Congressman Rick Larsen (WA-02) visited Eastsound on Aug. 23 to learn how three major San Juan County projects are apportioning federal funds.
“He’s a great partner for this community,” San Juan County Councilmember Rick Hughes said. “ We have so many cool concepts in the San Juan Islands. This community figures out how to solve manufacturing problems in non-traditional ways. Larsen likes to show his support for this district and demonstrates these concepts to his colleagues in Congress.”
Larsen took a tour of April’s Grove with OPAL Community Land Trust staff to learn how federal funding is being used to construct affordable housing in San Juan County. According to the 2015 Washington State Housing Needs Assessment, more than 50 percent of San Juan County renters are unable to afford the fair market rent of a two-bedroom apartment. The nonprofit was awarded more than $6 million in state and federal funding to build April’s Grove, a neighborhood of 45 rental units in Eastsound.
The total cost of the project is $12.5 million. 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.
Last summer, Larsen held a roundtable in Friday Harbor to discuss affordable housing issues facing San Juan County. Larsen is a co-sponsor of bipartisan legislation to strengthen Low-Income Housing Tax Credits.
OPAL will receive a grant of $1,576,843 from the Washington State Housing Trust Fund and $200,000 from the federal Community Development Block Grant program.
“Each of these has an income requirement attachment. In order to receive funding, there has to be an affordability tie,” Larsen said. “I was at an Eastsound parade when I saw a sign for the OPAL Housing Project. It will not only provide access to homes but better access to goods and services.”
Meals on Wheels
Larsen spent the lunch hour eating kale salad with staff at the Orcas Island Senior Center, where food for the Meals on Wheels program is funded in part through the Older Americans Act of 1965. Larsen is a supporter of increasing federal funding for senior nutrition programs that allow Washington’s seniors to live independently and remain engaged in their communities.
Larsen concluded his afternoon on a Prune Alley walking tour with San Juan County Public Works staff, Hughes and local business owners, including Orcas Co-Op building owner Patty Miller, to receive an update on the road improvement project. The Prune Alley project is focused on upgrading the mobility and walkability of one of Eastsound’s major roads.
“The street standard doesn’t support the use,” Larsen said.
“Currently all the water that flows down Prune Alley is untreated. We want pedestrian access from one end to the other. That means curb, gutter and sidewalk,” said county engineer Jesse Douglas Seitz, who carried a clipboard with proposed blueprints for the project, including hand drawings from the 1980s when the idea originated.
The $4 million Prune Alley improvement project is partially funded by a Community Development Block Grant, which annually helps rural cities and counties like San Juan County sustain and build local infrastructure projects and put people to work, principally for low- and moderate-income persons.
“From my point of view, the need to develop a street like Prune Alley is too big a project for the tax base. Without the CDBG grant, local taxpayers would have to pay the difference, and it would take longer. Trump continues to propose zero federal dollars for CDBG, and Congress continues to come in and correct his mistakes,” Larsen said.