A nice place to visit, but ... Leavenworth steps up on drooping population numbers
Saturday, January 21, 2012
LEAVENWORTH — Taci Ellingson moved here about 20 years ago from Everett. Preparing for her first baby, she wanted to live near her parents, who’d bought a Leavenworth home to retire in.
“It was easy to find cheaper rentals back then,” said Ellingson.
Not so much anymore. Leavenworth rental rates and home prices have ballooned, apparently leading to a drop in its population. The Bavarian Village, which draws more than a million tourists each year, was one of just three NCW communities to lose residents between the 2000 and 2010 census counts, dropping 109 citizens for a new total of 1,965.
Ellingson has stayed, after brief periods living in Wenatchee while she worked for the Wenatchee Radio Group. Her parents were instrumental in helping care for her growing family — her fourth child is now 10 years old — and shuttling the kids back and forth to Leavenworth for sitting was a pain. After a divorce in 2003 and a new job as a KOHO Radio office manager, she sought to buy a house in town, but found the $220,000-and-up home prices prohibitive at her $13 hourly wage.
Her solution was to work her way toward a home in Aldea Village, a development by local Christian charity Upper Valley MEND with modest-income homeowners in mind. Ellingson’s house, for example, cost roughly $140,000, and she paid sweat equity by helping with construction. Her labor paid off with a $4,000 grant toward the closing costs. (Ellingson used part of that money to buy a washer and dryer.)
Leavenworth wants to help more people like Ellingson find homes in their price range — in part a reaction to its 5 percent population dip.
“That’s kind of an alarming statistic for a town,” said Mayor Cheri Kelley Farivar, a lifelong resident and a Leavenworth City Council member since 2009.
Last April, Cascade School District Superintendent Steve McKenna told the Leavenworth City Council that population drops affected enrollment. In the prior two months, 32 students in the had transferred out of the 1,200-student district, with their parents citing shrinking income and lack of affordable housing as reasons.
That, plus data concerning resident incomes and home prices, spurred the City Council Nov. 22 to vote its support for a planned 40-home affordable-housing community. MEND, which has developed 20 low-cost family homes in Leavenworth since 2002, will construct the Meadowlark Development just north of Cascade High School on Chumstick Highway.
Under market circumstances, a home purchase in Leavenworth would be out of reach for Ellingson and for most resident workers, who earned a median yearly wage of $25,000 between 2005 and 2009. Median family incomes in the same period were figured at $55,500.
Meanwhile, average rents in Leavenworth were around $1,000, and home prices in Leavenworth rose from $223,000 in 2005 to a peak of $325,000 in 2007. They’ve since dropped back to around $252,000, but home sales in the city have also shrunk by half from their 2007 peak.
“That’s one of the things we hear about, that there’s no affordable housing in Leavenworth,” said real estate agent Geordie Romer, who specializes in Leavenworth-area home sales. “Well, is that the problem, or is the problem that there’s no jobs?”
Leavenworth, Waterville and Soap Lake were the only NCW towns to lose population between census tallies. Chelan County’s total population grew by 8 percent, all of it due to new Latino residents. Leavenworth gained no population benefit from that influx: 85 new Latino residents arrived between 2000 and 2010, but 194 non-Hispanic townsfolk dropped from the rolls.
Meadowlark construction should start this year on houses with prices ranging from $125,000 to $275,000, for buyers whose incomes fall below the median level. MEND organized the deal with private investors, including its own board president, John Agnew, and his wife Patty Hebert, the organization’s board secretary.
Applicants are accepted as home buyers based on income levels, and pay mortgages only on their structures. The land itself is held by MEND’s community land trust.
The City Council’s vote promises $815,000 in municipal bond funding for Meadowlark, which would pay for utility, water and sewer connection at the site, and be repaid by the developers. The actual bond issue won’t occur until MEND and its investors secure $1.8 million for road construction, among other commitments.
“You don’t hear often of a town making an $800,000 commitment to low-income housing,” said Brian Thompson-Royer, Project MEND’s executive director. “... That says something about the kind of place Leavenworth is.”
Ellingson still lives at Aldea Village with three of her four kids. (Her 19-year-old daughter has a place of her own.) After two layoffs in radio and one in the insurance industry, she’s polishing up her prerequisites to study nursing.
When she was leasing homes in Leavenworth, she found fault with the upkeep of many of the properties. Rents went up with increasing demand, but property maintenance didn’t keep pace.
“Now I wouldn’t be able to really afford them,” she said. “If I wasn’t in this program, I would have to move out of the area.”
Jefferson Robbins: 664-7123
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