Affordable housing project on Vashon secures funding

Three two-story structures will be built off Gorsuch Road, with construction to begin next spring.

The developer of Creekside Village on Vashon (CVV), a 40-unit apartment community promising affordable rents for workforce tenants on Vashon, has now obtained the funding necessary to move forward with the project.

The development, comprised of three two-story buildings, will be spread out on 2 acres of a 7-acre property located at 168186 95th Lane SW, off Gorsuch Road.

Construction is scheduled to begin in late spring of 2024 and will be completed in the summer of 2025, according to Christopher Bric, president of the Vashon’s Shelter America Group, the nonprofit housing organization behind the project.

The property is within walking distance of Ober Park, the Vashon Library, and the employment/shopping hub of the island.

This location, Bric has said since first announcing his plans for the project in 2015, is ideally suited for Vashon’s workforce population and other demographics it will serve: senior citizens, single adults, and families with children.

The need for affordable housing on Vashon is dire and has become more so in the years since he first announced his intention to develop CVV, Bric maintains.

“Rental properties on the island have become nonexistent as single-family homes are sold and become secondary residences or are converted to short-term vacation rentals,” he said, noting that no new apartments, with the exception of Vashon HouseHold’s Island Center Homes, have been built here in years. “The need for new affordable housing on the island cannot be overstated.”

Funding from county and state sources

In a fact sheet sent to islanders about the CVV project earlier this month, as well in a public meeting held virtually on Aug. 7, Bric outlined the funding now secured for the project.

This includes a $6.3 million housing finance loan from King County, a $6 million grant from the Washington Department of Commerce, and a $2.9 million gap loan from the Washington State Housing Finance Commission. A conventional first mortgage loan will complete the financing needed for the almost $21 million development.

Submission to the King County Permitting Department is scheduled for early September, Bric said.

Who qualifies to live there?

Preference will be given to households that currently live on Vashon, have Vashon employment, or have family on the island, Bric said, adding that Shelter America will work with Vashon Youth & Family Services to facilitate this effort.

Twenty units will be reserved for households at or below 50 percent of area median income, with 20 more reserved for households at or below 60 percent of area median income.

Rents at CVV will range from $1,284-$1,541 for a one-bedroom apartment; $1,541-1,849 for two bedrooms; and $1,781-$2,137 for three-bedroom units.

The site will also contain 47 parking spaces for residents, in a lot fronting the property, close to Gorsuch Road.

A shared vision

The quiet property on Gorsuch Road where the project will be built, owned by longtime islander Mike Masi since 2005, has for decades been the site of a small trailer park.

Masi also resides on the tidy, shaded grounds of the park where six trailers, including his own, are nestled in a shady grove of pear trees, near a small, seasonal creek for which the new project was named.

His eagerness to sell his property to Shelter America, he said, had come from his desire to ensure that the property would always remain a place where islanders could always live comfortably and affordably.

“I realized how ideal it was for affordable housing,” Masi said, on a recent afternoon as he and Bric sat outside Masi’s vintage single-wide trailer. “I had the land, the location, the water shares and the desire to do it.”

Bric, too, described the site as ideal for workforce housing — a tremendous need on Vashon that has only increased since he first entered into an agreement with Masi in 2015 to buy the property.

“An opportunity like this is like Haley’s Comet,” he said. “It only comes along once in 76 years.”

The project, first announced by CVV in 2015, has taken more time than expected to secure financing, Bric said, but throughout the wait, Masi had remained steadfast in his desire to see the property developed for affordable housing.

“He’s been a kind of hero in all this,” he said. “It’s pretty much unheard of that a land seller would stay as patient as Mike.”

In 2015, Masi and Shelter America entered into a partnership aimed at the eventual sale of the building to Shelter America — obtaining the required water shares and zoning needed for the development.

The specific parcel where the project is located had two special development conditions as approved by King County, through the community planning process, over 20 years ago, Bric said.

One condition allowed for the development of 12 units per acre, and the second required development of “mobile homes and manufactured housing.”

In 2017, Bric said, that second condition was removed by King County, also through a community process, with the stipulation that the site could be developed only for affordable housing.

Bric pointed out that prior to 2017, either 40 mobile homes or manufactured housing units could have been placed or built on the site, with no affordability requirement.

“Affordability is now assured, rather than aspirational,” he said.

Help for current residents

For both Masi and Bric, it was important to consider the displacement of the trailer park’s current residents.

Masi said that the greatest reward of his owning the property had been his chance to live in a community with his tenants and see them raise their families.

In the last six years, he said, he has not raised the rent for those who reside there, charging rents between $580 and $830 per month.

In both the public meeting held to discuss the project, as well as the fact sheet sent to the community, Bric said Shelter America has engaged a national company, as required under the Uniform Relocation Act, to work with local landlords and agencies to secure housing for all current residents of the trailer park.

Morever, he said, these households will have a priority opportunity to move back to the newly developed apartment complex if they so choose and qualify for the housing.

Hilary Emmer, an affordable housing advocate on Vashon whose work is often conducted under the auspices of the Interfaith Council to Prevent Homelessness, said that she is one of the people who are working on helping the five current tenants of the park relocate and that she supports the development of CCV.

“Each tenant is getting money to help pay the difference of what their rent was and what their rent might be,” she said. “It is a set amount, but certainly very helpful.”

Community support and neighbor concerns

Many on Vashon have long supported Bric’s project, and are now cheering the news that it is finally being built.

“The affordable housing crisis on Vashon Island is too great to expect an agency like Vashon HouseHold to manage alone,” said Jason Johnson, executive director of Vashon HouseHold. “We need partners like Shelter America and are thrilled that the Creekside Village project is moving forward. This community, especially the island’s workforce and seniors, need those 40 units of deeply affordable housing more than ever before.”

Morgan Brown, chair of the community council’s Vashon-Maury Affordable Housing Committee, concurred.

“As should be apparent to all, Vashon is in acute need of more housing, particularly the type of workforce housing that [Creekside] is going to address,” Brown said. “This isn’t going to solve the problem – it’s too big, with tremendous obstacles – but with 40 units, [it] is significant. Vashon is fortunate that at least this project has managed to overcome those obstacles.”

However, the project does have detractors: Saul Fortunoff, and his wife Weslie Rogers, live across the street from the proposed project, and both say they don’t believe it belongs on Gorsuch Road.

In 2018, Fortunoff created a Facebook page, No Creekside Gorsuch, which includes a detailed, three-page position paper detailing why he believes the site is wrong for affordable housing.

Chief among his concerns, he said in a phone call with The Beachcomber last week, was his conviction that increased foot and car traffic on the road could lead to serious accidents and that the driveway to the parking lot was on a blind corner at the bottom of a hill.

This contention has been disputed by Bric, who said that careful engineering has evaluated the safest access to and from the site, with an emphasis on clear sightlines of directional traffic entering and exiting the property.

Fortunoff and Rogers both said they understood the need for affordable housing on Vashon, and have long volunteered for social service causes on Vashon.

“The idea is good, but [the development] is in the wrong place,” Fortunoff said. “The property is absurd for development.”

At the virtual meeting held on Aug. 7, two other neighboring residents asked if a sidewalk on Gorsuch Road could be incorporated into the plan, saying that many more neighbors would support the project if this were the case.

But 11 other islanders spoke up with strong support of the project.

“I wish I did live closer to it,” said islander Merrilee Runyon. “We badly need affordable housing on Vashon and this project is very respectful of the land and the community.”