Common Ground Community Housing Trust is making strides in starting to address the need for affordable housing in the Wenatchee Valley, according to managing director Thom Nees.
The nonprofit organization has purchased .4 acres of land on 9th Street in Wenatchee with an existing home and is working with the city to develop that property into eight cottage-style homes. The family selling the property generously sold it at below market value as a contribution to support the effort of improving housing affordability, News told me.
The Community Land Trust model has been used in other communities in North Central Washington and around the state to develop permanently affordable housing, including Chelan, the Methow Valley and in the Upper Valley. In that model, a nonprofit owns the land in perpetuity, develops it, and sells the houses to qualified buyers. In the case of the Common Ground Community Housing Trust, potential owners of the houses will have to have income at or below 80 percent of the area median income and qualify for a mortgage. For a family of four, that income would translate to an annual income in the neighborhood of $55,000, Nees said. So the envisioned four one-bedroom and four two-bedroom cottage units would help working individuals and families achieve affordable housing.
Under the expected terms of the housing trust, homeowners would be required to sell the property to individuals or families also making 80 percent of the area median income. That’s how the property remains permanently affordable.
Another feature of the Community Land Trust process is that the nonprofit provides support and mentorship for the homeowners who participate in the program. The homeowners will also be eligible for special mortgage programs through local banks.
The Wenatchee Valley, like the rest of the state, has a huge housing affordability challenge. The median home price, according to Realtor.com, has risen to more than $570,000 in the local market. Despite all of the apartments that have been built in the valley, the vacancy rate still is extremely low and rental rates remain high.
Nees, who also serves as head of Serve Wenatchee Valley, said many clients of that nonprofit are paying between 50 percent and 70 percent of their income for housing. For housing to be affordable, housing costs need to be no more than 30 percent of household income.
Those who are paying in excess of that amount struggle to pay for food, medication, utilities or other necessities. These families are vulnerable when there is an unexpected medical bill or car repair, for example.
A recent report from the state Commerce Department suggested that Chelan County will need to build 10,000 housing units over the next 20 years and that 55 percent of those would need to be affordable for those earning 80 percent of the median income.
Nees, who also served on the housing task force for Our Valley Our Future, said the organization’s regional housing study determined that the free market alone will not solve housing affordability issues for those with low to middle incomes.
To Nees, it’s a moral imperative that we do whatever we can to help people who work here find housing. Escalating housing prices and continued high rents are making it increasingly difficult for middle and low-income individuals who work here to live in the valley.
Home ownership is a huge economic driver for families. According to a study by the Federal Reserve, the median net worth of homeowners in this country is 40 times higher than the net worth of renters. That makes intuitive sense because of the buildup of equity that occurs when people own their homes.
Nees said much of the preliminary work has been done with the city to get the housing trust’s first development in place. News hopes to build Common Ground Community Housing Trust into an organization able to to do more projects to help address the affordability crisis here.
Rufus Woods is the publisher emeritus of The Wenatchee World. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 509-665-1162.
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