Can we find a roof for all on the island?

"We thought we'd begin with a success story.On page A1 of this edition of the Review, readers will find the tale of a little street called Strawberry Place, also known as the Weaver Creek self-help housing project. There, nine up-and-coming island families - young newlyweds, single moms, a hodgepodge of office workers and blue-collar types - are putting the finishing touches on cozy, attractive little houses of their own construction. In so doing, they are achieving the dream of home ownership through their own industry, with the help of the county housing authority and local affordable-housing ordinances. We believe their success is cause for celebration in this community - and a story that we hope can be repeated again and again around the island.But will it? The story of Strawberry Place, and an accompanying article on page A3, begin A Roof For All?, a six-part series examining affordable housing on Bainbridge Island. Over three issues, we will look at the obstacles faced by aspiring home-owners here, as those left behind by the regional economic boom and its stock-option windfalls are priced out by rising land and home costs.To be sure, the market forces arrayed against maintaining an economically diverse island population are formidable. Some are tied to the availability of living-wage jobs; some are inherent to the type of construction now pervasive around the island. As noted recently by the Washington Center for Real Estate Research at WSU, fully 80 percent of the region's new home construction is being done on spec, that is, built by developers for sale to yet-undetermined buyers; few are built to suit the needs of families already owning a parcel, and only 1 percent of those built regionally are intended for rental. Average new home size last year was 2,235 square feet, up 9.3 percent from four years earlier. This, the study notes, despite the fact that the average size of the American family has been dropping for two generations.A new spec home now being finished in the Fort Ward area, on a lot the size of a postage stamp, may be illustrative: four bedrooms and 3.25 baths, with 3,200 square feet of finished space and another 853 square feet of partially finished daylight basement. Vaulted ceilings up to 20 feet high; gourmet-sized kitchen; laundry areas both upstairs and downstairs; huge walk-in closets for every room; his and hers dressing areas and vanities.In fairness, we should note that for the asking price of $665,000, someone will get a nice view of Rich Passage and the Olympics. Neither are we naive about the economic imperative of the builder to maximize his return on investment.But we dare say that the sheer scale of new construction, and all the luxury home bells and whistles, are driving up local housing prices far more than any school impact fee or affordable-housing surcharge. Really, a bathroom for every bedroom? Is this what it's come to, the idea that having the kids share a bathroom is some form of child abuse?For a sustainable community, we believe this island needs more Strawberry Places.Modest families, modest means, modest needs.And modest homes. "

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