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Homes From Victoria, B.C. Sent To Friday Harbor To Create More Affordable Housing

This story originally aired on June 17, 2017.  

Affordable housing is certainly a big issue these days, especially if you are living in the greater Seattle area. But it is also a major issue on some of our islands.

On San Juan Island, an overwhelming shortage of affordable housing is threatening the community and economy. But a non-profit in Friday Harbor is come up with a way to help that problem: by picking up old houses that are no long wanted in Victoria, British Columbia, putting them on a boat, and giving them a second life in Friday.

Angela Atwell is days away from getting the keys to this house. Angela is a single mom, has two teenage kids, and works as an administrator at Skagit Valley College.

“I would have been in the mainland right now, quite honestly, if this hadn’t come through. I couldn’t find replacement rental housing, even temporarily to get me to this point. So yes, I would have had to leave a great job that I’ve had for over 10 years, and uprooted my children who have been here since preschool.”

Angela’s story is one that is all too familiar for many people on the island. Sarah Crosby is the chair of the board of directors of the San Juan Community Home trust.

“Property values have skyrocketed over time, and yet we are a thriving, working community, but the salaries don’t increase in the way that the property values do," said Crosby. "And people who have lived here all of their lives are leaving because they can’t afford to buy a home or get a job that will sustain them or their families. And we don’t want that, we want a diverse community.”

And the home trust has come up with an interesting way of helping. In Victoria, where many old, classic houses are being torn down to make way for new development, the home trust is purchasing these homes, and moving them to Friday Harbor.

Pete Kilpatrick is the owner of Ravenhill Construction on the island, fixes up these homes when they arrive. He’s been on the home trust board for about 15 years.

“One of our board members lives in a house that has been moved from Victoria. And it became evident that there was real opportunity right now with just the number of houses being torn down in Victoria. The poor old houses are just not wanted anymore, so we are definitely taking care and taking advantage of that opportunity,” said Kilpatrick

The cost of buying, moving, and renovating these early to mid-20th century homes adds up to about $180,000 each, and if the home trust was to build brand new houses instead for that price, they would be much smaller and very cookie-cutter. And each one of these is named after the street they were saved from.

And the house Angela Atwell will be moving into is named Hamiota. In each room that we walk into, Angela lights up when she talks about the houses’ character.

“They have some older windows. Sometimes when you look at them you’ll get that wavy look. And the one I’m looking at particularly now has kind of a frosted pattern on it, so it’s really pretty. And you don’t see that anymore. So if people can picture like actual Victorian homes and imagine what they are like, this house itself was built in 1908, so we are going to have a 110-year-old birthday party for it next year, but just all of these features and the crown molding just make it really, really nice.”

Angela, like everyone else on the cul-de-sac that has been given the opportunity to purchases one of these homes, has to put in 50 hours of sweat equity.

The San Juan Community Home Trust has over 40 names on a wait list that would like to get in to one of these houses, but as it so often is the case, funding is one of the biggest roadblocks to expanding this enterprise. There is no shortage of land, or Victorian houses available for purchase. And with each house that carefully gets picked up off its foundation, makes its way onto a barge, and slowly gets put into place in Friday Harbor, someone like Angela can begin to look forward to move into her very own place on the island she loves.

Kevin Kniestedt is a journalist, host and producer who began his career at KNKX in 2003. Over his 17 years with the station, he worked as a full time jazz host, a news host and produced the weekly show Sound Effect. Kevin has conducted or produced hundreds of interviews, has won local and national awards for newscasts and commentary.