New housing project is step in right direction | Editorial

New housing project is step in right direction | Editorial

I don’t fault anyone for owning a vacation rental or second home in the San Juans. Our economy relies on tourism, and many of the “snowbirds” who live here only in the summer contribute significantly to our tax base and enrich our community in other ways.

However, I’ve lived in this county for most of my life, and you cannot deny that rentals – affordable or otherwise – have decreased. And with property prices currently on the rise, owning a home is not an option for some. This is true for other desirable places in our region. Try renting or owning in Seattle.

This forces families, single parents and young adults to accept living situations that are substandard. Here is a sampling of residents in our community who need a new place to call home: a young man living in the woods; a single mother with two teens renting rooms in a drafty, moldy house; a woman and her aging family member who have been displaced after their rental sold; a widow with a back injury who lost her rental after the landlord defaulted on the mortgage; and a single parent of two small children living in a loft without an indoor toilet.

The housing situation is not going to fix itself. It takes an organization like OPAL Community Land Trust, forward-thinking donors and contributions at the local, state and federal level to make reasonably priced rentals a reality.

OPAL’s $12.5 million, 45-unit project April’s Grove on North Beach Road is slated to break ground in January 2019. In April, the non-profit was notified it had been granted $4,312,702 in federal Low Income Housing Tax Credits. This is the first time in nearly 30 years that a project in San Juan County has received funding from that program. One of the requirements is showing significant community buy-in, and we think OPAL’s incredible fundraising efforts – $2 million in private donations – proved that. The organization was also just awarded $1,576,843 from the Washington State Housing Trust Fund and $200,000 from the federal Community Development Block Grant program.

Prior to this outstanding news, the 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 received $217,000 from San Juan County. Combined with loans and money from other foundations, the project is 85 percent funded Another $2 million from donors is needed by the end of the year for this undertaking to be completed. Pledges can be made online at, by email at or by calling 360-376-3191.

Unrelated to April’s Grove, OPAL 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.

The reality is that we need a diverse selection of residents to keep our community moving forward in a positive direction. We are so thankful to have organizations like OPAL and OICF as well as donors who agree.