Roseballen’s first residents are finally home

“It was one of the hardest things I’ve done in my life.”

Lynn Korn has fished commercially, driven heavy equipment, worked as a welder and raised a daughter on her own.

But the vicissitudes of her life pale when compared with her last 20 months, when she spent every weekend — sometimes in driving rain, other times under a hot sun — working on her house and eight others at Roseballen, the new “sweat equity” project on the western edge of downtown Vashon.

Last week, as she sat among boxes in her gleaming new home at Roseballen, she looked both exhausted and elated.

“It was one of the hardest things I’ve done in my life,” she said.

Roseballen — launched 10 years ago and constructed by residents, volunteers and paid crews over the past 20 months — welcomed its first residents a few days before Thanksgiving. Nine of the 19 homes — phase one — are completed, about one year later than planned and after more “sweat” than some residents had bargained for when they signed up for the below-market-rate housing project.

Even so, a spirit of joy seemed to infuse the housing project last week, as families moved boxes into their cottage-style homes, arranged furniture and made plans for get-togethers later that evening to break open bottles of champagne.

Gillian Callison, her husband Terry Peters and her three children from a previous marriage had their first meal at their new home on Thursday — turkey, mashed potatoes, dressing and more delivered by a family friend.

“We definitely felt thankful,” Callison said as she stood in front of her home.

And Korn said she can hardly believe that she’s in a home as beautiful as the one she now owns. She’s 52. This is the first home she’s ever owned, said Korn, a maintenance mechanic at the University of Washington.

“I love the look of it. I love the covered porches. I love my wood floors,” she said. “It was very worth the sweat equity.”

The houses sit in two long rows — phase one, the nine houses that have just been completed, on one side and phase two, still four to six months away from completion, on the other. A wide swath of freshly laid green lawn runs down the middle.

The homes have a classic look, with steeply pitched roofs, lap siding and expansive front porches. Inside, they boast oak floors, stainless steel appliances and beautifully trimmed doors and windows.

The complex is situated just west of the post office, next to a large wetlands and overlooking Shoulder-to-Shoulder Farm, a collective farm project adjacent to Vashon Cohousing. Roseballen was built on 19 acres, 15 of which are now preserved as open space.

The project was spearheaded by Vashon HouseHold, which owns the land beneath it as a community land trust, and executed by Northwest Housing Development in Sumner. Built as an affordable housing project, Roseballen offers first-time homeowners houses at incredible prices on Vashon — as low as $161,000 for a two-bedroom and as high $179,000 for a five-bedroom, said Sam Hendricks, the executive director of Vashon HouseHold.

No down payments were required. Mortgages — offered by way of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development Program — carry an interest rate as low as 1 percent. What’s more, under the community land trust model, the homes are guaranteed to remain affordable; homeowners can resell at a higher price but can seek a return of no more than around 3.5 percent per year — a return based on annual rises in the consumer price index, Hendricks said.

Barry Brodniak, the executive director of Northwest Housing Development, said he’s pleased with how phase one has turned out.

“When I went out there for the final inspection, I told everybody I was taking baby pictures. … When we do houses, we want to make sure they’re something we’re proud of. And we’re proud of these. The homeowners did very good work,” he said.

Roseballen has garnered regional and even national attention — Hendricks said he gets calls from around the country about the project — in part because it’s one of the only projects that marries two leading concepts in affordable housing development: sweat equity with the community land trust model. Vashon HouseHold decided to use the sweat equity model because it was the only way to keep the prices so low, he said; the community land trust model ensures those prices stay low.

Like Brodniak, Hendricks is thrilled by the results.

“I didn’t expect the homes to be as beautiful as they are,” he said.

Initially, for instance, he didn’t know if the project would garner enough grants to include hardwood floors in the homes or stainless steel appliances, he said.

“Now, I see this beautiful cottage community with just the highest standard of construction,” he said. “I see them as modest but elegant.”

So, too, do some of the residents. Korn joked that next summer, she plans to plant a chair in the natural area across from her house and simply drink in the view — of her house, not the natural area.

“It’s new, and it’s clean, and it’s beautiful,” she said.

But residents also said it was an arduous process. Professional crews performed the most complicated tasks, including roofing, sheet-rocking and cabinet installation. Home buyers did much else — including the framing, the foundation, the siding, the trim work and the painting.

Under the sweat equity rules, each home buyer — or volunteers working on their behalf — had to work 35 hours a week. What’s more, they worked on all the houses in phase one, not just their own — and all had to be completed before any of them could go into the mortgage office and sign papers.

Many said they’ve not had a single weekend off in the past 19 months.

“I haven’t been to one of my daughter’s soccer games in the last two years,” said Patty Kiriazis, a yoga instructor who is moving in with her husband Lao and her daughter Amelia.

Korn said there were some low points along the way, and twice, she wept as she worked — once, last Christmas, when she was there by herself, and again, last month, when she was laying sod in a downpour that turned the topsoil into a nearly unworkable sea of mud.

The last month has been particularly difficult, residents added, because Northwest Housing Development, in an effort to force its completion, put a deadline on the project. “I hated to do that, because it caused some anxiety,” Brodniak said. “But they made it. The big thing is that they’re done.”

Many of the residents said the project was made possible by the incredible support they received from volunteers. All told, more than 70 people volunteered over the course of the project, a staffer at Northwest Housing Development said. Brodniak said it’s the most community support he’s seen at a project that his organization — now in its 38th year — has overseen.

As Korn unpacked boxes in her home last week, one of those volunteers — Harold Ensor — worked with her, trying to get the dimmer switch in her kitchen to function properly. Ensor, 67, has been there nearly every weekend and worked on every home since the project began, sometimes working 12 hours a day, Korn said.

Asked why he did so, Ensor answered matter-of-factly, “It’s a fantastic program.”

Korn plans to hold a big party in two months, where she’ll invite all of her volunteers. She said she’ll then start helping the Islanders who are building the houses in phase two, home buyers who will soon be facing that hard last push to the finish.

She said she feels grateful for what she now has.

“I will never sell this home,” Korn said. “I built this house.”