Affordable housing nonprofit fights to keep doors open on Whidbey

In an ironic twist, a Whidbey Island nonprofit group that helps provide affordable housing alternatives to island residents is in danger of closing its doors.

In an ironic twist, a Whidbey Island nonprofit group that helps provide affordable housing alternatives to island residents is in danger of closing its doors.

Whidbey Island Share a Home, established in 2004 with seed money from the Soroptimists of South Whidbey, helps people find opportunities for affordable housing alternatives by matching providers who want to share their home with those seeking an affordable place to live. WISH had received funding through homeless grants from the Island County Housing Advisory Board through 2011.

Board members were hoping they would be able to submit a request for funding for 2013, but have recently been told they won’t be able to apply for funding until next summer, meaning WISH won’t see any potential funds until 2014.

“At this point we’re just trying to keep the program alive,” said board president Craig McKenzie. “We’ve been consistently raising $10,000 to $15,000 a year, which, with the money from the county, was enough for a full-time director.”

The last grant WISH received from the county was $70,000 for a two-year period. Board members were told to look into partnering with other groups to have a better chance at future funding.

“We checked into the Opportunity Council and Senior Services, among others, but none was really ready to take us on,” McKenzie said, adding that those groups’ resources were already maxed out.

“But we needed to keep the program going in order to be able to submit a request for funding,” said board member Steve Strehlau. “Based on that, we hired T.J. (Harmon) as executive director and have been systematically trying to streamline operations while keeping the program viable.”

“We’ve been contacting donors and filling out grant applications, but that doesn’t help with the current situation,” said WISH Secretary Marlane Harrington. “We’ve done as much as we could with what little we have.”

The organization’s need has become critical, board members said, claiming the bank account is down to $100. Harmon has only been working on a part-time basis, splitting her time between the group’s Freeland office at Trinity Lutheran Church and newly donated space at the Windermere building along Highway 20 in Oak Harbor.

“We feel like we’ve been blindsided,” said Harrington. “We thought we’d figured out what the county wanted, but now we can’t apply for funding until next year.”

The Record was unable to reach Island County Housing Advisory Board before press time. WISH board members say WISH provides a valuable, needed service on Whidbey Island.

“We’ve helped hundreds of people find housing,” McKenzie said. “If the need was great in 2005, you can imagine what the need is now.”

Finding homes

The program works by matching people who own homes with people in need of affordable housing. Quite often the homeowners are senior citizens who want to stay in their homes but need assistance running errands or keeping up with yard work, for example. Seekers help the providers with errands or whatever needs doing, in exchange for an affordable rent, or whatever agreement the two parties work out between themselves.

Providers and seekers file applications with WISH, criminal background checks are performed on both parties and extensive interviews are conducted to determine the needs on both sides. WISH creates a profile list which is sent to home providers and home seekers twice a month. WISH provides contact information for those parties who are potential matches, but the decision whether to share a home is left up to the parties involved.

“We’re not building more homes. We’re keeping seniors in their homes and providing both mentorship to the home seeker and companionship to the home provider,” said McKenzie.

“Just the companionship factor alone makes the program worthwhile,” said Strehlau.

Harmon said she averages at least five inquiries a week. And, in the short time she’s been with WISH, she’s been able to make at least one match.



‘WISH’ you could help?

In order to help keep the program functioning, WISH board members say they need donations.

Tax deductible donations can be made through the WISH website, Anyone with questions can call 360-929-9894, 360-331-5910 or email