COMMENTARY: New program addresses affordable housing crisis on Vashon

IFCH is developing a lottery program to ease rental burdens for some households.

Affordable housing for Vashon Island workers has become hard to impossible to find.

We have lost housing stock to the substantial short-term rental market. Also, because the housing market has driven up housing prices, we have seen our long-term rental stock being sold.

According to King County’s health profile for Vashon in March 2016, 13.2% of our residents are living below the 200% of poverty and 58.2% of our renters pay more than 30% of their household income in rent. We believe this situation has worsened over the last five years.

The Vashon Interfaith Council to Prevent Homelessness (IFCH) is developing a new program to ease some of this rental burden for some households. IFCH believes that all people need to live in affordable housing.

Here’s how the new program will work:

Households will fill out a preliminary application, due on Oct. 22. If they meet the program guidelines, they will be entered into a lottery, to be held on Nov. 1.

Everyone who qualifies will get a number. The first 13 households will receive a rent grant of $500 a month for only one year, amounting to $6,000 per year). For each extra $6,000 raised, the next-in-line household would be granted rental assistance. All checks will be mailed directly to the homeowners.

Once chosen, households then submit proof of income, proof of expenses, and a landlord/tenant agreement.

In addition to the rent grant, Patte Wagner will offer a budgeting class.

Eligibility requirements for the new program are:

1. Applicants must live in unsubsidized housing on Vashon.

2. Applicants must be employed or living on government fixed income (Social Security, SSI or SSDI).

3. Applicants’ household gross income is 250% or less of the poverty level.

4. Applicants must currently pay 50% of their household gross income for rent.

5. Applicants must live in a long-term rental unit with a lease, and the rental unit must be separate from that of the homeowner.

We strongly encourage all islanders who qualify to apply, and we also hope those who are able to donate to the program will do so.

Right now we have enough money to sponsor 13 households, but our goal is 20 families. We need $45,000 to meet this goal by November 1. For those who would like to donate, please send a check to IFCH, at PO Box 330, Vashon 98070, and write “new rent program” on the check.

We know that islanders are generous. During the past 19 months, the IFCH has helped 107 households with rental assistance through its Virus Relief Fund. Some families received assistance for a few months and some for many more months. Because of the generous island donors and with some grants, we received $433,500 to fund this program, and IFCH has granted $365,500 in rental assistance.

Now, with most of the requests for the Virus Rent Fund winding down as many people have returned to work, $55,000 from that fund has now been allocated to seed the new program. The $13,000 remaining in the Virus Rent Fund will help applicants through December.

We believe our island workers and individuals receiving Social Security should be able to live in their community. Our hope is that this program will help to preserve affordable housing opportunities. Please share with anyone who might qualify.

For an application, email Hilary Emmer at or call her at 206-463-7277.

Thank you.

— Hilary Emmer is a community activist, affordable housing advocate and civic leader who has twice served as Vashon’s unofficial mayor.