North Central Washington is a three county region, spanning more than 10,000 square miles of mountains, high desert, dramatic river valleys, dynamic communities, stellar research and education opportunities, emerging technologies, agricultural bounty, small towns and growing cities.
First new homes for Methow Housing Trust coming soon
Nine homes that are affordable for ordinary working people in the Methow Valley will be ready for people to move into next year, some as early as the first quarter.
The homes, five in Twisp and four in Mazama, are part of the Methow Housing Trust’s mission to build homes that people earning 60 to 100 percent of the area median income can buy.
The housing trust expects to break ground on the Canyon Street Neighborhood in Twisp in May, where the trust plans two- and three-bedroom homes, each with a small fenced yard, outdoor storage, and its own parking, according to Danica Ready, executive director of the housing trust. There will be a common landscaped area on the property, which is across from the Whispering Rivers apartment complex and near the Methow River.
The McKinney Ridge Neighborhood in Mazama will have similar design values and pricing, but it’s being developed independently. Once the homes are constructed and applicants are matched with the homes, the houses will be donated to the trust to manage like their other neighborhoods, said Ready.
McKinney Ridge is being developed by Lee Whittaker in conjunction with the housing trust. The property, next to Liberty Woodlands on Highway 20, can accommodate 19 homes. Current plans are to create a mixed development, said Ready.
The trust has also purchased property in Winthrop but doesn’t anticipate building there until at least 2020, after completion of the Twisp project.
Because prices are based on the Okanogan County median income, they should be the same for all homes in Twisp, Winthrop and Mazama, said Ready. The pricing formula is based on homeowners not spending more than one-third of their income on housing — their mortgage, property taxes and insurance.
The trust’s design team is still refining the design of the individual homes and the site plan for Twisp, but some aspects have already been determined. Houses will all be single-story with one bathroom. They’ll also be what’s called ADA-ready, meaning they won’t have steps and can be easily modified with railings to accommodate different buyers and the concept of aging in place, said Ready.
In addition to Ready, the design team includes CAST Architecture; contractor Lucas Evans of Methow Valley Builders; Steve Oulman, project manager for the Twisp neighborhood; and John Sunderland, a trust board member who heads the organization’s land and housing development committee.
Potential applicants were also invited to a meeting with the team in March to help the designers understand what attributes are most important. “Ultimately it will be the homeowners that drive homeowner-association decisions that create and maintain a sense of community and common space,” said Ready.
When complete, the Canyon Street Neighborhood will have three or four three-bedroom houses and nine or 10 two-bedroom houses. Houses will be 900 to 1,100 square feet.
“The town of Twisp has worked exceptionally hard to meet our timeline,” said Ready, who said they’ve also received support from TwispWorks and the Methow Conservancy.
The housing trust held three community-outreach meetings over the past month that indicate strong interest in the houses. The trust already has about 25 potential applicants — three times the number of homes that will be available within a year, said Ready.
Interest is expected to grow as people learn about the houses and see the communities take shape, said Ready. Other community land trusts in the state (in Leavenworth and the San Juan Islands) have five to 10 applicants per home, said Ready.
“At this point, I’m not the least bit worried that we’re building homes that aren’t going to be filled,” she said.
Prospective applicants don’t fit any pattern. They include single people and couples, families with one to five kids, and seniors on a fixed income, said Ready. People born and raised in the Methow and people here just a few years have all shown interest.
Regardless of income eligibility, the trust requires all applicants to obtain a mortgage, which can be a multi-year process if people need to improve their credit rating or save for a down-payment, said Ready.
Over the past 10 years, median real estate sales prices in the valley have been outpacing wage increases by a factor of three, said Ready.
A 2016 community needs assessment found many factors contribute to the lack of affordable housing in the Methow. The assessment found that 39 percent of Methow residents put more than 35 percent of their income toward housing and 20 percent spend more than half.
The assessment also found that proximity to Seattle puts pressure on the local real estate market because people want vacation homes in the valley. The assessment found that 41 percent of houses in the Methow Valley are occupied only seasonally.
