It’s been a momentous few weeks for staff at OPAL Community Land Trust.
The nonprofit has been awarded more than $6 million in state and federal funding to build April’s Grove, a neighborhood of 45 rental units in Eastsound.
“This would not have been possible without the strong support demonstrated by the Orcas community and San Juan County for this project,” said Executive Director Lisa Byers in a press release.
An award of $4,312,702 in federal Low Income Housing Tax Credits was officially confirmed in late April. This is the first time in nearly 30 years that a project in San Juan County has received funding from the LIHTC. The tax credit program is the largest source of equity funding for rental housing in the nation. OPAL’s Lavender Hollow was built in 1990 with it.
OPAL was also notified that it will receive grants of $1,576,843 from the Washington State Housing Trust Fund and $200,000 from the federal Community Development Block Grant program.
After an in-depth assessment and board discussion, Orcas Island Community Foundation chose to pledge $250,000 to April’s Grove. The money is from a legacy gift left by the late Bob Henigson and is contingent upon all other funds for the project being in place. In addition, OPAL has raised $2 million in private donations and received $217,000 from San Juan County. The total cost of the project is $12.5 million.
“When combined with donations from individuals in the community, plus funding already committed from San Juan County, the Orcas Island Community Foundation, other foundations and two loans, April’s Grove now has 85 percent of the money needed to build,” said Byers.
OPAL also received $204,000 from the Housing Trust Fund to purchase four scattered-site homes on Orcas and convert them to the community land trust model, making them permanently affordable to qualifying low-income homebuyers.
“You cannot imagine how joyful we all feel,” said OPAL Outreach Manager Judy Whiting. “It’s very sad and difficult to have people come in looking for housing and we have to say all of our apartments are full.”
One young woman, who has special needs, comes into the office every week to check on housing availability. Other locals currently in need of a home include a single man living in the woods, a young couple in a 28-foot trailer, several people whose rentals are being sold by the landlord and a single mother living in an RV.
The effort to build April’s Grove began three years ago when OPAL signed a purchase and sale agreement to buy 3.8 acres on North Beach Road (across from the Funhouse) from longtime islanders Jim and Betsy Nelson.
Through community donations and a low-interest loan, OPAL was able to purchase the land and install 30 water utility connections for $1 million in August 2017. The project is named for the beloved cow and former Eastsound mayor who once lived in the orchard next door.
The 45 rentals within 12 buildings are for households earning as low as $10,000 to as much as $80,000 per year. Rent will range from $300 to $1300 a month, with rent set at 30 percent of household income. There will be four studios; 11 one-bedrooms; 17 two-bedrooms; and 13 three-bedrooms. Household configurations will range from individuals to families with four or five children, and residents will include people who have been homeless, people with disabilities and seniors. All of the townhomes or flats will have entries that are flush to the ground and 14 of the units will be fully ADA accessible. The neighborhood will also include showers, a laundry facility and post office boxes for the general public.
The plan is to break ground by January 2019, but first, a final $2 million must be raised by the end of the year. Donors can give now or have until 2020 to pay. Pledges can be made online at www.opalclt.org, by email at email@example.com or by calling 360-376-3191.
“We’ll be reaching out to the community again over the next few months. Housing touches everyone and continues to be the island’s greatest need. Our aim is to complete construction and begin renting in 2020,” said Byers.