Vashon’s largest water purveyor recently released 20 water shares, the majority of them to an island man interested in building affordable housing near town.
Water District 19’s three-person board voted at its last meeting to release 20 water shares after a report showed that conservation throughout the district has resulted in a surplus of water. Eighteen shares went to islander Mike Masi, who owns several acres near town. The other two shares went to another person on the district’s waiting list.
Masi, a graphic designer, is the owner of a well-kept six-unit mobile home park on Gorsuch Road that he jokingly calls Vashon’s only legal trailer park. When he purchased the 7-acre property in 2005, the owner was already on Water District 19’s waiting list, having requested 25 water shares in 1998.
The partially wooded property has 4 buildable acres, and Masi said he has considered building additional housing there for years, after hearing many conversations about Vashon’s lack of affordable housing. The plot, he said, was even identified decades ago in the Vashon Town Plan as a possible spot for new affordable housing.
“I feel like this is my opportunity to do something,” he said.
Lacking the capital or building experience to carry out such a project, Masi began looking several years ago for an investor interested in building on his land. However, he found that nonprofit organizations and private companies wouldn’t seriously consider the property until he had the needed water rights,
“Everyone said come back and see us when you have water shares,” he said.
Masi has already purchased four shares from Water District 19 in the past, and earlier this year he was issued three more shares that he must purchase by September to secure. When Water District 19 issues shares, customers have 30 days to officially accept them and 120 days after that to purchase them or lose the shares and the spot on the waiting list.
Water shares cost more than $10,650 each, and Masi now has until October to accept and purchase the 18 additional shares for a total of 25.
At his home at the mobile home park last week, Masi said he hadn’t found a developer for the project but he felt optimistic. With water shares in hand, he’s been working quickly and getting back in touch with potential partners, and an affordable housing developer based in Redmond called Shelter Resources has shown interest.
“I’m persistent about it. … To me, this place has so much potential,” he said. “It could really be an asset to the community.”
Masi has discussed his property with Vashon Household, but the type of housing that the nonprofit typically builds, subsidized housing for low-income families, simply wouldn’t pencil out there, he said. Instead, he’s interested in creating what he calls workforce housing, for single workers or families that may not be considered low income but struggle to find housing they can afford on Vashon. He considers his mobile home park to be workforce housing, and he has imagined bringing in additional pre-fabricated homes, but said he also is open to whatever investors might have in mind.
“My goal is to be able to stay on the land and get a small income based on the value of the land,” he said.
Water District 19 keeps a long waiting list of people interested in purchasing water shares but only occasionally releases shares. In the last three years, the district has released 45 shares, not including the recent batch. There are 43 people remaining on the waiting list, in line for about 135 shares.
The district agreed to release 20 shares at its June 9 meeting after a recent report showed what board chair Richard Bard called a substantial surplus in water. The surplus comes as the agency has been gradually changing its rates, charging more to customers who use the most water, in an effort to promote conservation. Now, fewer customers are using enough water to reach the highest pricing tiers.
“Our pricing system has encouraged people to use less,” Bard said.
Jeff Lakin, the district’s general manager, said the surplus is so large that the agency will consider releasing even more shares next year. It held off on releasing additional shares this spring because dry conditions expected this summer could result in higher water use across its service area. The district’s board will reassess after it sees how much water is used during the summer months.
“What our peak day is this year will tell us what we’ll be doing next year,” Lakin said.
Lakin said the district will soon consider ways to further encourage conservation as it begins the process of updating its comprehensive water system plan. As part of the update, the district is also required to consider whether it could bring on new wells or water sources. A draft plan is due in about a year and a half.
“We’ll have to wrangle the subject, propose ideas and how they might be funded,” he said.