The housing trust will provide education and counseling to help people with the loan process. Even those who already qualify for a loan will need guidance because many banks aren’t familiar with the ground-lease model that’s used by community land trusts, where the purchaser owns the house but only leases the ground it stands on, said Ready.
There are other requirements for income and assets and purchasers are required to abide by a resale formula that keeps the homes affordable.
The Mazama project began independently, but when Whittaker learned about the housing trust, he contacted the group about ways of working together.
Whittaker and his late wife, Marilyn, have been part-time residents of the valley for years. When Marilyn was ill, they spent a lot of time at their home in Mazama and realized how hard it was for people in the service industry to find housing there.
Whittaker is still working on the permitting process, but expects to start on the first four homes this summer. He envisions a development with affordable and market-rate homes in an invisible mixture of homeownership models, said Ready.
“He loves creative problem-solving, and this is problem-solving specifically around community,” said Ready.
The housing trust plans to open the formal application process in mid-April. It will also hold homeowner-education classes this summer for their applicants and other interested community members.
For more information about Methow Housing Trust, contact 996-5943 or methowhousingtrust.org.
In a 6-0 vote, the Crested Butte Town Council enacted the tax on short-term rentals that will go to fund an affordable housing program in the town. The tax will be another part of the puzzle in regulating the industry that the town staff says is linked to a shortage of housing along with licensing, a cap on the number of licenses, fees, enforcement, etc.
The fund can be used on various affordable housing projects in and outside of town limits.
With this tax, Crested Butte becomes the first jurisdiction or municipality to tax the industry at a higher rate than traditional lodging such as hotels.
Winthrop, Twisp sites will follow land-trust model
By Marcy Stamper
The Methow Housing Trust took another tangible step toward creating affordable housing throughout the valley with the purchase of a 7.9-acre parcel in Winthrop that can accommodate 25 or more units.
Just one month after buying a smaller lot in Twisp, the trust purchased the Winthrop parcel, on Highway 20 near the Cascade Condominiums, in mid-September.
The Winthrop parcel has a flat area above the highway where houses would be built, with a sloping, forested strip that will provide a buffer between the residences and the roadway and be preserved as open space, according to Danica Ready, the trust’s executive director. The parcel, which is zoned for mixed residential use, offers multiple options for laying out the neighborhood.
The Winthrop land is also within easy walking distance of the Evergreen IGA, the post office and the Confluence Clinic, and is on the TranGO bus route.
The Winthrop parcel cost $233,000. The trust put down $5,000 in earnest money but did not have to make a down payment, said Ready.
Unlike for the Twisp property, for which the trust received an anonymous grant to cover the $311,000 purchase price, the trust obtained two short-term loans to buy the Winthrop parcel.
Borrowing money “was a difficult decision that required the board to balance the current financial needs of the organization (e.g., the costs to develop the Twisp property and daily operations) with our long-term goal of serving housing needs in both towns,” Bill Pope, president of the trust’s board, said in a statement about the purchase.
But given the rapid rate of change in the Methow’s real estate market and the scarcity of suitable properties, the board believed it was important to act on the opportunity right away, said John Sunderland, chair of the trust’s housing feasibility committee. The size and location made it an ideal fit, according to a statement about the purchase.
The trust will seek funding from other sources to replace the loans, said Pope.
The trust intends to focus on developing the Twisp property first, building about five houses a year starting in 2018. The trust anticipates constructing 15 homes on that site, said Ready.
“We know it will be important to focus on one project at a time, learn from that process and the people we are serving, and then refine as we move forward,” she said.
“By the time we begin to plan the Winthrop property in earnest, we expect to have a list of eligible applicants that will help us to define the need and preferences for that neighborhood,” said Ready.
The trust is following the community-land-trust model, where the trust owns the land and sells houses, leasing the land the houses sit on to the homeowner.
Based on a housing-needs assessment conducted last year, the trust expects to create 1,000-square-foot houses with two or three bedrooms that will be affordable for people earning from 60 to 100 percent of the Okanogan County median income of about $40,000 (depending on household size), said Ready. The aim is to bridge the gap between the rising cost of housing in the Methow and the modest wages many people here live on, she said.
