No easy answers at mobile home park

Residents mull the future, loss of home equity.

When even your best choice still means losing your home, it can be a hard decision to make.

So Islander Mobile Home Park delayed a vote Thursday, on whether to continue working with the park’s purchaser-to-be, the Kitsap County Consolidated Housing Authority – or whether to take their chances with private developers.

There was “lots of good dialogue and a lot of emotion, but we’re getting things figured out,” said Rob Sinnett, vice president of the park’s homeowners’ association said. Residents will meet again among themselves before meeting with KCCHA officials again on March 30, he said.

Pat Alderman, who since 1968 has owned the six-acre, 60-space mobile home park site just north of City Hall, announced last year her intent to sell the property. The KCCHA agreed to purchase the property for $5.5 million, to maintain it as affordable housing for 10 years before redevelopment.

But KCCHA said last week that the state Housing Trust Fund will not finance the project – $2 million is sought from that agency – unless redevelopment begins in five years, not 10. KCCHA officials have been meeting with residents to discuss options, and whether they want the agency to continue with the purchase.

Several private developers are also said to be interested in the land, but they would not be able to bid unless KCCHA pulled out of the deal.

Thursday, meeting attendees acknowledged that keeping the park as-is and at current rents for even five years would be better than the 12 months developers would be held to. Also, only one-third would have to move in five years, since redevelopment would be in phases.

Still, the overwhelming concern of residents was the lost equity in their homes.

“This represents a group disaster,” one tenant said, and that for some the equity represents life savings.

Julie Graves, development director for the KCCHA, said that the housing authority would pay an undetermined sum to each homeowner, which could be used to move or dispose of their mobile homes when the time came.

City planner Kathy Cook attended the meeting, in response to questions raised a week earlier about the Comprehensive Plan. Cook said the city encourages maintaining the mobile home park as affordable housing, but that does not protect the facility as-is.

Residents raised the possibility of reimbursing some part of the lost equity in their homes through future rent income on market-rate apartments, when the park is redeveloped.

But Graves cautioned against banking on potential future revenues as future market conditions are unknown and even market-rate apartments would not be generating significant income.

One resident suggested finding a way for each tenant to purchase a plot of land on the property; Graves agreed to speak with the state to look into that possibility.

Although the meeting did not bring resolution, three dozen surveys of resident income levels and votes on whether to go ahead with KCCHA were collected.

“It was positive that somebody was here from the city to dispel options that are not available,” resident Gregory Massie said. “I’d rather deal with the facts and make an informed and educated decision.”

“Generally the residents are probably in favor of us continuing because of the alternatives (with private developers),” said Don Chase, multifamily housing director of the KCCHA. “The property will eventually be developed for higher-value use whether it is the KCCHA or some other (use).”

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