Last March, Tyler Harrison received a letter indicating that his Friday Harbor apartment complex may discontinue income-based rent.
“If the subsidy was to go away, there aren’t a whole lot of affordable places to rent from in Friday Harbor,” he said. “It’d be a pretty big deal.”
According to a report by San Juan County Community Development officials, 43 percent of county homes are vacant. That means, second homes and vacation rentals could be depleting the islands’ stock of long-term rentals, which residents, like Harrison, have noted are scarce.
The letter Harrison received stated that the Harbor View apartment building, off Tucker Avenue, was up for sale at the end of March. The complex has yet to be purchased. It could be sold to a for-profit company that rents units at market rate, according to Greg Winter, executive director of Bellingham’s Opportunity Council.
To continue affordable housing operations, the property will be solely advertised to nonprofits across the country for its first six months on the market, he added.
Rent in the 20-unit complex is set to a reduced rate, which comes to about $650 for a one-bedroom apartment. Six of those units receive a federal subsidy, which can drop the rent up to hundreds of dollars.
Appraisals for the property are being conducted and the sale price hasn’t been set. Opportunity Council staff is considering purchasing and operating the building, said Winter. Staff has been evaluating if they can afford to do so, since June.
Winter hopes to make a decision before the six-month advertising period ends in September. He doesn’t know of any other nonprofits interested in purchasing the building.
“We believe there are some extreme housing affordability issues in San Juan County,” said Winter. “That is part of our service territory and we’re interested in doing all we can to help.”
The Opportunity Council is a private nonprofit, which serves the homeless and low-income in San Juan, Island and Whatcom Counties.
Winter said San Juan County’s affordable housing plan, adopted by county council last March, inspired staff to consider purchasing the complex.
“One strategy in that plan is the preservation of existing affordable housing,” he said. “That’s really what we’re trying to do.”
According to Winter, there are 13 income-based apartment complexes in San Juan County — eight of which are in Friday Harbor. He said Harbor View is the only complex with “immediate risk of losing affordability.”
Harbor View was built in 1985 with a construction loan from the United States Department of Agriculture, according to Philip Eggman, USDA public information officer. Part of the agreement is to offer income-based rent until the loan is paid off.
To rent Harbor View apartments at market rate, the new owner would have to pay off the loan, said Eggman, which would discontinue the agreement with the USDA.
Harbor View’s rent is set to the higher of two options: a maximum of 30 percent of a tenant’s adjusted gross income or the USDA’s “base rent.” “Base rent” for one of the complex’s 12, one-bedroom apartments is $652, while one of the eight, two-bedroom apartments is $669. The maximum rent tenants can be charged is $860 for a one-bedroom or $901 for a two-bedroom unit.
Harrison and five other residents also receive a federal subsidy for housing.
According to Harbor View’s property manager, it can take up to a few months or even years to earn one of the building’s subsidy allocations. Those on the list have to wait for someone to move out to release a spot. Harrison waited five years.
Harbor View resident Patricia Ferchen uses the subsidy too. She hasn’t been able to work since 2012 due to a disability.
“It’s going to be a big burden on people,” she said, if the complex’s income-based rent were to end. “I could stay here, but it’d be really difficult.”
To learn more, visit www.sanjuanco.com/896/Affordable-Housing.