To keep the houses affordable, the maximum increase in resale price will be capped for perpetuity at 1.5 percent.
Methow Housing Trust is a membership-based, tax-deductible nonprofit; people can join for $20. For more information, visit methowhousingtrust.org.
By Marcy Stamper
Efforts to address the the valley’s pressing need for affordable housing got a boost recently when the Methow Housing Trust bought 3.25 acres in Twisp as a site for new homes.
An anonymous donor provided the $311,000 for the trust to buy the undeveloped land on Canyon Street, across from the Whispering Rivers apartment complex between Third and Fifth avenues.
The trust expects to complete four to six homes in two years, said Danica Ready, executive director of the land trust.
“We feel incredibly fortunate, since the No. 1 obstacle for community land trusts is usually the ability to find land appropriate for this use,” Ready said.
The parcel has space for 15 or 16 homes. The trust plans to build on the bank above the 100-year floodplain, with a community garden and play area below, said Ready.
The property came out on top after the trust’s land and development committee evaluated all undeveloped land in Twisp and Winthrop for a match with their criteria — walking distance to grocery stores, the post office and medical services; and access to transportation, said Ready.
The housing trust is now working with the Town of Twisp on the costs and logistics of infrastructure development for water, sewer and roads.
Since being hired in June, Ready has been researching and visiting successful community land trust models. Based on that research and information obtained through a 2016 community needs assessment, the Methow Housing Trust will own the land and sell houses, leasing the land the houses sit on to the homeowner. Each house will have a small yard, said Ready.
The housing trust will solicit designs for the development this fall. Because the property is fairly linear, there aren’t too many configurations that could work for the overall layout, said Ready. Individual homes will share a basic design to keep them affordable, but they will have distinctive elements, said Ready.
“One thing I learned while traveling to different communities is that each neighborhood was unique — they’re not cookie-cutter,” she said.
The group expects to break ground on infrastructure next year. In the first phase, the trust plans four to six houses so it can fine-tune the process once they see what proves most successful, said Ready.
The trust anticipates creating 1,000-square-foot houses with two or three bedrooms. The houses will be designed to be energy-efficient and low-maintenance. As part of the design process, the trust will consult prospective applicants, said Ready.
“We want to bridge the gap between the people who live here and earn a modest income — and want to continue to live here — and the cost of housing,” said Ready.
Part of the cost of each home will be subsidized — a subsidy in the house itself, not in the family that buys it. To keep the houses affordable, the maximum increase in resale price will be capped for perpetuity at 1.5 percent.
That number can be adjusted if there are unforeseen market changes, but the intent is to keep the homes affordable based on the principles the trust has adopted, said Ready.
“People need to look at housing in a different way,” said Ready. “This is less about an individual family making an investment in housing than about a community making an investment so everyone has a home. We’re looking at housing as a basic human need, not a commodity.”
Many elements contribute to the lack of affordable housing in the Methow Valley, said Ready. The proximity to Seattle, which has one of the fastest-growing economies in the world, puts considerable pressure on housing prices in the Methow, since many people want vacation homes and the Methow is well within reach of benefiting from that booming economy, said Ready. The needs assessment found that 41 percent of houses in the Methow Valley are occupied only seasonally.
The housing trust is basing eligibility on needs and values identified by the community and on requirements set by mortgage lenders.
The housing trust’s board is expected to approve the eligibility criteria this week, which would require people to have lived in the Methow for at least two years, said Ready. To be eligible, candidates would have to earn from 60 to 100 percent of the Okanogan County median income of about $40,000 (depending on household size).
The trust chose that range because it’s what federal loan programs use. Banks typically require mortgage recipients to earn between 80 and 100 percent, said Ready. Starting from there, they will work backward to set prices for individual houses, said Ready.
In the Methow, 35 percent of households earn between $25,000 and $50,000 per year, and another 25 percent earn less than $25,000, according to the most recent census, said Ready.
Banks look at income levels by county, but the housing trust may adjust prices to accommodate the cost of living in the Methow. “We want to put people in these homes who are going to be successful,” said Ready. “We know that milk costs more here than it does in Okanogan.”
