Access to affordable housing on Bainbridge Island is moving forward as Ferncliff Village obtains its first purchasers, with more on the way.
Ferncliff Village is a project spearheaded by the Housing Resources Board (HRB) for the purpose of building new homes for lower-income residents. It is the largest and most ambitious project the HRB has taken on, according to Ken Balizer, its executive director.
“We’re very close (to building houses),” Balizer said. “I think we can start construction on houses toward the end of November.”
The village will be built off Ferncliff Avenue near Wing Point Way. Phase one of the project is to build 24 individual homes, while phase two will include the construction of six separate four-plex apartments. HRB hopes to begin construction on phase two by 2013.
“It’s pretty cool to be in an instant community where you have something in common with people, and that sense of community is important,” said Ingrid Del Riesgo, who is among the first four purchasers in Ferncliff Village. “I am really excited to be involved in the first phase.”
In addition to the homes, the village will include playgrounds, a community garden, a covered school bus stop, and trail access to Cave Avenue, providing easier and safer routes to downtown Winslow. The village will incorporate volunteering into its operation and construction of some of these facilities.
“One way for people to realize their sense of ownership is through their participation,” Balizer said. “The homebuyers will all be required to provide sweat equity as a condition of buying a home. This is a requirement of one of our funding sources.”
Volunteering, or “sweat equity,” so far has included work on trails, spreading hay for erosion control and planting trees and bushes. As a condition to live in the village, home-owners are committed to 50-100 hours of volunteer time.
Residents can choose from three different models of homes being built, ranging from a one-story, two-bedroom home to a two-story, three-bedroom home.
“I like the idea of a condo, but I don’t like the idea of shared walls,” Del Riesgo said. “I want to be part of a community and want to be close to downtown and to walk to places (because) that is how you build a character of a community, by getting people out and interacting with others.”
After contacting the HRB, interested homebuyers submit an application that covers qualifications relative to family size and income restrictions. The range of income varies depending upon many factors, but the HRB has set $30,000 as the lowest annual income to qualify.
A series of educational meetings that cover the application process, mortgages and financing is also available for applicants who must also go through a mortgage process, just as any other home buyer would. After financing is established, home buyers enter into a purchasing agreement with HRB, which involves placing a $1000 deposit in escrow.
“It was a lot of financial paperwork (so) I can see how that can be intimidating to some people,” Del Riesgo said. “But if you’re a first-time homebuyer that’s what you need to know.”
Currently the village has 15 applicants, all of whom pass the HRB’s income qualifications and are in the process of procuring a mortgage. Balizer notes that while for many getting a preliminary approval for a mortgage can be fast, everyone is different and there is no set time frame for the process as a whole. Some applicants may have issues such as their credit score, in which case both the HRB and the mortgage companies are counseling applicants in steps they need to take to get a mortgage and ultimately get into a home.
All purchasers so far are Bainbridge residents, but the opportunity is open to anyone who wishes to apply, Balizer said.
As a community land trust, the HRB will remain owners of the land the village is on, and residents will sign a 99-year lease with the organization. The lease is $50 per month and goes toward budgeting and staffing the Ferncliff Village project. A community land trust organization such as the HRB obtains land in order to provide affording housing. The land is held in a trust to assure that it will continue to provide low-income opportunities.
In the case of Fercliff Village the land was donated by island resident Lois Curtis, who the main stretch of road through the village is named after.
“Land is often the driver for increase in price,” Balizer said. “So if you take land out of the equation you decrease the price.”
Del Riesgo is not a first-time homebuyer. She had previously purchased a home during a former marriage, so she had an understanding of the process, but still appreciated the information HRB provides.
Part of the structure of Ferncliff Village includes homeowners’ ability to leave their homes to their heirs, but on average a homeowner will live in a house for seven years, said Balizer. Therefore, most owners will likely sell their home sometime in the future. In such a case, HRB wants to ensure that the homes in Ferncliff Village continue to serve their initial purpose — providing access to homes for lower-income residents.
Owners will be required to sell their home to income-eligible buyers, and their homes will have an appreciation max set at 1.5 percent each year.
The mission of the HRB includes fostering diversity on the island through the support of lower-income residents who may not always be able to afford living on the island.
“You don’t think of Bainbridge as having slums, but we do have some,” Del Riesgo said. “Just rural places that don’t have the money to build a house. I think there is a huge need for housing availability for people with low to moderate income.”
For more information, visit www.ferncliffvillage.org or call 842-1909.