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New housing group formed

City funding will support the coalition for affordability.

The job of maintaining affordable housing on Bainbridge Island may have found the steady hand it needs.

The Bainbridge City Council on Wednesday unanimously approved the formation of a new Community Housing Coalition, an advocacy organization dedicated to on-going analysis, research and education to provide housing for low and middle-income residents.

Under the umbrella of the long-standing Health, Housing and Human Services Council, the coalition will draw over $70,000 in city contingency funds for 2005 to begin the process of hiring a professional staff and formalizing the organization’s structure.

“We don’t want to let economic trends throttle and choke out the diversity we have,” said Bruce Weiland, a member of the city’s Affordable Housing Task Force, which spearheaded the coalition’s formation with HHHS.

Weiland and other coalition supporters told the council that many residents are being priced off the island by rising home values and rental rates.

Almost 24 percent of the island’s population makes $35,000 or less a year, according to statistics cited by the Housing Resources Board. With the average home price nearing $500,000, many residents are faced with tough housing choices.

Advocates of the coalition, including the HRB, Helpline House and the Kitsap County Consolidated Housing Authority, praised the coalition’s focus on both lower and middle-class housing needs.

“Teachers, clerks, grocery store workers should be able to rent or own a home on the island,” said Carmella Houston of HHHS.

Councilman Bill Knobloch said the coalition’s work will be the “last chance” to preserve affordable housing on the island before costs “go to the moon.”

Some councilors said they will keep an eye on the new organization and its five-digit budget.

“While I fully support this, my expectations are extremely high,” Councilman Bob Scales said. “We can’t just keep throwing money at this.”

HHHS and other housing advocates will work through March finalizing the coalition’s structure, selecting committee members and hiring a director who will earn $50,000 a year.

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