The trust is continuing to evaluate available land in Twisp and Winthrop. The organization doesn’t plan to renovate existing structures or develop rental units.
The trust is raising funds for infrastructure, design and construction for the Twisp site. Administrative costs are covered for the first year by a grant from Methow Valley Long Term Recovery.
The trust is a membership-based, tax-deductible nonprofit; people can join for $20. For more information, visit methowhousingtrust.org.
Twisp, WA – The Methow Housing Trust, a local affordable housing nonprofit that was formally launched in March, has received great news on two different fronts. The Trust has just hired Danica Ready as its first Executive Director, and nearly concurrently, it has received the IRS’ approval of its status as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit public charity.
“In just its first few months the Methow Housing Trust has marked some major milestones, but none more important than those reached in the last two weeks - the hiring of Danica Ready as our first Executive Director and then the receipt of our IRS letter approving the Trust as a 501(c)(3) public charity”, said Bill Pope, President of the Board of the Trust. The creation of the Methow Housing Trust came out of studies conducted by the Methow Valley Long Term Recovery group, which identified the lack of affordable housing as one of the main factors holding back the Valley’s economic recovery and advancement. “Housing availability and affordability is a difficult and complex issue, one that requires a long term strategy and execution, and we’re fortunate to have someone of Danica’s caliber and experience to help us take it to the next level. Now, with our IRS approval in hand, we can accept tax deductible donations and move forward aggressively to raise funds and start the planning process,” said Pope.
Prior to joining the Methow Housing Trust, Danica worked as Program Manager for Methow Trails, the nonprofit organization that manages the nation's largest cross-country ski system. Before that, she worked for several other nonprofits, including the Methow Conservancy, the Brainerd Foundation, Teton Science School and the National Audubon Society. In her career, Ms. Ready has focused on sustainable, recreation-based economies, land conservation, conservation biology, geology and education. She has served as a board member for the Cross Country Ski Areas Association and the Methow Fund Advisory Board. In January, Danica was appointed by Governor Inslee to serve on the Recreation and Conservation Funding Board for the State. Danica has lived in the Methow Valley for 17 years, where she has raised her two kids, Payten and Ben, and has built 6 small homes. She graduated from Whitman College with a bachelor’s degree in geology and from the University of Washington with a master’s degree in biology.
“I am honored and very excited to have this opportunity to take the great work that has been done by the Long Term Recovery effort and the current Board and volunteers, and help turn it into reality in the form of thoughtful housing options that serve the needs of the people who call the Methow home. The lack of truly affordable housing for many of our residents has been an issue for decades, since long before the fires of 2014 and 2015. I am grateful and excited to be in a position to work on an issue whose resolution is so vital to our continued success and character as a community,” said Ms. Ready.
“Methow Valley Long Term Recovery (MVLTR) identified access to quality, affordable housing as one of the main issues impacting the resiliency of our community,” said Don Linnertz, MVLTR board member. “The completion of a housing study resulted in the recommendation to form the Methow Housing Trust, ensuring these challenges have a home for the long term. The selection of a passionate, experienced leader like Danica Ready to direct this new organization enables us to quickly develop strategies and respond in ways that reflect the values of the community and the needs of our community members. Danica's leadership will enable the Methow to support our economy, our families, and individuals who are part of the fabric of this strong community.”
The Methow Housing Trust has adopted the community land trust model, under which the Trust will develop housing opportunities on land that it owns and then will manage that housing in a way that ensures it will remain affordable for the community into the future. It is a model that is proving successful in other communities across Washington and the country. The Trust is currently looking at properties for its first project, which it hopes to announce this summer. And since the Trust has just received its 501c3 nonprofit status from the IRS, it can now accept tax-deductible donations in order to further its work to benefit the community.
The Methow Housing Trust is led by founding Board Members: Jessica Blethen, Rocklynn Culp, Phil Davis, Nancy McKinney Milsteadt, Nancy Nash-Mendez, Bill Pope, Hayley Riach, Glenn Schmekel, Laurel Spelman and John Sunderland. Methow Valley Long Term Recovery continues to provide support to the new Board as they work to get up and running.