WENATCHEE — The demand for affordable housing in the Wenatchee Valley is greater than the supply.
Competition for government funding and a shortage of available properties are to blame, say local organizations working to tackle the problem.
"There's more need than services," said Alicia McRae, executive director for the Housing Authority of Chelan County and the City of Wenatchee. "People are having a harder time finding housing. We've experienced it in our programs probably for the last five to 10 years, at least."
It's hard to know just how many people are in need, as applicants can be on wait lists with multiple organizations.
The Housing Authority has 18 properties with 501 rental units throughout Chelan County and in East Wenatchee. A new facility has been proposed for Entiat.
WENATCHEE — On Mondays and Fridays, it’s coffee. They gather in the common room and pour it from a pair of white coffee pots in the corner.
Here were the wait list numbers as of June:
- Multifamily units, 584 people
- Senior citizens and people with disabilities, 527 people
- Year-round agricultural housing, 219 people
- Section 8 housing, 162 people
McRae said people can be on more than one wait list.
Waits range from six months to two years, McRae said, but the Section 8 rental assistance wait list has been closed to new applicants since September 2017.
All programs require annual income verification to determine eligibility.
Tenants pay 30% of their income. Depending on the housing type, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Office of Rural Development or the Department of Housing and Urban Development pays the difference.
Participants of the Washington State Housing Finance Commission's Low-Income Housing Tax Credit Program pay full price for rent, although it's lower than market rate.
McRae said the Housing Authority gets federal, state and, occasionally, local funding. It's a competitive process because low-income housing is needed all over the state and country.
Help is on the way | Catholic Charities
According to a spring 2019 report from the Washington Center for Real Estate Research, the apartment vacancy rate for Chelan and Douglas counties was 1.6%. Average monthly rent was $1,151.
Bryan Ketcham, Catholic Charities Housing Services director for the Diocese of Yakima, said his organization has seen the need for affordable housing in the Wenatchee Valley for years, but it takes time and money to build facilities.
Catholic Charities now has a 67-unit permanent supportive housing development going up on South Mission Street in Wenatchee. The Housing Authority of Chelan County and the City of Wenatchee will manage it.
Ketcham said the project should be finished by January.
Here's the unit breakdown for the facility:
- Below 60% area median income, 25% of units
- Below 40% AMI, 50% of units
- Below 30% AMI, 25% of units
- One-bedroom, 25 units
- Two-bedroom, 20 units (one for an on-site manager)
- Three-bedroom, 22 units
- Homeless, 33 units
- People with disabilities, 15 units (Section 811 rental assistance)
- Other low-income, 18 units (six Section 8 rental assistance)
One challenge to providing affordable housing is finding an appropriately zoned site that is large enough and has access to services. Another is securing funding from a variety of sources — a competitive process.
"It's not enough to just be successful with one," Ketcham said. "You have to be successful with three or four, and they have different requirements that you have to meet."
He said Catholic Charities has seen an uptick in homeless people in their crisis service. Along with housing, previously homeless residents of the new facility will also have access to mental health services.
Tracking each individual's or family's progress — whether over a year or 10 years — will help measure the development's success, he said.
"If you're serving individuals that are chronically homeless and have been homeless for a substantial period of time, that's going to take significantly longer," he said. "Some may never graduate out of that housing development, but at least they'll be safely housed and be able to live with dignity. That's really the goal, ultimately."
It was December and every two hours Heather got up to turn the propane heater on. She had to warm the tent so the kids could sleep. She’d been repeating the process every night for weeks.
'You have to be kind of creative' | Women's Resource Center
The Women's Resource Center's Landlord Tenant Liaison Program launched in May 2018.
Landlord-tenant liaison Bill Bilderback said the program includes 15 landlords and 20 households, plus another seven families or individuals that haven't yet been housed.
Bilderback said many landlords have been burned before, and they can be picky about tenants because of the low supply and high demand for housing. The Landlord Tenant Liaison Program offers protection with a risk mitigation fund.
It might take months to convince a landlord to accept a tenant. But they warm up once they see that WRC representatives visit regularly, issues are reported and the unit is being maintained.
"You have to be kind of creative and flexible because you're asking a lot of a landlord to take on a family that maybe hasn't lived inside in a long time or has some pretty high barriers," said WRC Executive Director Laurel Turner. "It comes out of sort of a referral collaboration. Billy's at the Community Action Council office once a week, plus they call him regularly and say, 'We have this person that just qualified. If you can find them something, we have funds.'"
But a shortage of affordable units presents a problem even with funding in place, Turner said. The program operates under fair market rental prices, and it can be tough to get landlords to meet them.
