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City holds the key to fate of those in the Quay

Advocates renew their call for public acquisition of the low-cost apartments.

Standing before the City Council Wednesday, Ed Kushner held aloft an average yellow folder.

Its contents were weighty: At least a portion of the fates of 71 households, the hopes of affordable housing advocates across the island and – perhaps most importantly – commitments from private donors totaling $1 million to help fund the purchase and preservation of the Quay Bainbridge Apartments.

“It is ours to lose,” said Kushner of the Quay, which will be sold to private developers and converted to market rate housing if local housing agencies can’t swing a deal soon.

Kushner’s folder – and along with it the announcement that donors had reached their fundraising goal – was met by hearty applause at Wednesday’s meeting.

But as both Kushner and Housing Resources Board Executive Director Carl Florea cautioned, closing the deal will require much more than the contents of a single folder; it will require big money and a leap of faith by the city.

“This is not a typical proposal,” Florea told the council. “We’d like it to be finished up, tidied up in a neat little package – we couldn’t do that.”

The city is being asked to contribute $3.95 million to the $12.6 million purchase of the Quay, touted by many as one of the last and largest bastions of affordable hosing in Winslow.

Sprawled across several parcels near Waterfront Park, the complex is home to a diverse group of islanders, according to a recent survey done by the Community Housing Coalition.

Many fear its sale to private developers would force from the island many of the Quay’s residents, several of whom have lived there for decades and likely couldn’t find affordable housing elsewhere in Winslow.

The funding request includes $100,000 up front from the city’s Housing Trust Fund to pursue the deal; chunks of $1.5 million and $2.35 million would be needed in 2008 and 2009 respectively.

As proposed, 51 of the Quay’s 71 units would be preserved as rentals. Of the 20 remaining units, seven would be sold as affordable housing and 13 would be sold at market rate to help fund the purchase.

Dealmakers said due diligence – in the form of independent appraisals and cash flow analysis – will be performed in the coming weeks and months, but can’t be finished before the council finalizes the 2008 city budget.

Thus, the city’s funding, should it be approved, would be contingent on details that won’t likely emerge until next spring.

“I’m afraid we’re once again in the position we hate of having to make a decision without all the information,” said Council Chair Chris Snow. “The problem is the $4 million we’re being asked for isn’t ours – it’s the community’s.”

Still, Snow and other councilors showed a willingness, and in some cases eagerness, to listen.

“I don’t care what the process is,” said Councilman Jim Llewellyn as he and his colleagues discussed how their deliberation, under a tight time frame, should proceed. “I want to make it happen.”

Councilors and dealmakers are now looking over details of the proposal, and will receive additional analysis by the city’s finance department early next week.

Then, on Wednesday, at an all-day budget session, councilors will determine whether to place the Quay purchase on their Dec. 12 agenda.  

Like his colleagues, Councilman Kjell Stoknes said he wants to push the possibility of a deal forward, but he also urged caution.

“I would like to see that it’s a sound project,” he said.

In particular, he wondered whether the Quay would be able to sustain itself long-term. He also said that if the city buys the property, it should acquire an easement to allow the completion of the waterfront trail, which runs near the complex.

Dealmakers said that will be among the elements explored soon. They stressed that no money would be spent until more information is known; what they’re asking for now is a conditional commitment from the council to move ahead.

Kushner said private donors had expressed similar reservations about the lack of firm information.

“They’re concerned just like you are,” he said. “I’ve pledged myself to them not to ask for any money until due diligence has been done.

More eyes are going to look at this than any of us can calculate right now.”

As in past meetings, the eyes of Quay residents, past and present, were fixed intently on the council throughout the discussion.

Sarah Hamilton, who has lived at the Quay for 30 years, said she has been displaced before when the Tillicum Apartments in Winslow were converted to condos. Unsure where she might land if displaced again, she pleaded with councilors to give careful consideration to the deal.

“It’s my home,” she said.

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Much ADU

The Community Housing Coalition is hosting a free workshop today between 9:30 a.m. and noon at City Hall to encourage more islanders to build and rent accessory dwelling units. Housing experts, architects and city planners will be on hand to dispense information and answer questions. Information: Kat Gjovik, 842-1206.

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