Mark Blatter of the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance provides details on behalf of Olympic Community Action Programs to the joint city-county housing and homeless housing task force at the Cotton Building in downtown Port Townsend. (Brian McLean/Peninsula Daily News)

Mark Blatter of the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance provides details on behalf of Olympic Community Action Programs to the joint city-county housing and homeless housing task force at the Cotton Building in downtown Port Townsend. (Brian McLean/Peninsula Daily News)

Task force wants to commit funds to OlyCAP project in Port Townsend

Affordable housing plan would include subsidized rent

PORT TOWNSEND — A housing task force plans to ask the Jefferson County commissioners to allocate funds for a proposed 44-unit affordable housing project in Port Townsend.

Although the 22-member affordable housing and homeless housing task force doesn’t yet have a policy in place for agencies to ask for funds — a source of contention when the group met last Wednesday — it unanimously supported a letter of commitment to ask the county for $75,000 toward the proposal.

The task force is a joint effort between the county and the city of Port Townsend and includes stakeholders from different sections of the community.

The vote came during a special meeting Friday afternoon regarding the project put together by Olympic Community Action Programs (OlyCAP), which has proposed a mixed-use, two-story development at the corner of Seventh and Hendricks streets on Castle Hill.

The $16 million proposal would house an early childhood education center and other potential business fronts on the bottom floor and apartment homes above. The apartments would include one-, two- and three-bedroom configurations.

“An early commitment of local funds will help our competitiveness for state funding,” said Mark Blatter, a board member for the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance who spoke on behalf of OlyCAP at the meeting.

Discussion focused on subsidized Section 8 housing, with a minimum of 15 units set aside in the proposal, Blatter said.

“It may increase by the time we’re finished,” said Kathy Morgan, OlyCAP’s director of housing and community development.

“In addition to the 15 that are project-based, if the tenant has one, we will certainly accept that,” Blatter added.

The project goal is to serve very-low-income tenants as well as those who have special needs, Blatter said.

“We’ll still be able to serve the homeless,” he said.

With rental assistance, the tenants will only pay 30 percent of their income, Morgan said.

Among other concerns, the task force questioned the timing of funds.

OlyCAP plans to seek a $3 million grant from the state Housing Trust Fund with a Sept. 18 application deadline. If the agency is successful — it will learn the result in December — then it will ask for about $10.3 million in private investments through an IRS tax credit program.

Port Townsend City Council member Michelle Sandoval, who sits on the task force and the joint oversight board that will send recommendations to county commissioners, asked if the $75,000 would be spent before OlyCAP learns about the success of other grant applications.

Blatter said no.

“We would like to use your funds to complete the design and permitting phase,” he said, suggesting it wouldn’t be until March 2020 at the earliest.

If the other grant applications aren’t successful, then the project wouldn’t need the county’s $75,000, Blatter said.

“The project won’t be approved unless we convince these very experienced project funders that it’s viable,” he said, adding he believes their chances of success are “very high.”

The county owns the land where the project is proposed, but Commissioner David Sullivan said the county plans to sell it to OlyCAP for $46,000, including transaction fees. It was recently assessed at $350,000, he said.

“In looking at the land base we have, it was not an easy decision to make to commit this to affordable housing,” Sullivan said, referencing the need for land to eventually replace the county courthouse.

Yet Sullivan said the housing complex would bring money back to the county in other ways through economic impact.

Both the county and the city plan to make use of a change in state law that allows a portion of existing sales tax to be directed toward affordable housing. Sullivan said the county will have about $151,000 for allocation by the end of the year, and the fund is projected to go up to $215,000 by 2021.

Sandoval said the city housing committee plans to go to the full council with a similar action to tap into those state funds.

The rest of the task force asked pointed questions that ranged from social services to the costs of programs OlyCAP already operates.

“Not only is it going to give people a place to live, but it will improve the services they receive,” said Sheriff Joe Nole, a task force member.

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Jefferson County Managing Editor Brian McLean can be reached at 360-385-2335, ext. 6, or at [email protected].

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