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Residents worried about self-help homes

By MEGAN STEPHENSON
North Kitsap Herald Staff Writer, Reporter
February 22, 2013 · Updated 3:54 PM
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Housing Kitsap recently completed a self-help housing neighborhood in Silverdale called Caitlin Heights. Similar style homes are set to be built at Caldart Avenue and Nutkana Way in Poulsbo. / Julie Graves / Housing Kitsap

POULSBO — Residents of Chateau Ridge and Snowberry Bungalows are left without much remedy to their concerns about the newest self-help housing development by Housing Kitsap.

The 20-lot subdivision, called Talon Glen, was given final plat approval by the Poulsbo City Council and is located right in between Chateau Ridge and Snowberry Bungalows on Caldart Avenue.

Homeowners of the two neighborhoods gathered at the City Council meeting Wednesday, when the council approved Talon Glen’s final plat application. Talon Glen was originally applied for in 2006 and approved by the Kitsap County Hearing Examiner in 2007 — all public hearing and input processes stopped then. However, the neighborhoods of Chateau Ridge and Snowberry Bungalows had not been developed yet, and homeowners there are concerned about the impact the new neighborhood will have on their neighborhood and home values.

The neighbors of Talon Glen said their main concern was the possibility of rentals.

“This is not about the process, this is about the right fit, and I do not believe that this is the right fit,” said James Lee, a Snowberry homeowner. Other residents, citing their own previous experience in other neighborhoods, implied that low-income housing neighborhoods don’t adhere to neighborhood standards, and certain activity will devalue their homes.

Jack Archer, who lives in Chateau Ridge, said he thinks the Housing Kitsap program is “fantastic,” and he may volunteer his time helping these families build their homes. But he was concerned about what happens to the area’s value if the houses become rentals or if mortgages default.

“All of us are afraid of the unknown,” Archer said. “I’d be interested to see what percentage of these self-help houses become rentals.”

Archer said he was also troubled by the location.

“As soon as the [plat] was approved, it cost me $25,000, because that’s what I paid for my view. They didn’t,” Archer said.

Mayor Becky Erickson and Housing Kitsap staff said they are hearing the concerns and are willing to tailor the neighborhood’s Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions, or CC&Rs, to reflect the standards of the surrounding neighborhood. Erickson is a member of the Housing Kitsap board.

“I understand their worry. We’ll figure out ways we might mitigate this,” Erickson said. “We’ll make sure we get some reassurance to these people.”

Julie Graves, director of asset management for Housing Kitsap, said she and the staff are discussing amending the CC&Rs to address some of the neighbors’ concerns.

One idea is to allow only 15 percent of Talon Glen homeowners to rent out their home if needed. Another idea Graves presented was to allow only the original owner/builder to rent out their home, but not the next buyers if they sell.

“The reality is, we know how much these owner/builders love their homes,” Graves said; it’s uncommon for an owner/builder to turn around and sell their home.

Housing Kitsap Executive Director Tony Caldwell said the USDA has no guidelines that restrict a homeowner/builder’s ability to sell or rent the home if and when they choose.

“[Builder/owners] certainly have an attachment to what they’re doing,” Caldwell said. He said he’s never come across this level of concern from a neighboring community, but understands “the people who already live there have a vested interest in seeing their neighborhood [remain] stable.”

Housing Kitsap bought the development between six and nine months ago, Caldwell said, after the plat languished for many years.

“When you move in, you have no idea the status of the other homes around you. This is no different than every other [development] situation,” Caldwell said.

Housing Kitsap, founded in 1972, is funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s rural development program.

“During that time, we have helped over 1,300 families achieve their dream of homeownership through this self-help program,” Graves said. She and Dean Nail, construction manager, addressed the council and the gathered neighbors at Wednesday’s meeting.

The USDA provides funding and technical assistance to the housing authority, as well as the mortgages. Those who qualify must have an income that is 80 percent of the area's median income; in Kitsap County, that is $60,000 a year for a family of four.

The families that qualify put in 65 percent of the labor, Nail said — 30 hours a week for about a year. The Talon Glen development has 12 families signed up so far — small business owners, folks that work in healthcare and at the Clearwater Casino.

“Quite honestly, many of them are single mothers looking to provide a safe home for their families,” Nail said.

The development will consist of 20 single-family homes. Infrastructure — power and sewer lines — have been completed, according to the city’s engineering department.

Construction will be split into two groups of 10, and those groups of owner/builders will work on their homes together and move in at the same time.The city does not require design review for standard subdivision plats, a concern for homeowners in Chateau Ridge and Snowberry Bungalows as their neighborhoods have strict design standards.

However, Caldwell said Housing Kitsap was awarded Green Builder of the Year in the Pacific Northwest from Energy Star in 2011, and in general low-income housing developments has improved its minimum design standards.

“I know there are concerns but it is also a bit of an inspiration,” Councilwoman Linda Berry-Maraist said. Housing Kitsap is “giving people a chance at homeownership, and most are long-term members of our community that might not otherwise afford it.

“And I think it’s great the housing authority has upgraded some of their design standards,” she said, adding that earlier standards called for homes to be “austere and simple.”

Now, Housing Kitsap is taking steps to make its houses “nicer on the outside, both for the neighbors and the community.”

Graves said there are still home lots available at Talon Glen; contact them at housingkitsap.org to find out how to apply.

— Editor's note: County Commissioner Rob Gelder is 2013 chairman of Housing Kitsap. Mayor Becky Erickson is a Housing Kitsap board member and was chairwoman in 2012. Her current board position was incorrect in paragraph 10 of the print version of this story.

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