Housing trust effort shows promise for developing permanent workforce housing
If we hope to develop adequate workforce housing in North Central Washington, we cannot rely on the free market and instead must find creative community solutions to make sure that middle-income and low-income families aren’t priced out of the market.
The 2016 Greater Wenatchee Urban Housing Study by Our Valley Our Future found that our valley had a 1,600-unit housing shortage and that 77 percent of those surveyed felt that market forces alone could not resolve the issue. The housing crisis is a clear and present danger to the economic vitality of our valley and businesses are concerned about attracting and retaining quality workers as the housing crunch continues.
While there is no silver bullet for addressing the housing crisis, there is an intriguing approach aimed at making housing more affordable that is being used in the Upper Valley and more recently Chelan and the Methow — what’s called a community land trust (not to be confused with conservation organizations like the Chelan-Douglas Land Trust).
Community Land Trusts are essentially housing trusts. Under the model, a nonprofit purchases or develops housing and then legally separates the ownership of the land from the dwelling, which keeps the price of a house permanently affordable. The nonprofit owns the land and maintains a relationship with the family that owns the house while the qualified family purchases just the house.
In hot real estate markets, it is the price of the land that skyrockets and drives housing costs off the charts.
Serve Wenatchee Valley is taking the lead in helping start community housing trust for the greater Wenatchee area. The nonprofit is already engaged in the critical work of assisting families and individuals who are in danger of falling into homelessness, so it seems like a natural extension to have a hand in a community land trust endeavor.
Serve Wenatchee Valley executive director Thom Nees and Our Valley Our Future convened a planning meeting via Zoom that included representatives from community land trusts in Leavenworth, Chelan, Seattle, Mukilteo and Bellingham. Planning teams are being formed to get organized.
The longest operating community land trust in our region, as far as I am aware, is the SHARE Community Land Trust program, which is part of Upper Valley MEND. It’s been around since the early 2000s. A city of Leavenworth housing study currently being finalized, said MEND executive director Kaylin Bettinger, reveals that the average sales price of a home is in excess of $483,000. “Our homes are less than 40 percent of the cost of the average home on the open market,” Bettinger said.
A Share Community Land Trust property sold last February for $181,000, which is infinitely more accessible to working families.
One of the nice features of the housing trust model is that there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Each community decides what makes the most sense. In other communities, priority is placed on sourcing materials from the home county, for example.
Wenatchee native Kathleen Hosfeld, the director of the Homestead Community Land Trust in Seattle, talked about the importance of post-purchase stewardship and engagement between the nonprofit and the owner. They have developed capital improvement policies to encourage homeowners to improve their property — which allows them to build more equity.
In the last few years, civic leaders launched the Chelan Valley Housing Trust as a way of developing permanent workforce housing and the first units are under construction downtown. Those, I’m told, will sell for about $200,000.
The community land trust (housing) program is the only option I’m familiar with that provides permanently affordable housing. If we want teachers, nurses and others to work and live in this valley, I think developing the Wenatchee Valley Housing Trust is absolutely essential. This is an effort that needs community support and encouragement.