Housing programs manager Darian Lightfoot expressed confidence that the Olympia Home Fund will meet its goal of funding 300 supportive home units in five years.
Lightfoot was at the Olympia Planning Commission meeting to update the Home Fund initiatives on Monday, May 16. To date, Olympia’s Home Fund has contributed toward the development of 259 units, Lightfoot told The JOLT.
The Home Fund is levy that was approved by Olympia voters in in 2018. Its funds come from a sales tax increase of .01%, which generates about $2.3 million a year. The city’s target for the Olympia Home Fund was to create 300 units of permanent supportive housing in its first five years. The year 2022 is year four of the fund.
Lightfoot said 65% of funds are for constructing supportive and affordable housing; 35% for operations and other housing-related purposes. “It is a designated fund that allows communities to target supportive housing response to reduce homelessness, increases production on housing for low income households and increases shelter construction and capacity,” she said.
In 2019, the Home Fund awarded $1 million to Family Support Center to leverage funding for 62 units of multi-bedroom apartments for homeless families.
In 2020, Interfaith Works Shelter received $1.1 million for 64 units of studio and one-bedroom for homeless single adults. It is now complete, leased and operating on Martin Way.
In 2021, Family Support Center received $400,000 supplements for their funding gap. Interfaith Works Housing also received $150,000 to supplement funds for their phase 2 unity commons project.
In 2021, the Housing Authority of Thurston County, was awarded $150,000 from the fund toward purchase of the OYO Hotel in Tumwater so that it would be converted into 58 apartments for seniors.
This year, and the fund provided $410,714 to Homes First so it could add 11 housing units. This included the purchase of two houses and adding accessory dwelling units to existing properties in the nonprofit’s portfolio..
“There are other projects that will be coming down next year. I feel confident that we will be able to meet that 300 goal next year,” Lightfoot said.
According to Lightfoot, there is a 2% rental vacancy rate in the city, which minimizes opportunitiesfor people seeking to live in a different location or change the type of housing.
She added demand for housing outpaces house construction. “We have not been producing for a couple of decades now. With population growth, we are now feeling that.”
“Rates of rents are increasing faster than wages,” Lightfoot noted.
She said 46% of Thurston County renters are cost-burdened – more than 30% of their monthly income spends on housing.
About 53% of Olympians are renters, she said. “That is even high for a community of our size, so a larger percent of our residents are cost-burdened.”
According to Lightfoot, hundreds more Olympians are camping on the streets than shelters can support.
Regional approach for supportive housing
Lightfoot said her work is now more focused on a regional approach.
“We are so close together and it behooves us all to support Tumwater and Lacey projects. All of the shelters in the county are in Olympia, and I think it would be great to continue to partner with [the two cities] to allow folks in all communities to access shelter and supportive services,” she said.
With Home Fund adopted by the county, Lightfoot hopes that it will make a significant impact and allow more affordable housing projects starting as early as 2023.
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