PORT TOWNSEND — The Port Townsend City Council has approved a payment deadline extension for the Homeward Bound Olympic Housing Trust that gives the organization another year to pay back the $250,000 loan from the city to purchase and transport a four-unit apartment building to provide affordable housing.
The decision was made Monday evening on a 6-0 vote with Councilman David Faber absent.
The action doesn’t change any of the terms of the loan that the council approved unanimously — by a 6-0 vote with Councilwoman Catharine Robinson absent — in late April except for the extension of the deadline for repayment from Dec. 26 of this year to Dec. 26, 2018.
The apartment building has been sitting on top of wooden and metal beams on a lot near the corner of Cherry and Van Ness streets since it was floated on a barge across the Strait of Juan de Fuca from Victoria in May.
City Manager David Timmons recommended that the loan deadline be extended because Homeward Bound has not secured commercial funding for the project.
Council members present Monday expressed some concerns over the project and the financial burden on Homeward Bound, which has recently reorganized.
“I have no regrets taking the actions that we took in April,” said Councilwoman Michelle Sandoval. “I just don’t want to see [the project] languish too long.”
The project has been the subject of complaints, one formally filed by Jefferson GOP communications manager Jim Scarantino in October.
In his complaint, Scarantino alleged that the building was unsafe because it has not been set on a permanent foundation.
Timmons said in October that the city would look into the complaint and, during Monday’s meeting, announced that the structure had been inspected and certified safe and structurally sound.
Sandoval suggested that the council get a briefing from Homeward Bound on the project in an effort to clear up misinformation and educate both the public and the council on the project plans.
“I thought it was made very clear to me and to the public and to the press that we were going to have to work backwards,” said Councilwoman Pamela Adams.
“I thought it was very clear it was a slightly unusual situation. From the beginning, I think it was very clear this would go about how it’s going now.”
Councilman Bob Gray and Sandoval said the city and Homeward Bound need to look at options to ensure the completion of the project should Homeward Bound continue to struggle to find funding.
“I don’t think burdening Homeward Bound in debt is the answer,” Gray said. “The city might need to step up and make this happen and maybe contract with Homeward Bound to run it and let them get their feet wet.”
Gray said Olympic Community Action Programs (OlyCAP), another nonprofit, also struggled financially when it took on too much too fast as a new organization.
Timmons said he would be meeting with Homeward Bound board members later this week and hopes to present a financial plan to the City Council later this month.
“We have a plan ready to go,” Timmons said.
He added that the project is awaiting final approval on its plans from a structural engineer. He added that Homeward Bound already submitted a water line relocation plan and request to the city.
“There are a lot of people looking forward to this project following through,” said Monica Bell, a Homeward Bound board member who spoke at Monday’s meeting.
Bell said the group has been working with volunteers to collect donations for the project and reaching out to OlyCAP to potentially bring it in on the project, which is meant to function as affordable housing — costing no more than roughly $900 per month including utilities.
Homeward Bound is a nonprofit that has been working in Jefferson and Clallam counties since 2005.
Since the approval for the loan in April, the organization has been working to reorganize, which included the election of a new 12-person board after the former board had dwindled to just one person.
Timmons said financial and progress updates will be made on the Cherry Street project from Homeward Bound within the month.