by Hilary Canty
Executive director, Orcas Island Community Foundation
Access to affordable housing is a national issue, touching communities from coast to coast. Unfortunately, Orcas is exceptional. San Juan County – with high real estate values and low wages – consistently has the highest affordability gap in Washington state. From 1970 to 2012, the average wage in San Juan County increased 392 percent while the average assessed value of property increased 3,117 percent. Housing costs have far outstripped the ability of many local wage earners to pay for them.
Buying a median-priced home generally requires a 20 percent down payment plus an income of more than $90,000 yet the average island worker earns $31,500 a year. A household with two adults working full time, earning the average wage, cannot afford the median-priced home. For those who serve as teachers, work in the service industry and who volunteer for critical programs like EMS, more affordable housing is required for them to continue to call Orcas home.
Fortunately for Orcas, there is help on the way. OPAL Community Land Trust has spent the past five years planning and garnering funds to build April’s Grove, an affordable rental community of 45 townhomes in Eastsound. The OPAL team has pieced together funding through loans, grants and donations from public and private organizations and individuals. So far, $15.25 million has been secured, leaving a funding gap of $250,000.
The Orcas Island Community Foundation is hosting a Give Orcas April’s Grove Edition to fill the gap and get the April’s Grove project over the finish line. This is an opportunity for everyone who is touched by this issue to pitch in as the very essence and viability of this community depends on having a sufficient number of affordable homes. Donations of $10 or more are welcome and needed.
The campaign will kick off with a Field Day at Orcas Center starting at noon on Saturday, June 29 and run through Monday, July 8. Thanks to the generous donations of anonymous neighbors, there will be two game days during the online giving campaign that will provide a boost to your contribution. On July 2, all donations of $100 or more will be matched 1:1 up to $40,000. Unique Donor Day will be on July 5. Staring at 12:01 a.m. until 11:59 p.m., OICF will add $10,000 for every 50 donors (max $50,000).
Housing is a community issue and we have the chance to provide a community solution. Please join the effort and make a donation at www.giveorcas.org (or by mailing a check to PO Box 1496, Eastsound, WA 98245).