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Part III: Affordable Housing: A Foundation for San Juan’s Future

Take a stroll through Friday Harbor’s neighborhoods and you’ll find the next wave of affordable housing. On Price Street, passersby will see walls being framed in, hear the hum of compressors hard at work, and feel the excitement in the air. This is the future HolliWalk Neighborhood – a collection of eight, permanently affordable homes set to be completed this spring.

“This is where you can see affordable housing in action,” said Ryan Page, San Juan County’s Affordable Housing Coordinator. “It’s so exciting to see the progress every time you visit the site.”

Page manages San Juan County’s Home Fund – a Real Estate Excise Tax (REET) program dedicated to developing, producing, and/or preserving affordable housing in San Juan County. $1,688,823 from the Home Fund was awarded to the San Juan Community Home Trust to make the HolliWalk Neighborhood a reality.

“The County REET program is essential to affordable housing in the island,” said Jim Goetz, the Home Trust’s Board President. “The County is funding almost half of our HolliWalk project. Without that, we would be unable to proceed.”

The neighborhood of eight homes, thanks to a resale formula, will remain affordable for future generations of homeowners. For this project, the County secured roughly $160,000 from a CHIP grant (Connecting Housing to Infrastructure Program) - a state grant that helps offset utility hookup charges for affordable housing developments. This savings allows the Home Trust to subsidize the cost of construction to help make the new homes as affordable as possible for the families purchasing them.

“The REET is a key mechanism that few other counties have,” said Amanda Eichelberger, the Executive Director of the San Juan Community Home Trust. “It is a pot of money that the Home Trust can rely on to plan ahead and get our work done in a rapidly changing environment. Because it’s managed by the County, it’s the easiest for us to use and not be held up in the same way we are by state and federal money.”

San Juan County has partnered with the Home Trust on two projects that provide fourteen housing units to qualifying islanders. Since 2018, the County has awarded the Home Trust with $1,769,435 from the Home Fund.  

“The partnership we have with the County is really critical,” said Eichelberger. “They’ve been essential partners in creating sustainable solutions to affordable housing, rather than one-off band aids. We’re building lasting community assets.”

Housing the Community

Chinmayo Ricketts understands firsthand what an asset these homes are to the community. 

“As an artist, my motto was public art for the people by the people,” said Chinmayo. “And that’s just what this neighborhood is – for the people by the people.”  

Chinmayo lives in the Sun Rise I neighborhood on Grover Street in Friday Harbor – a collection of 14 permanently affordable homes built by the San Juan Community Home Trust. Designed to be environmentally friendly, these homes have solar hot water heating systems, rainwater catchment for laundry, bamboo flooring, air-to-air heat exchangers, and more.  

“My hat is off to the folks at the Home Trust,” she said. “It’s such a gift to live here. And we’ve proved that if we work together, we can make something so special and spectacular.”

These houses remain affordable for moderate income-eligible island residents thanks to large subsidies provided by local donations and government grants – including awards from San Juan County’s Home Fund.

“The other critical component of our partnership is the County’s willingness to be part of the planning and building process,” said Eichelberger. “Creating lines of open communications is something the County has done to move the affordable housing cause forward. For example, the Housing Advisory Committee can help vet projects and advocate for the work we’ve been doing – it’s just so important.”

There are more projects on the horizon for San Juan Island. The Home Trust owns multiple parcels with future development possibilities, and the County is embarking on a process to identify a development partner for a piece of land owned by the County in the Town of Friday Harbor that will be used for affordable housing.

To learn more about the Home Fund, please visit: www.sjchomefund.com.

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