There are many factors contributing to the increase in housing costs. The monetary policy of the Fed has ballooned assets which helps the wealthy while penalizing those who earn less money. Cities have put in greater zoning restrictions, taking land off the list of potential development sites. Counties, states and the federal government have added regulations that increase costs. Fees and permits are more expensive; this takes more time to secure permits, which adds to the cost of financing land while the project is moving forward. The labor market has been tight, driving up costs. Lumber and materials have become more expensive as construction demand has increased, along with logging restrictions. All of this is passed on to the home buyer.
But one factor that seems to escape the attention of many is the issue of SIZE. Not everyone wants to live in a big home. Many people desire to live in a home with a “small footprint”. They may just feel more at home in a small place, or they may want to reduce their impact on the earth. “Smaller footprints”, which is what a small cottage home offers, is something many folks want as a lifestyle, not a stop-gap.
This is what moved Denise Henrikson and Dara Ith to collaborate on the development of a cottage village here in Burien. Their concern for those in the area, especially Burien, who cannot afford to buy a home, who live with housing insecurity, or even find themselves on the street is the driving motivation.
Henrikson is the Board President of ecoThrive Housing, the nonprofit behind this effort. Ith brings the development background from her years in real estate development through Utopia Design + Develop, a “design and build firm” she established in 1985.
ecoThrive has 1.8 acres of land under contract on Military Road in Boulevard Park. The plan is to build 26 small homes ranging from 350 to 650 square feet. These cottages will be formatted into studio, one and two bedroom designs and a community center. In a forward-thinking manner they have laid out some of the structures so separate units can be connected. This allows young folks to move into a small unit and raise a family while staying in the community. Two bus routes stop directly in front of the property for easy public transportation.
The current projection is that cottages in the village will be affordable to people earning less than 50% of the King County area median income, being affordable for people who earn around $55K/yr.
“Community” is a big factor for Henrikson and Ith. The community center will have a large kitchen and “eating & meeting” space. It is the intent of ecoThrive, as a Community Land Trust (CLT), to own the land and a Limited Equity Cooperative (LEC) which would own the buildings and improvements. The residents would be purchasing a “share” in the LEC. The purchase price will depend on the unit. Each person living there becomes an owner in the cooperative while living in a specific unit and paying the “fair rate” for that unit into the LEC. This ownership model is still relatively new. However, it is working successfully in Oregon at Square One Villages, at Lopez Community Land Trust on Lopez Island, WA and in other parts of the country. Below is a diagram from SquareOne Villages that describes the ownership structure.
There are many questions that still need to be answered. Success is not guaranteed. The model is still early in development. There are likely pitfalls to come. However, Gem of the Sound is grateful that ecoTHRIVE Housing has taken on this challenge. We share the concern over the lack of affordable housing in our area and its impact. We desire a great outcome and will be covering this project as it develops.
All are invited to come learn more about this project and meet the ecoThrive team at the Boulevard Park Block Party on Saturday, August 13 along 120th Street.