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Ideas far and wide for affordability

Wini Jones stands at the intersection of New Brooklyn and Sportsman Club roads, near 8 acres of land she hopes will one day house city employees. Jones has owned the land since 1979. - Julie Busch photo
Wini Jones stands at the intersection of New Brooklyn and Sportsman Club roads, near 8 acres of land she hopes will one day house city employees. Jones has owned the land since 1979.
— image credit: Julie Busch photo

Wini Jones wants to partner with the city for subsidized units.

Wini Jones’s eyes are aflutter as she surveys a stand of trees at the corner of New Brooklyn and Sportsman Club roads.

She’s not sure how much the 8-acre parcel she purchased in 1979 with a $2,000 down payment is worth now; she only knows it’s a healthy sum.

What’s more important to Jones are plans to finally use it in a locally unprecedented way, as future rental housing for city employees.

If things work out, Jones would retain the land, but the housing would be built and owned by a nonprofit organization and leased to the city to provide residences for those with moderate incomes on an island awash with inflated prices.

The affordable housing problem that Jones and the community are struggling with is well-documented:

A projected 15 percent of all island households will spend 50 percent or more of their income on housing by 2012, according to the Community Housing Coalition, created in 2004 to help the city meet growth requirements.

Affordable housing is that which may be rented or purchased for less than 30 percent of monthly household income.

For Jones, this is her chance to make a personal contribution to a larger effort aimed at thwarting Bainbridge Island’s affordable housing woes.

“This has been a mounting problem for a long time,” Jones said. “But at some point the collective psyche of the community needs to prompt some action.”

Jones made her plans known at an affordable housing summit on Saturday at City Hall.

The event, organized by the CHC, drew together various elected officials and some 70 community members seeking to bridge the widening gap between island incomes and housing costs.

A new affordable housing ordinance, community land trusts and a push for “cottage housing” were among the ideas discussed.

State Rep. Mark Miloscia (D-Federal Way) said Bainbridge Island, by confronting the issue now, is ahead of many other places in the country facing similar problems – the gap between house prices and median income is at a 25-year high in many cities – but that swift action is necessary if islanders hope to avoid becoming a buoy for Puget Sound’s affluent.

Miloscia, who chairs the Washington State House Housing Committee, challenged everyone present to do their part.

“Change happens when communities come together,” Miloscia said. “It doesn’t matter who you elect – it starts with you.”

New ideas

Enter Jones, who challenged the city to use a 15-acre parcel of publicly owned land across the street from hers to create affordable housing.

Aided by several developers who share her goal, Jones said her plan is feasible, citing successful employee housing projects at hotels and resorts that could be used as models.

Jones is concerned that rising housing costs have priced many public employees off the island, particularly those who would respond to a future disaster.

“We’re going to have a major earthquake here some day,” she said. “It’s not a matter of ‘if,’ it’s a matter of ‘when.’ We need our support people to have access to the island in a situation like that.”

Mayor Darlene Kordonowy said the city has talked about using the land across from Jones’ for a new police station and courthouse, but that there was a possibility affordable housing could be incorporated into the project.

One of the most widely touted ideas was forming a community land trust, in which land would be privately owned to take land values out of the homeownership equation, making the homes themselves more affordable.

The CHC said several such programs have been successful elsewhere in the country.

Bill Carruthers and Andrew Lonseth, whose new 45-unit condominium development Vineyard Lane includes six affordable housing units, said they were willing to work on such a project.

A new affordable housing ordinance, to be submitted to the Planning Commission in June, would require 15 percent of all new housing built to be affordable.

It would also create broader incentives than an older version that was repealed two years ago.

Architect Charlie Wenzlau, who presented the new ordinance at the summit, said its success depended on a number of outside factors, like parking revisions, currently under Planning Commission review, but that it was a positive step forward.

Unspecified plans for cottage housing, small clusters of separate dwellings on a shared green space, were also presented.

“It’s not for everyone,” said presenter Dwight Sutton. “But in terms of affordable housing, this is a sitting duck opportunity.”

A major concern for many was how skyrocketing prices would impact diversity on the island.

A number of long-time residents remarked that they wouldn’t be able to afford the homes they live in today and fear that a lack of affordable housing will bleach the island’s colorful personality.

Young families, artists, teachers, the elderly and the disabled are among the groups in danger of being forced to the mainland.

The median income on Bainbridge has eclipsed the $70,000 mark, according to one presentation, far above the heads of many and far above the $45,000 in Seattle and $46,000 in Kitsap County.

Home prices reached a median level of $575,000 in March, putting them out of reach of first-time home buyers and young families without significant equity to apply to purchase.

“We want Bainbridge Island to be diverse,” Kordonowy said. “If we don’t address this problem soon, we won’t want to live in this community anymore.”

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Facts and figures

Challenges and issues discussed at Saturday’s Community Housing Summit, hosted by the Community Housing Coalition, included:

• There is a severe shortage of rental properties on the island, particularly studios and 2- and 3- bedroom apartments. One suggested solution is for people to find ways to include accessory dwelling units on their property.

• An estimated 170 island families live in poverty ($20,000 annual income for a family of four). An estimated 45 to 50 homeless people live on the island at any given time. There is one transitional housing complex, no homeless or emergency shelters or group homes for teens and very few facilities for the disabled.

• A recent Chamber of Commerce survey of 618 employees from seven large island businesses indicated 71 percent of them live off-island. Business owners said in the same poll that it was difficult to fill job openings.

• Of 580 full-time school district, park, fire department, police, court and library staff, 43 percent don’t live on Bainbridge Island.

More information on the Community Housing Coalition is available from Kat Gjovik, director at 842-1206 or chckat@bihhhs.org.

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