Children ride their bicycles around the courtyard, passing the front porches of houses built in a circle formation. Nomi Ross helps her 1-year-old son Jasper sit on a tricycle, as Thom Pence tries out a hammock newly hung by Nicki Davis.
“I have to get everyone’s opinion on the hammock,” Davis chuckles.
Sharing tips on porch items is one of numerous collaborations for this neighborhood. Residents have a potential to share everything from a courtyard to house walls to a community garden. And they all seem pretty happy about it.
“I love the community,” says Danielle Einhardt, as she helps velcro her 2-year-old daughter’s shoes, who then scampers out of the shade to join the other children playing in the sun. “It’s great to have a village within a village.”
These are some of the new residents of the San Juan Community Home Trust’s affordable home neighborhood, Sun Rise. Nancy DeVaux, director of the SJCHT, describes the neighborhood’s development as an “uphill struggle,” beginning with the purchase of land in 2006 and then the annexation of that land into the Town of Friday Harbor three years later.
The project is now a reality.
Sun Rise consists of 14 homes and the first homebuyer moved in March 24.
The neighborhood is now a mix of people of different ages, from young couples to families with small children, to others who live alone.
Made up of duplexes and triplexes arranged around a single courtyard, the neighborhood is more similar to a condominium than a cluster of privately owned homes.
Two of the homes are for “moderate income” households, which means the household can earn up to 120 percent of the Area Median Income.
There are 12 homes reserved for households at or below 80 percent of AMI. The AMI, which is redetermined every year, marks the midpoint between the highest and the lowest incomes.
The 2011 AMI for San Juan County is $65,000 for a family of four.
According to the Washington State University Center for Real Estate Research, San Juan County has the greatest gap between household incomes and housing prices in the state and typical first-time homebuyers can only afford a little less than half of the payment needed to purchase even a starter home in the county.
According to the SJCHT, this gap is larger in San Juan because local teachers, firefighters, deputies, construction workers, retail and service workers, and county employees must compete with the life savings of retirees and seasonal residents who have the financial wherewithal to purchase a second home.
“For people who want to sink roots here for a long time, there aren’t many affordable homes,” DeVaux said. “And the quality of these homes [in Sun Rise] is great.”
Sun Rise has its own on-site sewer system that will ultimately reclaim treated wastewater from bathrooms and reuse it for underground irrigation and for landscaping.
The homes feature solar-powered hot water systems, bamboo flooring, a rainwater catchment plumbed to the washing machine, and other sustainable utilities to reduce electrical bills, conserve potable water and reduce global warming.
Residents are still adjusting to the green additions, like the solar hot water system over recurring sunless days.
Davis tries to use her hot water during the heat of the day to fully utilize its capacity. There’s no backup system in place should the power go out and some residents, like many other islanders, have considered a propane fireplace in case there is a need.
Pence, a retired forester, is already looking to make additional improvements, like a community garden and turning his back porch into a sun room to trap more heat.
“Everyone is willing to take on problems and discuss the use of the common space,” he said.
The neighborhood had its first official community meeting to discuss possible future events like a barbecue or even a concert put on by residents.
“There are incredibly talented people living here,” said Pence.
DeVaux is happy to see the neighborhood coming into its own and looks forward to the future.
“It’s really rewarding not only from my perspective and the people moving in, but also the potential for 120 more permanent homes,” DeVaux said. “I feel great about the future and space for affordable homes.”
DeVaux takes Sun Rise successes personally, because she knows first hand the challenges of being a renter. She moved to the island as a single mother nearly 35 years ago and, at the time, had to move every year or so to find a rental house that was affordable.
“Home ownership is diminishing for people like me,” she said. “It’s great to have a role to keep San Juan a diverse community. There are a lot of people, like artists that don’t make a lot of money.”
For residents like Davis, the simple task of unpacking her belongings in her own home is an exciting and even surprising scenario.
“We had given up on the thought of owning our home,” she said while standing on her front porch and watching her daughter run through the courtyard grass.
There are still three houses available.
Contact SJCHT at www.hometrust.org or at 378-5541 for more information.
(Note: Residents of Sun Rise do own their land, as a condominium.)