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Housing advocates fete the opening of Janet West Home on Knechtel Way.

It’ll be “home on the range,” as soon as the ranges arrive at the home.

The nine energy-saving stoves in transit to Janet West Home will be the finishing touch to the nine new low-income rental units on Knechtel Way.

The project, named for the late Janet West, former mayor and affordable housing advocate, is slated for dedication Jan. 8.

“The key piece that drove this project and makes all of us at (the Housing Resources Board) feel deeply satisfied has been the fact that we’ve had the image of Janet West as the driving principle,” executive director and project coordinator Bill Reddy said. “The point is, this is not about faceless people.”

Janet West Home began in 1998 with the purchase of a 12,000-square-foot lot from Winslow Co-Housing, a process guided by HRB board president Garnie Quitslund, with help from Kitsap County Consolidated Housing Authority.

Reddy, who became project coordinator after becoming HRB’s executive director in 1999, helped raise the $1.16 million project cost. Funding included a $500,000 loan from the state’s Housing Trust Fund; $400,000 in grants from the Kitsap Country Department of Community and Economic Development; a $200,000 bank loan; and $50,000 in grants from the city’s Housing Trust Fund.

All but one of the nine units are one-bedroom affairs, each 520 square feet, with the sole two-bedroom “carriage house” unit at 708 square feet. The units are in three buildings arrayed around a central courtyard; they are next door to Helpline House, for which West served as board president.

The project broke ground last June and has been completed on time and on budget – a feat Reddy credits, in part, to site superintendent John Valley of Pacific Heights Construction.

“He has done an absolutely great job,” Reddy said, “and so did the architect, Charlie Wenzlau.”

HRB worked with O’Brien Associates, an environmental consulting firm, to ensure “green” building practices that included high insulation levels, small appliances like the 24-inch fridge-freezers; and building materials like the 40-year roof calculated to extend the life of the building.

Although one unit is specifically tailored for disabled renters, most of the units were planned to be accessible, Reddy says.

Rents will be about $580 a month including utilities. To qualify, prospective renters must have an annual income less than 50 percent of the Kitsap County median – for a single person, less than $21,650.

Among the renters culled from HRB’s waiting list – currently at 65 – are a pastor, a teacher, a local bank staff member, two self-employed islanders and three retirees.

“The Janet West Home project is a significant addition to affordable housing on Bainbridge,” said Dana Quitslund, board president of Health Housing and Human Services Council. “It addresses one of the fundamental unmet needs identified in our 2003 Human Services Needs Assessment.

“Affordable housing is the key to maintaining diversity in our community.”

More needed

Karen Monson, a development consultant on the city’s Housing Trust Fund committee who helped prepare the needs assessment, praises the Janet West Home project, but also turned an eye to the future.

“The location is excellent,” Monson said, “and it doesn’t cry out ‘hi, I’m low-income housing,’ or something pejorative. It’s designed well.

“We’d just like to have many more of them.”

But others looking for affordable rental units here may wait as long as three years. HRB receives one to three calls a day from families seeking a rental, according to Reddy.

The bigger the family, the smaller the chances of ever finding an affordable apartment; there is little low-income rental housing on Bainbridge for larger families. Three bedroom apartments are scarce – with only 19 units listed in the city’s 2003 Housing Needs Assessment – and there are virtually no four-bedroom units available here.

At the same time as units are being built, more are being lost, as apartments are converted to condos.

Between 1993 and 2002, 41 rental units were added – including 11 affordable units in VillageHome and four affordable and 26 market-rate units in Lynwood Commons.

But 19 modestly priced Driftwood Apartment units were converted to market-rate condos, so the net gain in rental space was just 22 units, according to the city’s assesment.

And that leaves a lot of teachers, retail help, craftspeople, police and other island salt-of-the-earth waiting for homes.

“If it took five years to build nine units – and that’s typical,” Reddy said, “then one can clearly see a much faster erosion of rental units. So there is a trend. And if you’ve got one-quarter of the population earning under $35,000, that does raise a question: What does the community want to see in terms of provision of safe, decent homes for the people who serve this community?

“Because that’s when you have stability, when they are here.”

Chelle Roberts was the co-coordinator of HRB in 1998 and West’s friend since helping with the longtime teacher’s mayoral campaign in the early 1990s.

She remembers West as a “gracious but tough” mayor, noted for her advocacy of affordable housing and traffic safety, as well as her support of island youth.

“I felt strongly that I wanted her memory in community activism carried on,” Roberts said. “I don’t think society, at times, honors the strong women who do the work.

“I wanted people to see her name on the project and ask ‘who was she?’”

Community Events, April 2014

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