Uncertainty lingers at the Quay

Since their origins last fall, plans to save the Quay Bainbridge Apartments have offered promise but not certainty.

Deal-brokers, hoping to preserve the 70-unit complex as affordable housing, have taken a wait-and-see approach to the complicated transaction.

City council members, too, have had their nerves tested, after committing nearly $4 million in city money to the project, contingent on still unknown information.

Meanwhile, waiting anxiously in the background are the Quay’s current residents – a diverse mixture of families, singles and seniors – who still don’t know whether they’ll be able to stay in their homes, even if the deal goes through.

Sue Harris, who has lived at the Quay for 16 years, said she wonders whether she or her neighbors will meet the income requirements that would go into effect with the sale.

“We continually cater to both extremes,” she said. “I think a lot of people are sitting here wondering what will happen. Some of us aren’t very wealthy, but we aren’t very poor either.”

The Lutheran Alliance to Create Housing, supported by the city, the Housing Resources Board and private donors, last month signed a $12.6 million purchase and sale agreement to buy the Quay. The sale price matches that offered by a private developer, who, had it not been for the intervention of housing advocates, would likely have turned the Quay into market-rate housing.

Under the terms of the deal – still contingent on the results of an appraisal and other due diligence – 50 units would be preserved as affordable rentals, seven as affordable condos and the remainder sold at market rate to help fund the project.

The deal is scheduled to close May 25.

LATCH Executive Director Sue Yuzer said the current uncertainty for residents is built into the purchase contract, which doesn’t allow LATCH to communicate directly with them. She said the Quay owners wanted to avoid worrying tenants before the deal is final. LATCH will be able to survey residents toward the end of the closing period, but likely wouldn’t begin in-person discussions with them until this summer, only after the deal closes.

Next week the city will publish a frequently-asked-questions list at its website, and people can call the Housing Resources Board at 842-1909 with questions. The FAQ will contain a table of income requirements, though Yuzer cautioned that residents shouldn’t consider it a definitive measure of whether they’ll stay or go. That wouldn’t come until later, if and when individual interviews begin.

“We’re dying to talk with them,” she said of Quay residents. “We want to know every single thing we can so we can truly understand who lives there.”

The goal, Yuzer said, is to retain as many of the current tenants as possible.

She encouraged residents not to move now, since those who make too much money to stay would be given money to move or help with a down payment on one of the new affordable condo units.

“The number one thing I would say to people is don’t worry,” Yuzer said. “We don’t know for sure if this is done yet.”

Even if the deal happens, nothing would happen for at least a year and a half, since LATCH would have to get finances in order. When the time comes, advertising for vacancies would be limited to Bainbridge, though it’s possible new tenants would move to the Quay from off-island.

“We’re assuming there are people who work on the island or who’ve had to leave the island who would want to live here,” Yuzer said. “Our goal would be to stay as local as we could.”

The city’s now-disbanded Community Housing Coalition surveyed Quay residents last fall to get a better picture of who lives there.

Former CHC Director Kat Gjovik said the results were mostly anecdotal, and that the CHC wasn’t able to connect with everyone.

Still, the survey found that Quay residents on average live there for more than eight years – some have been there for decades – and pay rents between $700 and $1,000 per month.

“Most of what we did get indicated that there is a range of incomes, a range of household size and a range of diversity that is pretty rich,” Gjovik said. “I don’t think you could say the information we gathered is conclusive in any way – it’s just a snapshot.”

Harris’ snapshot of her neighbors showed similar diversity, which is why she fears that some of them may make too much to continue living at the Quay.

“They’re falling right between the cracks,” she said. “There’s been a big focus on preserving this place – but preserve it for whom?”

Planners on Wednesday briefed the City Council about the relocation plan and the legal intricacies of the deal.

As part of the deal, the city hopes to secure a trail easement at the Quay that would better link public access along the waterfront.

Councilors asked planners to continue exploring the possibility; they also said they want an independent review of the appraisal of the complex, which is expected to come back Monday.

Should the appraisal be lower than the agreed purchase price, LATCH would have to re-negotiate with owners.

Some councilors worried about getting a reliable appraisal in a troubled real estate market.

Private donors, who contributed $1 million of their own money to the effort, have similar concerns, but want to move forward, said spokesman Bruce Weiland.

“There’s no such thing as a perfect appraisal,” he said. “Markets are always moving. At some point you have to use your common sense – we’re right here with you trying to protect our money.”

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