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Evergreen Habitat for Humanity program targets affordable housing crisis

Group plans 9 new Vancouver homes

By , Columbian staff writer
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3 Photos
Evergreen Habitat for Humanity Community Outreach Manager Heather Cochrun at Johnson Village, a plot of land beside Good Shephard Lutheran Church in east Vancouver that will soon be the site of nine new homes. Through the organizations new Habitat Home Trust, the homes will remain permanently affordable.
Evergreen Habitat for Humanity Community Outreach Manager Heather Cochrun at Johnson Village, a plot of land beside Good Shephard Lutheran Church in east Vancouver that will soon be the site of nine new homes. Through the organizations new Habitat Home Trust, the homes will remain permanently affordable. (Taylor Balkom/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

On a rainy Wednesday morning in early March, Evergreen Habitat for Humanity Community Outreach Manager Heather Cochrun went to visit Johnson Village, a plot of land beside Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in east Vancouver that will soon be the site of nine new homes.

Due to the rain, concrete pouring and other infrastructure work planned for that morning had to be delayed. But Cochrun looked over the plot as if she could see the houses already standing. She pointed out where each one would be, the cul-de-sac that would tie them together and the sound wall that would diminish the traffic noise from 162nd Avenue.

“We just selected the nine families who will be living in this community,” she said.

The nine homes are particularly exciting to Cochrun because they will be the first homes included in the organization’s new Habitat Home Trust, a program that aims to create and preserve affordable housing in Clark County.

The trust will impact 51 homes owned by the organization. Nine of those homes are the ones planned for Johnson Village; the other 42 homes are scattered throughout Clark County and were recently purchased in partnership with the Vancouver Housing Authority.

Moving forward, every home purchased and built by the organization will become a part of the trust.

Homes in the trust will only be resold to low-income families and won’t be subject to rapidly inflating housing costs, according to Evergreen Habitat for Humanity Executive Director Josh Townsley.

“Just as all other Habitat homeowners, the buyers of these homes will own their home through an affordable mortgage and have the opportunity to build equity over time,” he said. “The difference between these homes and traditional Habitat homes is the land will stay under the ownership of the Habitat Home Trust.”

This takes Habitat’s housing solution from being a 30-year affordable housing solution through the duration of a mortgage, to being a permanent solution to housing instability, he said.

Housing crisis

Townsley said that responding to the affordable housing crisis is Habitat’s chief goal. 

As the housing crisis worsened over the past few years, the organization began thinking of ways to not only create more affordable housing options, but also ways to preserve those options in perpetuity.

When Townsley joined Habitat 12 years ago, the organization was able to purchase lots for development for $20,000 to $30,000. Now, those same lots are worth $130,000 to $170,000, he said. “The homes we would’ve bought last year are now worth 12 to 15 percent more this year just because of appreciation in the market,” he said.

To find a solution, the organization began working with Habitat affiliates, the city of Vancouver and others. From those collaborations grew the Habitat Home Trust.

“We’re basically utilizing a community land trust model where Habitat will be creating an LLC (limited liability corporation), so to speak, where that LLC will be the owner of the lands at Johnson Village and at all of our building projects going forward,” Cochrun said.

Homeowners will own their homes, but Habitat will continue to own the land that the homes are on. If a family decides to move, they can sell their home and still have equity so that they’re building generational wealth, Cochrun said.

After a family leaves a home, Habitat can sell it again to another low-income family, thus keeping the home affordable.

“Families will still be purchasing their home with an affordable mortgage, they’ll still be building wealth by building equity in their home and seeing appreciation each year, but it will be limited appreciation. It won’t be fluctuating with the wild rise and fall of the market that we see right now,” Townsley said. “We’re going to be providing homes that will always be affordable. They will always be a place for a family to have a safe and decent roof over their heads.”

Vancouver Housing Authority homes

As the trust was being created, 42 homes owned by the Vancouver Housing Authority became available. Seeing an opportunity to expand the program, Evergreen Habitat connected with the Vancouver Housing Authority to purchase the homes.

Evergreen Habitat will nearly double the number of homes in its housing portfolio as it acquires the 42 homes over the next 2½ years, Cochrun said. Of the 42 homes, 28 are in Vancouver and 14 are in unincorporated Clark County.

Current tenants will have the opportunity to apply for Habitat’s home ownership program or opt back into Vancouver Housing Authority sponsored housing.

Moving forward

Evergreen Habitat hopes to begin construction on the nine Johnson Village homes next month and to have them completed by the end of 2023. Of the 42 Vancouver Housing Authority homes, Evergreen Habitat will be taking control of the first half in 2023 and the second half in 2024.

Nine families have already been selected to live in the Johnson Village homes. Applications for the other 42 homes will become available later in 2022.

Who will be eligible to apply?

“For (Johnson Village), we serve families who make between 30 and 50 percent of the area median income,” Cochrun said. “We’re looking at what that will look like for the other 42 homes. We’re hopeful that we’ll be able to serve families who make between 40 and 80 percent of the area median income, so both very low-income families and low-income families.”

To fill out the interest form and to be notified when the application process is open, visit www.ehfh.org/habitat-home-trust.

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Columbian staff writer