said Stella Chao, deputy director for environmental health at Public Health – Seattle & King County. “We want to get it up and running soon.”

Chao said the agency chose Craft3 from several organizations that applied to administer the program because it has experience with lending for septic work and would take a broad approach when considering loan applicants and their needs.

“They take into consideration a lot of different things that aren’t what your standard financial institutions consider when you apply for a loan and get a certain interest rate. Craft3 will look at other issues specific to Vashon Island property owners,” Chao said.

Several islanders, including Carl Sells and Tim Johnson with the Vashon-Maury Island Community Council, have long advocated for King County to provide financial assistance to those who couldn’t afford the septic work required by the state. A new septic system can cost between $15,000 and $40,000, and some who own property within an MRA, Chao said, have low incomes, are elderly or inherited their homes.

“Property owners that we know are going to have financial hardship,” she said. “They are not necessary people that have a lot of money.”

The county tried twice before to secure funding for a loan program, but was unsuccessful, in part, Chao said, because many homeowners had yet to return the proper paperwork on their existing septic systems. Now, fewer than 10 homeowners have yet to respond to the county with information on their septic systems. They are accruing fines of $25 a day.

“All of the folks that turned in operation and maintenance reports and contacted us so we could we could have an assessment of the situation were part of our success in getting these funds,” Chao said.

The county eventually secured $350,000 from the Environmental Protection Agency’s Nation Estuary Program. Chao said that thanks to efforts by former Gov. Chris Gregoire and former Rep. Norm Dicks, almost all of the funds from the federal program that were designated for Puget Sound went to the new septic loan program.

“This money is meant for restoring Puget Sound, and King County got the bulk of the money,” she said. “We do have a lot of population here, but it was a recognition by the state that this was an important place to invest in.”

The county plans for Craft3 to open applications for loans by May 10. Those who live on Quartermaster Harbor will have priority in the loan disbursement process.

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