At a meeting last week, Chris Szala of Vashon HouseHold told those in attendance about the agency’s progress realizing its proposed micro-housing development, Island Center Homes.
Looking ahead, he said there are more projects across Washington all competing for the same pool of funding.
“There’s a lot of need statewide,” he said.
The demonstration project, commissioned by King County, targeted for a parcel south of town, is intended to serve 40 people who would live in five energy-efficient, residential-style buildings, each with four single-occupancy micro-units — at approximately 330 square feet — on the lower and upper levels of the two-story buildings with shared living spaces.
Meant to test the viability of different affordable housing models that are not allowed under current building regulations, the proposed complex has galvanized both supporters and detractors on the island. Critics are concerned about density on the 1.32-acre property where it would be built and that the development would use more water than it is zoned for, as well as the project’s cost, which some have said is too high.
Szala said that in comparison to the other applicants seeking funding from the state’s Housing Trust Fund, overseen by the Department of Commerce, the price tag for Island Center Homes is modest.
“It’s just that this is what the cost of doing affordable housing is. It’s not just your typical construction. We go through lots and lots of additional steps that occur,” he said.
As the need for affordable housing in the county and the state has proliferated, the Washington Legislature set its sights on increasing the supply of units that would serve vulnerable populations. The state’s two-year spending plan, signed by Gov. Jay Inslee in May, includes funding that will provide up to 4,100 new affordable housing units and renovate existing affordable housing units to meet the demand, with priority given to individuals with chronic mental illness who need supportive housing and case management services, homeless individuals, veterans, seniors and those with special needs.
The Island Center Homes complex, said Szala, is intended to serve many of those same populations who are on a waiting list of more than 100 people looking for housing on the island. To help them and build the development, Vashon HouseHold needs $2.9 million from the Housing Trust Fund; the agency will find out if it was awarded the money in December.
“They really try to make sure that the dollars they are spending are for those most in need and try to match the housing with that,” said Szala. “This is really kind of a housing-first model that we will be working in. And that means we will be working with people where they’re at.”
In the worst-case scenario, Szala said at the meeting, should the agency not receive funding from the state it would move to sell the property.
Last winter, King County awarded Vashon HouseHold $3.9 million to construct the development on the condition that the project house more people than the agency first intended, add greater wheelchair accessibility throughout the spaces than current building code requires, and provide for a three-quarter time social services position to help struggling residents transition to stable housing. The county gave more funding than was asked to create the position.
When asked about buildable density by The Beachcomber, Szala said that one of the stipulations on the application for state funding is that a housing development maximize the space available.
“And in fact, we’re not, in this case,” he said, adding that the project is limited by water shares. The parcel where Island Center Homes is proposed is zoned R-8, meaning that it can support eight housing units in total. It is allowed five water units from Water District 19 — roughly 4,000 gallons a day. An engineer assessed the project’s potential water usage and found the development would only require 3.5 water units — using less than 2,000 gallons a day. In addition, the project will include a 15,000- to 18,000 gallon rain bank system to use runoff water for flushing toilets and irrigation, and Szala said that plans are being made to solarize the complex and reduce its carbon footprint.
The county comprehensive plan lists exploring the construction of multi-family micro-housing in unincorporated areas as a priority action in an effort to address housing affordability challenges in the community. Island Centers Homes, which was first designated as a county demonstration project by an ordinance, would not be like any other dwelling on the island. Based on the results of projects like it, such as a similar development proposed in White Center, building code and regulations across the county could be changed to allow for the construction of similar housing in the future.
The latest draft of the ordinance is available online for review and public comment, which will be accepted until Sunday, Oct. 13. More information is available at bit.ly/2olpXjh.