This summer we can help fund affordable housing while enjoying concerts by talented local musicians.

The Rootstock Concert Series features music by the Shifty Sailors, and Rob Harris and Russell Clepper of the Porch Brothers July 7 at a Mutiny Bay home. The Heggenes Valley Band performs at the Chicken Barn Aug. 31, and Ike and The Old Man will play at Bayview Hall Sept. 15. Visit this webpage for more information.

The summer concerts benefit Island Roots Housing, a nonprofit which was created in 2022.

Rose Hughes, managing director of Island Roots Housing, explained that its focus is on providing rental housing for people who earn less than 80 percent of Island County’s median income.

According to the 2022 report released by the Island County Economic Development Council, the average household income in South Whidbey for a family of four is approximately $112,020. For North Whidbey- $83,240, Central Whidbey-$98,045, and for Camano Island, $112,693.

“What we focus on is the part that is the hardest to do,” Rose said. “Rental housing for people who do not fit categories. What we have growing nationwide is an increase of the working homeless.”

Typically there is federal and state assistance for seniors, the disabled and veterans, but it is not available for the “missing middle,” as noted on Island Roots Housing’s website: “Workforce housing is often referred to as the ‘missing middle’ – they often earn too much to qualify for housing assistance, but do not earn enough to afford most market rate housing options, and they need more options in housing types than just single family houses.”

Working folks found rents soaring and available rental housing becoming scarce post-COVID.

“By 2021 it was recognized there needed to be an organization able to navigate the very complex process of creating rental housing for folks who are in the workforce and can’t afford the housing here,” Rose said.

To address the housing gap for working people, Island Roots Housing was incubated by the Goosefoot Community Fund in 2022.

“We formed out of Goosefoot’s history of working on community-based intervention relating to housing insecurity,” Rose explained. “Goosefoot came at this from the perspective of economic development. Lack of housing affects every aspect of our economy and our civic life.”

Island Roots Housing board is comprised of architects, home developers, ecologists, fundraising experts, social service providers, HUD compliance experts, and others with relevant knowledge, including the experience of housing insecurity.

“I can not stress enough how much work people are doing—both forming Island Roots Housing, and simultaneously getting the job done to develop housing units for people in need,” Rose added. “We know there were about 134 students at the end of school year that were unstably housed…about 94 families.”

From the combined talents of Island Roots Housing was born a plan to build a 14 unit family friendly rental complex planned for completion in 2025. It is called Generations Place, so named for Generations Park, located across the street in Langley. The plan will cost between $7.5 and $7.9 million to complete.

“We had landowners who wanted to see it used for this purpose,” Rose explained. “They approached Goosefoot. Anonymous donors donated half of the land’s purchase price. We applied for funding through Island County. We were in the unique situation of the county having COVID-oriented funds that could be used to house the workforce segment that were impacted so heavily by the pandemic.”

Nearly $1.1 million in funding from Island County was used toward purchase of the property, feasibility studies, and pre-construction costs—such as soil testing, surveying and code research.

“A brand new code had been created in 2021 to enable this type of housing,” Rose said. “When you get federal and state funds you have to do additional pre-construction work and federal environmental review, and this all adds time and cost. It ensures the project has no negative impacts for either the residents or the community.

Environmental Works Community Design Center was selected as the project’s architect. The Seattle-based company has won awards for its design of workforce housing that is ecologically  sensitive and energy efficient.

Generations Place plan for building 14 apartments for workforce housing. Photo from Island Roots Housing webpage

Two key components are needed so that the project can be completed by the end of 2025: securing permitting with the City of Langley, and funding to pay for construction, operations and maintenance.

So far, $2.5 million has been raised by more than a hundred members of the community, including a $300,000 challenge grant from The Norcliffe Foundation to be matched by the next $300,000 in gifts of all sizes from the community. To learn more about supporting this project visit this webpage.

“We are hoping, confident, we have the funds, thanks to the amazing generosity of this community,” Rose said. “We anticipate breaking ground before the end of 2024, and having apartments ready for move in by the end of 2025.”

Rents would be no more than 30 percent of a family’s income. Generations Place rents will include the cost of water, sewer and stormwater fees charged within the City of Langley.

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