Thanks to funds it recently received from the Washington Department of Commerce, a local affordable housing nonprofit organization will not have to sell land it has purchased for a proposed 40-bed complex for residents who are homeless, senior veterans, qualify as disabled or suffer from mental illness.
Vashon HouseHold was selected by the department to receive $3.4 million to help with the construction of Island Center Homes, according to a press release from the agency. The funds were part of a package of grants and loans totaling more than $91 million for over 2,000 units of low-income housing throughout the state. Those millions come from several sources, including the state’s Housing Trust Fund.
“Island Center Homes proposal is in perfect alignment with the Housing Trust Fund’s priority to serve the state’s most vulnerable individuals,” the department said in a prepared statement to The Beachcomber.
In addition to serving the Housing Trust Fund’s mission to “provide safe, decent and affordable housing,” as a King County alternative housing demonstration project, the department added, Island Center Homes residents will benefit from services offered King County Behavioral Health Organization.
Chris Szala, Vashon HouseHold’s executive director, hailed the agency’s funding as good news.
“It’s a great feeling to bring this particular project to fruition … because it’s very different than the projects we’ve done up until now,” he said.
The department told The Beachcomber Vashon HouseHold demonstrated in its Housing Trust Fund application that it has the ability to meet all the contracting requirements.
While we can’t discuss specifics of status at this time, now that the awards have been announced, Commerce staff will be working with each of the grant recipients to see that all the requirements are met,” the department stated.
The funding from the Department of Commerce comes after King County gave Vashon HouseHold about half the money for Island Center Homes, Szala said. A Seattle-based investment firm, Impact Capital, provided a few hundred thousand dollars of funding as well.
Now that Vashon HouseHold has the money necessary to go forward with Island Center Homes, Szala said the organization will apply for a building permit.
“It would be good if it were [approved] by June this year, which would give us a waiver from certain elements that would be typical of what the code says for a project like this,” Szala said. “A perfect example is under current code, we’d be required to put a playground in. Well, these are all going to be 40 single adults … so we’re proposing some things that would be more appropriate to the age.”
Harry Reinert, an official with the permitting division of the county’s Department of Local Services, said the county executive’s office has sent an ordinance that would “allow for some modifications to existing King County regulations.”
“Our regulations now are geared towards residences for families. There is a national trend — and we are seeing it in this area — of individuals living alone,” Reinert wrote in an email to The Beachcomber. “The ordinance will allow two demonstration projects to evaluate both the demand for and the impact of residential development with smaller units than we typically see under the current regulations.”
One of those projects is Island Center Homes, Reinhert said, while the other is a microhousing concept in White Center, between West Seattle and Burien.
By the time Island Center Homes gets the likely go-ahead to be built, it will have been a project for almost two years in the making since Vashon HouseHold announced plans for it in March of 2018.
The department outlined the scope of the project as one made up of five buildings with eight living spaces that would cater to 40 individuals. Szala said the project has the potential to help a broad spectrum of people who need it.
“We know, from our own waitlist — which are over 100 [people] deep for our properties — that there are quite a few veterans in the mix; there are quite a few people with mental health issues; there’s a lot of homeless issues — they’re all there,” he said. “The issue for Vashon is that every one of these populations exists but not in the numbers that usually make a housing project sustainable. This is pretty much the bare minimum — about 40 people.”
Each building will include shared a shared kitchen and dining room and individual units will include amenities such as a microwave and small fridge. Vashon HouseHold also hopes to reduce Island Center Homes’ carbon footprint with the use of solar panels on the buildings’ roofs and a rain catchment system.
Szala estimated Island Center Homes will begin construction in August of 2020 and will be open by late 2021.