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Housing groups buy Island Terrace apartments

The 48-unit High School Road building will be maintained as subsidized housing.

Chalk one up for those with smaller wallets.

In a deal that will guarantee 48 units of affordable rentals in Winslow, the Housing Resources Board has struck a blow against an affordable housing crisis driving low-income residents off the island.

“It’s not about housing,” said Bill Reddy, Executive Director of the HRB. “It’s about people and the needs of families an individuals. Everyone has different needs. The cookie-cutter approach doesn’t work.”

What does work, as evidenced by the HRB’s pending acquisition of the Island Terrace Apartments, is action.

After a two-and-a-half-year money-scraping effort that includes “eight layers” of funding, the HRB has secured the $5.34 million needed to purchase the 48-unit complex from its California-based owners.

The building, located at the corner of High School Road and Ferncliff Avenue, is currently home to some 120 working people, all of whom likely would have been evicted had the HRB not stepped in.

That’s because the current owners, in absence of a buyer committed to maintaining the Island Terrace’s status as affordable housing, would have sold the property to developers, who Reddy said would likely have built and sold new units on the land at market rate.

The deal means as much to the HRB as it does to a community wresting with skyrocketing home prices. For the organization, a nonprofit founded in 1989 to provide low-income housing, it will more than double its number of units from 40 to 88.

For the community, it means significant and lasting affordable housing, something that could help restock the dwindling 18 to 34 age demographic, which is the island’s smallest.

“That age group is full of creativity and energy and new ideas,” Reddy said. “That’s why it’s so vitally important to do everything we can to support them and other age groups (that are affected) as well.”

Despite several moving vans full of lofty sentiments, Bainbridge Island has seen its affordable housing crisis worsen in recent years. The median home cost rose to well above $600,000 in June.

Meanwhile, 23 percent of islanders make less than $35,000 a year, according to HRB statistics.

Based on the standard definition of affordable housing established by the Housing and Community Development Act in 1974, households should spend no more than 30 percent of monthly income on rent or mortgage. By that standard, a growing number of residents can scarcely afford to rent, let alone buy, on Bainbridge Island.

Reddy also points to homeownership rates.

As of the 2000 census, 78 percent of Bainbridge households were homeowners. Reddy estimates that number has since eclipsed the 80 percent mark, meaning less than 20 percent of the island’s homes are available as rentals. Sixty-five percent homeownership, he said, is generally considered healthy for a community.

Potential remedies are in the works, including a new affordable housing ordinance, currently in draft form, that would require 15 percent of all new construction on the island to include affordable units.

Enter the HRB that, with its acquisition of Island Terrace, has secured the property’s future as a bastion of affordable housing.

Financing for the project, Reddy said, was complicated.

The HRB partnered with Bellevue-based Shelter Resources Inc., to broker the deal, which includes both state and federal money. The agreement that has kept Island Terrace affordable to this point was the result of a series of federal contracts with the current owners.

Reddy said tax credits, akin to those given by the government to donors to charity, essentially anchored the deal.

Now, after the HRB acquisition closes later this year, that affordability will remain intact.

Part of the money will also be used to pay for repairs to the building, which Reddy said was almost 25 years old. That includes relocating some tenants, who on average make $8 to $10 an hour, during construction.

“Supplying housing is just one aspect of what we do,” Reddy said. “But other things happen where people need help. People get ill or get divorced. They face family crises.”

As for the affordable housing crisis, Reddy is optimistic, but recognizes the rarity of the HRB’s most recent opportunity.

“I’m not sure if other big solutions like this one will appear on the horizon very often,” he said. “Short of that, what it will come down to is how the community supports itself.”

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