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Housing group makes its pitch

New strategies for more affordable units begin to take shape.

You can’t build it unless they come.

That’s the dilemma facing those charged with drafting a new ordinance to put more affordable housing on the island without discouraging development.

Without incentives to build affordable, they say, builders will simply go elsewhere. Without the ordinance in place, economic diversity will all but disappear from the island.

“This whole thing is about finding a balance,” said architect and affordable housing advocate Charlie Wenzlau. “We need better incentives to compensate developers for creating affordable units. Otherwise they just lose money.”

Inclusionary requirements, community land trusts and developer incentives were the bulk of discussion Thursday between the city Planning Commission and drafters of the new ordinance.

Fifteen percent of all new residential projects or portions of mixed unit development with five or more units would be affordable to income-eligible buyers under the suggested guidelines.

Affordable housing is generally defined as spending no more than one-third of monthly household income on rent or mortgage payments. Household incomes below $56,000 would qualify under the new parameters.

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.

Drafters will seek funding from City Council July 12 before engaging in another study session, this time to talk exclusively about the complicated issue of CLTs, with the planning commission July 27.

Community land trusts are nonprofit groups that allow individuals or developers to build affordable units atop land owned by the trust, essentially negating land costs. The units can only be resold as affordable housing.

Several CLTs have seen success across the country, including one on Orcas Island.

Del Miller, who spoke to the commission about CLTs, said there were 13 such communities currently in Washington state.

Miller also announced that the Housing Resources Board recently secured a $900,000 grant to purchase the 48-unit Island Terrace Apartments, which will ensure the building’s future status as affordable housing.

It is uncertain when the ordinance will be finished, but according to city administrator Kathy Cook, nothing can be done until the logistics of the CLT, which would administer the ordinance, are settled.

Financing and deciding whether a new or existing organization will assume control are the main concerns.

The money the group seeks from City Council would be used to solve those issues.

One existing candidate for the job is the Housing Resources Board, though much remains to be determined.

Some on the commission questioned whether CLTs would appeal to buyers on Bainbridge Island, who would essentially be forfeiting their equity.

“People who buy these units would need to have their eyes open,” said Kat Gjovik, director of the Community Housing Coalition. “It’s not for people who are in it to build personal wealth.”

Gjovik added that her group has spoken to several people on the island who would be interested in purchasing a home from a CLT.

An example of suggested developer incentives were cost offsets, by which developments would be granted a bonus of one market rate unit for each mandatory affordable housing unit created.

Planning commission members raised a number of concerns about the current outline of the ordinance, but were generally supportive of what the group came up with.

Wenzlau said drafters were open to suggestion as they worked toward their ultimate goal.

“There were a lot of really basic problems with the old ordinance,” he said. “We don’t have all the answers yet.

“We’re trying now to present the goals and principles. What we have so far may be good or it may be bad.

“What we want is permanent affordability.”

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