County awards $3 million to Vashon HouseHold

Funds are earmarked for the organization’s latest affordable housing project

Vashon HouseHold’s latest proposed affordable housing project moved forward last month when King County awarded $3.1 million to the agency.

Vashon HouseHold first announced the possibility of the new project to be built south of town last March, after the county created a demonstration project intended to increase the amount and types of affordable housing in unincorporated areas. The project, on 1.3 acres of land, has changed some from its earlier stages and now includes five 2,200-square-foot, two-story buildings, each containing eight micro-units of 330 to 350 square feet. A common house, with kitchen and laundry facilities, had been proposed previously, but that has been removed from the plan. Instead each building will have its own kitchen and laundry area. Executive Director Chris Szala had also considered building four of the residential structures, housing 32 people instead of 40, but he said county officials wanted him to plan for the higher number, and he complied with the request.

The county funds are earmarked to provide 12 units to senior veterans, eight for homeless people and eight for people with disabilities. The cost of the project is expected to be about $6.3 million. Szala anticipates the state will provide $3 million for the project later this year, and may make its own designations for the funds.

Szala said he is pleased with the county’s allocation, which also includes money to provide services to the residents of the proposed development.

“It is fantastic. That is what we asked for,” he said. “Between the two of them, the county and the state, we will have the full funding.”

Vashon HouseHold’s funding request included $31,500 for a staff person for the facility, Szala said. The county went beyond that amount and awarded a five-year grant, providing $46,500 annually with the potential for renewal, from the Veterans, Seniors and Human Services levy. Those funds will enable Vashon HouseHold to hire a three-quarter time employee to work at the site and link residents to needed services, such as counseling, food stamps or veterans’ benefits.

“Staff will be there five times a week, if not seven days a week, checking in,” he added.

Szala said he expects the project to move forward, with construction likely to begin in early 2020, possibly sooner, depending on when the state awards its housing funds.

King County’s Sherry Hamilton, the spokeswoman for the Department of Community and Human Services, noted that the funding the county awarded is conditional, and requires that Vashon HouseHold secure all necessary financing, permits and land use approvals before the funds will be made available; those steps are ongoing. She also said that the money was provided out of the Housing Finance Program capital funding round and includes the levy funds as well as federal dollars.

Currently, a four-plex is on the proposed project site, located at 9914 SW 188th St. Previously, Szala has indicated it is in poor condition. Len Lofland was the former owner; county documents show Vashon HouseHold purchased it last April for $700,000. The property has five water shares and is zoned R8, a designation that allows eight “dwelling units” per acre.

Last year, Water District 19 provided a “Certificate of Water Availability” (CWA) to Vashon HouseHold for the project. After public complaints that the agency had not followed its own policies, water district commissioners rescinded the CWA in December, with the expectation the district would re-issue the certificate.

Water District 19 policies state that proposed apartments require .75 water units. Single family homes require one unit and commercial projects require a professional engineering water evaluation before the district issues the CWA. The Vashon HouseHold Project, as originally proposed, was to include six structures, including a common house. Water District 19 followed its commercial policies, not its residential policies, and Vashon HouseHold had an engineering water evaluation done accordingly. That study indicated the project would need 3.5 units, less than the five water units that come with the property.

However, following the complaint, chair Bob Powell said the district conferred with its attorney and Vashon HouseHold and determined a corrective course of action.

“The most sensible thing to do was rescind the CWA and then simply reissue it, making sure that we follow clear procedure in evaluating it the second time,” Powell said at the time.

Last week, cognizant of the criticism some have for the project, Powell said Water District 19 is looking to King County’s Department of Permitting and Environmental Review to appropriately classify the project to fit within Water District 19’s present policies. Szala, who noted that there will be “green” elements included with the project, including a rain bank that will be drawn from to flush toilets, said he expects to submit a new application for the CWA this month.

The project has drawn some additional criticism beyond the CWA process as well. Concerns include the micro-housing “apodment” approach, which does not allow for private kitchens; neighborhood and pedestrian safety at the already busy intersection, insufficient space allowed for parking, and a lack of responsiveness on the part of Vashon HouseHold to community members’ concerns.

For others, however, news of the project has been welcome.

Doug Kieper, the volunteer services officer with the Vashon Veterans’ Retreat Center, said that the organization has “frequent communications” from veterans, predominantly seniors, who either are without housing or in precarious housing situations. Often, they want to stay on Vashon, he said, and there are few suitable places available. He noted that among those struggling with housing currently is a veteran living in “an outbuilding,” with no kitchen or restroom and another, a World War II vet, who is living in a camper on someone else’s property, with limited access to needed facilities.

At Seeds 4 Success, which works to employ people with disabilities on the island, Executive Director Lee Kopines said from what she knows so far, she supports the housing development, but said she believes the need is greater than it will accommodate.

“I welcome the project, but there are a lot of people with disabilities on the island,” she said.

She added that she has concerns about pedestrian safety and the lack of a cross walk, but expects those issues to be addressed by the county as the process continues.

The county’s Hamilton said the county is always open to hearing from residents about their concerns, noting that officials understand both that change in a neighborhood can be concerning and that affordable housing is important.

“We have routinely heard from Vashon Island residents the critical need for affordable housing. The project is still in early stages and there will be opportunities for public comment in the future as the project moves forward,” she said.

Vashon HouseHold held one community meeting about the project last September. It was hastily arranged because of application requirements, Szala said at the time. Looking forward, he said he expects to hold public meetings quarterly, with the first one scheduled for March, the date and time still be determined.