"Even the fair market rent isn't always affordable," Bilderback said. "If you have a single mom and three kids that needs a three-bedroom, you're up in 2019 to $1,300 a month. Depending on what kind of job you have, that's a lot of rent for a single parent."
Tenants pay nothing for the first 90 days but must requalify for continued assistance. If their income is below 30% AMI, the Community Action Council pays full rent or the tenant pays 30% of their income.
The goal is self-sufficiency, Bilderback said, but tenants can remain in the program for up to two years.
"Some people just need to have stable housing before they can have enough self-confidence to get out and look for a job," he said. "Being homeless is so stressful, not knowing where you're going to sleep every night. You don't have enough time or energy to put into getting a job, getting an interview, or getting cleaned up to go to one. Housing is so essential. It's that first step for so many people."
WRC also has 15 permanent supportive housing units at its Parkside facility, which is limited to chronically homeless people with mental disabilities. All units are full, Turner said, but an additional 20 are planned next to the facility.
Parkside residents pay 30% of their income up to the fair market value set by HUD. In addition, WRC has seven scattered units in a master leasing program through HUD. The units are in the tenants' names and rent is on a sliding scale.
A multi-faceted approach | YWCA
YWCA North Central Washington offers permanent supportive housing, a master leasing program and outside case management services.
The seven permanent supportive housing units are rented at 40% of market rate. They are limited to people who are chronically homeless and have disabilities.
The YWCA introduced permanent supportive housing in January 2016. Deputy Director Alyssa Martinez-Garcia said there's currently no wait list, but one vacant unit is undergoing repairs before it can be filled.
There's also no wait list for the master leasing program, Martinez-Garcia said.
The organization started the master leasing program in 2017 and outside case management last year.
Currently, the YWCA has three partner landlords and four households in the master leasing program, former Executive Director Jenny Pratt said. The organization's goals are to find more landlords to participate in the master leasing program, buy multi-family units and, ultimately, build housing for homeless and other low-income residents.
"We had an RV that we did a master lease on to house somebody for a short time," Pratt said. "It's all about being creative and finding safe places for people to live, even temporarily until we find something better."
The organization works with private landlords, guaranteeing monthly rent via electronic transfer and subletting units to tenants. Rents are in line with HUD guidelines.
Participating landlords typically waive deposits, and the YWCA tries to resolve maintenance issues before billing them for services.
In many cases, Pratt said, people are unable to find housing because they don't make three times the rent or have a current landlord reference.
"We have one family that we've had since we started the master leasing program that's still housed in that same unit and has just accomplished amazing things," she said. "They just bought a new car; they've been continually housed; they don't miss rent; they're going to school. … The landlord has a solid tenant, and he knows his place is being taken care of. It's a win-win."
Although the YWCA also gets clients who are chronically homeless, Pratt said she's seeing more and more professionals who fell on hard times.
"Folks that maybe worked at the hospital or they have living wage jobs, yet they have lost their housing through a relationship or a death in the family and they cannot get housing," she said. "We see people like that in shelters more often than we used to."
'It is a community need' | Community Action Council
The Chelan-Douglas Community Action Council has 50 units in two low-income apartment complexes — one in Wenatchee, one in East Wenatchee. The council also works with other organizations like the YWCA and Women's Resource Center through a coordinated entry referral process and offers hotel and motel vouchers for short-term assistance.
Executive Director Alan Walker said two main problems are getting money and finding property for housing. The council receives state and local money, but so far, it's been unsuccessful in securing funding for additional facilities.
Rent for the council's units is based on HUD guidelines and depends on each tenant's income. Tenants can receive anywhere from 5% to 100% support.
The coordinated entry program started last year.
As of May, the council reported 365 people looking for shelter, with 204 households on the priority list. Although it used to separate applicants by type of housing needed, people on the list are now eligible for any type of housing in an "an effort to house as many as possible, as quickly as possible," Walker said.
The median wait time was a little over five months. From May 2018 to May 2019, 48 households remained in the eligibility pool and 45% had been waiting for six months or longer.
Walker said the council works with individuals' needs to get them on their feet.
"It might be helping them find gainful employment and keeping it," he said. "Sometimes it's transportation issues. We work with Link Transit and provide bus passes to help folks get to work or education. Sometimes it's education training and helping them navigate through Wenatchee Valley College."
He said he believes a public-private partnership would offer the best housing solutions, and he'd like to work with businesses or individuals to build a subsidized housing facility. Property or sales taxes could help fund such a project, he said.
"We need to move beyond the concept that government and nonprofit entities can solve our affordable housing crisis and recognize it is a community need," he said.