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Vashon HouseHold to purchase apartment complex behind post office

Dolly Pointer, who lives in a small apartment overlooking an expanse of fields, said she loves watching birds from her back porch. Bird seed dots the railing. She hopes the change in ownership won’t mean she has to move. - Leslie Brown/staff writer
Dolly Pointer, who lives in a small apartment overlooking an expanse of fields, said she loves watching birds from her back porch. Bird seed dots the railing. She hopes the change in ownership won’t mean she has to move.
— image credit: Leslie Brown/staff writer

Vashon Household, in its latest effort to create and maintain affordable housing on the Island, is in the process of purchasing the aging, three-building apartment complex on 178th Avenue S.W. behind the Vashon post office.

The nonprofit housing developer has signed a purchase-and-sale agreement with the owners of the complex, West Freeman Properties. Assuming financing and other critical pieces fall into place, Vashon HouseHold plans to close on the deal in November and begin a major renovation of the buildings late in 2009, according to Sam Hendricks, the organization’s executive director.

“We have a very limited ability to develop new housing on the Island,” he said. “We see this as a crucial effort to preserve the affordable housing that we have and to ensure that 20 years from now, these apartments will still be affordable, decent, attractive places to live.”

“I think it’ll be a great contribution to the community, as well as to the people who live there,” said Jean Bosch, a real estate agent and one of the founders of Vashon HouseHold. “The building’s been kind of rough for quite a long time. It’ll be great to get it cleaned up and spruced up.”

The complex, known for providing some of the few inexpensive apartment units on Vashon, has long been in disrepair, and according to some of the residents, little has been done to keep it up in recent years. The main building, which abuts 178th Avenue, was built in 1962; the other two — both four-plexes — were built in 1973.

But many of those who live there still call it home. They love its convenience to town, its large, west-facing windows overlooking trees and fields and the sense of community some of the residents share.

Now, some residents say, they’re excited as well as apprehensive about what lies ahead.

Dolly Pointer, who has lived in her apartment in the complex for 20 years, said she doesn’t know if she’ll meet the income qualifications the new project — with its state and federal subsidies — will require. Her small, light-filled apartment is crammed with stuff — from piles of jigsaw puzzles to original art to several Bibles, one of which sat open on a small desk next to her picture window. Tomato plants, heavy with fruit, sat in containers on her tiny, west-facing balcony; a hummingbird feeder hung overhead, drawing one of the small birds as she talked.

“I don’t know yet how it’s going to affect me. I don’t want to move. This is my home,” said Pointer, who, when asked her age, said she was born in 1927. “At my age, I’ve got plenty of stuff. I’m a nester. ... I don’t know where I’d move.”

But other residents said they think it’ll be good for Vashon HouseHold to step in and take over the building, known in some circles, resident Shannon Carslay said, as “the ghetto.”

“It needs some fixing up. The owner of the property doesn’t really care,” he said.

Carslay plans to move next month but added that he thinks those who remain in the apartment complex will benefit from the nonprofit developer’s efforts.

“I think it’s going to be really good for this place,” he said.

Hendricks said the organization has a long way to go before it will be able to determine eligibility for the subsidized units. Vashon HouseHold hopes to use state and federal funds to purchase and develop the project, creating apartments that will be offered at below-market rents for tenants who qualify.

As a result, he said, the units will not only be improved, but the rents will most likely come down as well.

“Our hope is that the tenants who live there now and who are qualified are going to come out of this process with a quality place to live permanently,” he said. “We haven’t had a chance to interview the current residents or look at their incomes. I’d like to stress for people not to have anxieties about it. The property is likely to be sold, and I’d like to think we’d be the best possible buyer. This is our best chance of keeping those buildings affordable in perpetuity.”

Hendricks added that all of the tenants will be screened to ensure they’re complying with the organization’s rules and regulations as well as state and federal laws.

“Our goal as managers of this property will be to make sure that people are safe and secure and happy,” he said. “We have a long track record as a nonprofit of keeping strong communities and having people watch over each other. We will have a strong presence on the site.”

The three buildings are made up of 12 one-bedroom units — all of which are located in the main building — and eight townhouse-style, two-bedroom units, located in two buildings to the south of the main structure. And despite the age of the buildings, all three offer up potential and “good raw materials,” Hendricks said. Some of the units have hardwood floors; many of them are spacious and light-filled.

The list of improvements the organization hopes to make is already long and ambitious. Some will be aesthetic — from new counters and floors to restored bathrooms and refinished floors. The organization also hopes to re-side it, put in new windows, blow in insulation, repave the parking lot and create shared community spaces for tenants to gather.

“These are going to be really nice places,” Hendricks said.

The venture marks Vashon HouseHold’s sixth or seventh project; should it come to fruition, it will be undertaken concurrently with Sunflower, the sweat-equity, home-ownership project on S.W. Bank Road. It also marks the fourth rental project the organization has undertaken and its second remodel project; Charter House, built in 1970, was rehabilitated by Vashon HouseHold more than a decade ago.

Bosch, who continues to support Vashon HouseHold, giving a portion of her commissions to the organization, said such projects are a challenge — both to develop and, once completed, to manage. But the organization’s growing track record at Eernisse, a low-income housing project behind Island Lumber, suggests the nonprofit’s staff has the skills and expertise to take on the work of transforming the complex behind the post office.

And the need, she said, continues to grow on Vashon.

“It’s an endless game of trying to meet the need,” she said. “Because as prices go up and up and up, the needs go up and up and up as well.”

t Residents say they’re hopeful and apprehensive about the change.

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