by Crystal Mossman
Communications Manager, OPAL Community Land Trust
Motivated by their concern about the loss of affordable housing for local families, islanders Maia and John Vechey and Dave Roberts partnered with OPAL Community Land Trust in early May to buy seven apartments on Mt. Baker Road.
“When these units went on the market, there was the very real possibility that the people living there — one household for 20 years — would lose their homes,” said Lisa Byers, OPAL executive director. “Maia Vechey approached us about donating the money to buy the property. The long-time tenants could remain living there and the units, as part of OPAL, would be preserved for the long-term benefit of the Orcas community.”
After the donors negotiated the purchase price and contributed the funds to pay for it, OPAL took title to the property on May 20. The effort was further supported by donations and brokerage services from Orcas Island Realty’s Marcela Barrientos (and her husband Ed Andrews), Mary Clure and Lisa Wolford.
“What hit me hard when I read about these apartments being sold was how detrimental it could be to a lot of people’s lives if the units were bought by someone who increased rents or converted the property to another use,” explained Maia, who has owned property with her husband on Orcas for 10 years. She and her family are now full-time residents. “As I’ve become more involved in the community, I’ve grown to understand the impact we all have and how important it is — whether we’re here part-time or full-time — to be part of the solution. The island can’t lose people because they don’t have a place to live. I feel an obligation to step up and do something.”
The three apartment buildings, with parking for 12 cars, occupy nearly an acre of land east of the NAPA Auto Parts store in Eastsound. They were formerly owned by David and Lina McPeake, who lived on Orcas for many years. The McPeakes helped run the Food Bank for more than two decades before stepping down in 2010.
Over the next two years, the buildings will be updated and renovated, in keeping with OPAL’s intent to provide energy-efficient, long-lasting, well maintained and comfortable places to live.
The need for affordable rentals on Orcas remains high, contributing to current staffing shortages among schools and businesses. It is as important to preserve existing apartments as it is critical to also build additional ones. OPAL received more than 200 applications for the 45 new rental townhomes at April’s Grove that were completed last fall. Vacancy rates at the Reddick Apartments and Lavender Hollow, OPAL’s other rental properties, have been virtually zero for many years.
With the addition of the Mt. Baker Road Apartments, OPAL Community Land Trust now provides permanently affordable housing for 191 rental and ownership households on Orcas.
For updates on current OPAL activities, including the upcoming online gala, and information on how to purchase or rent a home, go to www.opalclt.org.