Group may convert hotel to housing

Island County commissioners approved a $70,000 grant to the Low Income Housing Institute.

An organization is exploring the possibility of purchasing a South Whidbey hotel in order to convert it into low-income housing.

Island County commissioners approved a $70,000 grant to the Low Income Housing Institute to help pay for predevelopment costs associated with the possible purchase and conversation of the Harbor Inn in Freeland to 10 low-income units.

In addition, the commissioners approved a letter to the state Housing Trust Fund in support of the Low Income Housing Institute’s project. The institute is seeking a grant from the trust fund to purchase the inn.

If the project works out, it won’t be the first time a hotel on Whidbey has been turned into housing. Ryan’s House for Youth, an organization that provides housing and services to homeless young people, purchased the Countryside Inn near Coupeville five years ago and turned it into a shelter.

Also, the Homeless Coalition purchased a former church near Coupeville and is turning it into an emergency shelter for homeless people.

The Harbor Inn is located on East Main Street in Freeland. Gwen and Richard Soto purchased the motel in 2002; Richard Soto is an Emmy-award winning documentary film producer who has worked for PBS and the Discovery Channel, according to a 2002 story in the South Whidbey Record.

While there is a dire need for more affordable housing on the island, the conversion would also mean fewer affordable places for tourists to stay on South Whidbey.

Charles Aiken, manager of the inn, said it is very busy during the tourist season. The hotel also offers month-to-month housing for employees of Nichols Bros. Boat Builders and other businesses, as well as the post office in recent months.

The hotel has 16 regular rooms plus four larger units for the month-to-month clients in an annex.

If the Low Income Housing Institute purchases the hotel, the rooms would be converted into apartments for households earning up to 50% of the area median income.

The $70,000 grant to the Low Income Housing Institute will pay for predevelopment work that has to be done before the agency could get a larger state grant to purchase the property. The institute will also pay $33,000 to bridge the cost.

The work includes legal review, a survey, an appraisal, a septic study and testing for asbestos and methamphetamine, according to the grant agreement.

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