PORT TOWNSEND — Jefferson County commissioners plan to approve half a million dollars in American Rescue Plan Act funds to support an affordable workforce housing development in Port Hadlock.
The project, proposed jointly by Habitat for Humanity of East Jefferson County and the Jefferson Community Foundation, would be on a 17.5-acre plot of land behind the Jefferson County Library and adjacent to the Chimacum Primary School, if it is found to be feasible.
It isn’t a done deal at this point, and it will take years to come to fruition if it is found to be feasible. But county commissioners Heidi Eisenhour and Kate Dean on Monday approved directing the staff to bring a grant agreement to place on an upcoming consent agenda, praising the project as innovative.
“I like to think this is Commissioner (Greg) Brotherton’s birthday present,” Eisenhour said after both she and Dean noted that he had taken the lead on housing solutions.
Brotherton, absent from Monday’s meeting because he was celebrating his birthday, agreed to the idea by phone through Mark McCauley, interim county administrator.
“I just heard from Greg,” McCauley said during the meeting. “He’s 100 percent supportive.”
Affordability would be long-term for the 100 to 130 housing units on the property because the land would be owned and stewarded by Habitat for Humanity of East Jefferson County, said Jamie Maciejewski, executive director of the county’s Habitat for Humanity chapter, and Siobhan Canty, CEO of the Jefferson Community Foundation.
Homeowners would pay less for mortgages in return for reduced appreciation on their property so the homes could be resold without a huge jump in price; rents also would be kept under control this way.
“This would provide residential homes for people who work in our community,” such as retail workers, first responders, health care workers and others whose incomes haven’t kept up with the rising cost of housing, Maciejewski said.
“Businesses can’t fill openings because people have no place to live,” she added.
“We need our workforce. We need people to be able to live here.”
Jefferson Community Foundation is working in a support role to Habitat, Canty said.
The land — an old, private airstrip behind the library — would be developed with a mixture of multi- and single-family housing, with some multi-plexes but no large apartment buildings.
Envisioned are community gardens and pocket park playgrounds, Canty said.
“This has the potential to impact our critical need for affordable housing,” she said.
The housing would be both for low-income and middle-income residents.
Maciejewski said Habitat received 60 applications for six openings recently.
“What surprised us were the number of people whose income exceeds what we typically served,” she told commissioners, saying this confirms that “housing is a problem, not just for lower income … but also middle income … teachers, healthcare workers, business owners.”
She told of a person turned down because her income was too high who burst into tears and said she didn’t know where she was going to live.
“Our landlord is selling and I can’t afford to pay what he is selling it for,” she told Maciejewski.
Habitat is on contract for $1.3 million for the property but has not purchased it yet. Factors needing work by May 15 are research into such areas as environmental and wetlands studies, capacity to get such a large development built, community acceptance and progress on the Hadlock Sewer Project, Canty said.
Maciejewski said the estimate is that it would take another $3 million to $4 million to develop the infrastructure even before building homes, a total of $5 million.
Talks are in progress with private donors.
“We expect it will be primarily privately funded,” she said.
The ARPA funding would demonstrate the county “sees this as a viable and important project,” she added.
Dean explained that ARPA dollars are in different pots and that, although the county has spent its present allocation of ARPA dollars, it is expecting more funds to come in, the new funds being dedicated to counties with a lot of federal land.
The amount of that federal allocation is not known. McCauley estimated it would be between $4 million and $5 million over two years.
“This could be a game-changer for the Port Hadlock sewer,” Dean said. “We need to have a high threshold of users to have it pay for itself. This would bump it into a much more feasible place,” with potentially lower rates.
Said Dean to the two directors: “You have very strong support from all the commissioners.”
Executive Editor Leah Leach can be reached at 360-417-3530 or at email@example.com.