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Park residents chase destiny

The mobile home park could be purchased by a nonprofit cooperative.

Residents of the Islander Mobile Home Park hope they have their destiny in their own hands.

Their tenants association hopes to work with a California-based company to form a nonprofit in order to purchase the 6.4-acre park just north of City Hall in Winslow for $5.5 million. Part of the land would be purchased by local developer Kelly Samson, for redevelopment as market-rate housing; the remaining park would include around 50 mobile homes.

For resident Laura Barnard, the proposal means “independence.”

“To be able to own the park means having ownership and not being subject to the needs or decisions of others,” Barnard said. “These are things rich people have because they have money. I think the middle and lower income should also have control over their lives as well.”

The proposal is not without its risks, and would require the Kitsap County Consolidated Housing Authority to abandon its own plans to purchase the park and redevelop it as a mix of affordable and market-rate housing after five years.

The city administration is working with all parties, seeking assurances about the future of the property. The city this week sent a letter to the tenants association and Samson, seeking more details on how their proposal would adhere to several objectives: providing home ownership opportunities for current residents; maintaining a sense of community in the park; preserving affordable housing there, and for how long.

At the crux is keeping affordable housing on the property – as instructed by the city’s Comprehensive Plan – and making sure all current residents will be treated fairly. City officials are also concerned that co-op shares could be purchased by outside interests, and the property then redeveloped without affordable housing in the future.

But council members at a Wednesday meeting on affordable housing said the council is not attempting to choose a path for the residents. Rather, Bill Knobloch said, the council is getting involved to safeguard the welfare of the residents. A private developer would not have to answer to the city as the housing authority does.

“We’re asking, ‘What do you have? What kind of deal do you have? Is everyone safe?’ Show us,” Knobloch said. “Because if it doesn’t pan out, you’re on your own.”

Should the city’s concerns be met, the administration or council presumeably would ask the KCCHA to cede its position as park purchaser to the tenants association.

Bill Isley, president of the Tenant’s Association, said that the group will respond to the council’s request next week, although they have until June 30.

The KCCHA proposal would maintain the park as-is for a minimum of five years, before redevelopment to 200 mixed-income rental units, of which 51 percent would be “affordable,” targeting people making less than 80 percent of Kitsap County median income – approximately $49,440 per year for a family of four or $34,608 for one person. But due to bond financing requirements, the KCCHA cannot offer home ownership.

“We probably can stretch the period of no (redevelopment) action to seven years and are looking to get it to 10 years, but there is no way to make a promise,” said Roger Waid, deputy executive director of the KCCHA.

The plan

While tenants once supported KCCHA purchase, many now are drawn to the prospect of owning part of the park. Barnard, a library clerk with a salary in the low $40,000s, said she doesn’t want to be a renter.

“I can’t afford to start again, (and) my biggest asset is my home. I only have 10 more working years,” she said. “I can buy into shares and can carry my own loan. I don’t need help from the city or housing authority. What I do need is not having anyone stand in my way.”

Relations between the tenants’ association and the KCCHA have been strained, with the housing authority perceived as blocking the will of residents by not backing out of their deal to buy the park.

At the same time, housing advocates have been afraid that the lowest-income park residents would be unable to buy into the tenants’ association purchase, and would be left by the wayside.

The tenants’ association plan is to form a nonprofit corporation and purchase the park in conjunction with two private entities, one of them being Samson.

While this would reduce the number of mobile homes from 60 to 52, it would bring the price of each lot, or share in the corporation, to a more affordable $85,000. Residents would need to make a down-payment of about $14,000 each; co-op shares would be transferable without penalty or review.

“Many of us want to save our homes. The Housing Authority project means losing home, community, and equity,” resident Maria Cook said. “The opportunity for ownership is an incredible oppportunity.”

Residents interested but unable to afford the down-payment would rely on finding an “angel” to cover the down-payment against the value of the home. A newspaper ad seeking investors received 16 replies, Isley said. Still, there is no guarantee every person needing an angel will be able to find one, although the city could step in.

Residents aided by an angel would pay a monthly rent or mortgage payment of about $575, higher than the current $391 rent, and accrue a debt against the share and home.

When the resident sold his home and share, the investor would be paid back from the proceeds. Those not interested in purchasing could continue to rent from the cooperative but at a rental rate close to that of mortage payments by purchasers.

“We’ll try to find a solution to preserve this community and maintain housing for the current community,” Mayor Darlene Kordonowy said. “I think we’re much closer to resolution on that particular housing problem.”

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