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Habitat for Humanity takes root on island

"Primed with $75,000 from the city's Housing Trust Fund, Habitat for Humanity wants to build homes for three lower-income families on Bainbridge Island next year.Affordable land is an obstacle. Community support is not.The minute it got out that we might build on Bainbridge Island the excitement reached a whole new level, said Pat Nordmark, treasurer of the Kitsap County Habitat organization.Habitat builds what Nordmark calls simple, decent housing using volunteer laborers, who work with the prospective homeowner. The homeowner is then given a no-interest mortgage, and the house payments are recycled into new housing projects.The organization has been active in Kitsap County for a number of years, and has built homes in Bremerton, East Bremerton, Suquamish, Port Orchard, Manchester and Hansville. But high land costs have kept the organization away from Bainbridge.Three island groups have already stepped up and agreed to sponsor a house, at a cost of $45,000, which pays for the actual out-of-pocket costs of the housing materials - the boards and nails, as Nordmark puts it.The sponsors are Rolling Bay Presbyterian Church, which Nordmark attends, the island's dentists and the island's lawyers.The lawyers, in fact, are hoping to sponsor two houses - one on Bainbridge and one on the peninsula.There are a lot of lawyers on Bainbridge, so we sent out letters inviting contributions, said Charles Wiggins.We want to do something in our community, of course, he said, but we also want to reach out into the broader community and do something on the other side of the bridge.Calling itself the Gavel and Hammer Society, a nucleus group of lawyers identified 461 members of the Washington State Bar who list a Bainbridge Island home address. Solicitations to roughly half of that group has yielded some $15,000 in less than a month, Wiggins said.Dr. Sally Hewett is coordinating the Habitat project for the island's dentists. The dentists on the island meet four or five times a year, Hewett said. I brought up Habitat, and they thought it would be a fun thing to do.Hewett and her office dedicate two hours of work time per month to Habitat, donating all money paid for dental work done during that period of time.The Madison Avenue office of Hewett and Dr. Kelly Thompson has by itself raised over $7,000.Hewett said the dentists plan to raise the necessary $45,000 this year, then work on actually building the house next year. This involves the whole island dental community, she said. Not just the dentists, but the staff and the patients.First fundingThe $75,000 is the first appropriation from the Housing Trust Fund, which was established to help provide affordable housing on the island. Money comes from private donations, a portion of city permit fees that last year totaled $76,000 and a city matching-fund contribution that exceeded $30,000 in 2000. If and when the affordable housing created under city ordinance is sold, a portion of the proceeds will be recaptured by the city, and go into the fund.Habitat was one of three organizations seeking HTF money, and the only one immediately successful.The Housing Resources Board sought money to help low-income renters pay their rent, but that request was rejected because the fund cannot be used for such a purpose, according to HTF board members, who made their recommendations to the Bainbridge Island City Council on Tuesday.The other request was from the Bainbridge Island Harbor Commission, which sought $15,000 to help pay for mooring buoys to be rented to low-income liveaboard families. As the suggestion of council member Lois Curtis, consideration of that request will be deferred until the harbor commission approves an anchorage plan for Eagle Harbor. The $75,000 appropriated to Habitat will be combined with a $96,000 Community Development Bloc Grant from Kitsap County, and go towards the purchase of land.The total of $57,000 per lot is substantially more than Habitat has spent on any other Kitsap County property, but it still won't go far on Bainbridge, where the Northwest Multiple Listing Service currently shows only ___ buildable lots for sale on the island for that price or lower.Land costs are becoming a major issue, not just on Bainbridge but all over the country, said Nordmark, who was active with Habitat in Alabama for a number of years before moving to Bainbridge in 1998.We used to have cities and counties simply donate land, but that doesn't happen anymore.City Administrator Lynn Nordby, an active Habitat volunteer, believes that some landowner on the island might be willing either to donate land, or to sell at less than market value.Once the seed is in place and it's going forward, people may come out of the woodwork, Nordby said.Nordmark said that Habitat has asked the Kitsap County Consolidated Housing Authority about the six affordable-housing lots that will be part of KCCHA's Fort Ward Parade Grounds project. But the prices for those lots have not yet been established, he said, so it is unclear whether that might be a possibility.Nordby, though, said his hope is that land can be found closer to Winslow.These folks need to be close to jobs and babysitters, he said, and Fort Ward is a long way away from anything.The land need not be on a sewer system, Nordmark said, but there is a strong preference for connecting to a water system rather than having a well. Access to public transportation is a must.Ideally, Nordmark said, Habitat would like to find a piece of land large enough to accommodate all three houses in a cluster, which makes supervising the volunteer construction easier.The dream schedule, Nordmark said, is to find the land and to the permitting this year, then start the work next year.The obstacles to building truly affordable homes on Bainbridge are formidable, Nordmark said, but she thinks it can be done. I don't know that anyone thought it was possible to do this on Bainbridge, Nordmark said. But I think it is possible, in part because we get such a warm welcome wherever we go on Bainbridge to talk about this. "

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