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Affordable housing in Sequim has its skeptics

While affordable housing, or rather the lack of it, is an issue that’s heating up in Sequim, some still offer lukewarm responses.

“I don’t feel that it’s necessary in Sequim,” city council member Erik Erichsen said earlier this year. “I don’t see that there’s this big influx that means changing Sequim into this type of high density.”

Affordable housing often comes with misconceptions that it’s ugly, poorly built and attracts crime. And because the majority of affordable units are rentals, there remains the idea that renters won’t maintain their properties.

“Our biggest fear is high density rental properties,” Robert Spinks said during the city council’s June 9 meeting. Spinks is Sequim chief of police and interim city manager.

Betty Handly doesn’t see it that way.

“First of all, Sequim’s not a high crime area, so I just have to laugh when I hear that,” Handly said. “It’s not these residents that are going to bring crime into the area. They’re just working kids.”

Handly manages Elk Creek Apartments for the Vintage Housing Group, which also is responsible for a senior housing complex on the western end of town. The Elk Creek complex, located at 90 S. Rhodefer Road, consists of 139 units ranging from one to three bedrooms. While building continues on the property, according to Handly the project will be completed in July.

“It’s brand new to Sequim. I can’t think of any other apartment complex in the area,” Handly said.

It’s also about the only complex that consists entirely of affordable units, with prices ranging from $532 to $713 a month. The project is funded through IRS tax credits, meaning Vintage gets a financial break in exchange for building housing geared toward low-income residents who earn 60 percent or less of the median income.

“Since the median income is low, then that keeps the rents low. If the median income goes up, then we can charge more rent, but as it stands now we can’t charge any more than we’re already charging,” Handly said.

The tax credits only last 15 years, which could mean that in 15 years Elk Creek apartments could be sold or rented at market value.

According to Handly, the majority of renters have been young people working minimum wage or entry level jobs.

“I think we’re really filling a niche here that was untended,” Handly said.

“There’s so many seniors here and the area’s geared a lot for seniors — and then you have the very, very rich — and for the kids who are just working here and starting their families, if they want to get a house they tell me they have to pay first and last and huge deposits.”

In a community like Sequim, that’s primarily retirement-aged, it becomes increasingly difficult for the community’s workforce to find adequate housing. According to Councilman and Affordable Housing Committee chairman Bill Huizinga, 69.5 percent of Sequim’s workforce lives outside of the city. Huizinga calls the aversion to affordable housing “not in my backyard-ism,” where people believe affordable housing will not look aesthetically pleasing or will lead to crime.

Handly finds those notions absurd.

“Everyone was afraid Elk Creek was going to bring crime into the area because there were young people going to live there!” Handly said. “They wouldn’t care about the property the way people care about their own homes, and so on and so forth, and I just think that’s kind of backwards.”

Another project that might bring the workforce back into

Sequim is Oak Grove Townhouses, planned for Oak Street near Fifth Avenue. A public hearing concerning the proposed 48-unit development was held during the city council’s June 9 meeting, ending with a 5-1 vote approving the project’s preliminary binding site plan. Councilman Ken Hays, who felt the site plan didn’t create a sense of community, abstained from voting. According to Allen Grant, who is developing the project, the target price for one unit is $139,000.

“There’s nothing on the market that’s less than $200,000,” Grant said. “People making $12 an hour cannot afford to buy a home in Sequim.”

Grant said the price could change if building costs continue to rise or if impact fees are introduced.

“It’s the most affordable housing been developed in

Sequim in a long time,” said Mike McAleer, another principal in the project.







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