Throughout the years, Coyla Shepard has known several people who would have benefitted from having a roof over their heads.
There was the single parent with teenage sons who had prepared to live in a tent since the family couldn’t find housing anywhere on Whidbey Island.
The veteran who was living on his sailboat, which was wrecked during a storm and left him no place to go.
The construction worker who caught pneumonia from staying in a homeless shelter and was stuck with a $30,000 bill from the hospital.
The elderly woman Shepard met on the ferry passenger deck who had just had gallbladder surgery and was in pain but refused a ride home because she was embarrassed to reveal that she lived in a tent.
“I wish everybody had those experiences so they knew that we’re having a terrible problem,” Shepard said.
Shepard is the founder of Tiny Houses in the Name of Christ, or THINC. For the past few years, the nonprofit group of churchgoers has been trying to bring affordable housing to the South End — a situation that has become more dire since the pandemic began.
“We want to concentrate on keeping our workers here,” Shepard said. “Our problem is, right now, every business practically has a ‘help wanted’ sign out and our school population is down. Over the years we’ve seen school buildings close. We’re trying to keep our workforce here.”
The organization purchased and fixed up a decrepit house in Langley in 2018. A family with a modest income is living in the upstairs portion of the house. The downstairs has been turned into a community space for residents of the planned tiny homes and an apartment for the on-site manager.
Nine homes, all 264 square feet big, will be built on the land behind the main house. An additional small building will be built on the property and reserved for laundry.
THINC’s latest obstacle is the hefty bill it received from the city to connect water and sewer utilities. The group has about $80,000 saved in the bank, the majority of which will cover the fee required for the utility hook-ups. That will leave almost nothing left for costs related to excavation, leveling the land, laying pipes and power lines, putting in a new roadway and digging drainage ditches, among other things.
As a result, THINC is once again seeking donations from community members who are interested in seeing affordable housing become a reality in Langley. The future occupants of the tiny homes will pay rent based on a sliding scale that is dependent on their income.
The houses — which will include a kitchen area, bathroom and bedrooms — can accommodate up to two adults and two children.
An upcoming fundraiser this Sunday, Sept. 12 will allow people to tour the land and community space, meet members of THINC’s board of directors and enjoy ice cream and live music. The event runs 12-3 p.m. and is located at 722 Camano Avenue. Masks are required. In case of rain, the event will be moved to the community meeting area in Island Church.
Renters of the tiny homes will be required to be employed on Whidbey, preferably south of Coupeville. Applicants will be interviewed by a committee composed of THINC board members, a neighborhood representative and the on-site manager. Tenants will also have to register with the Island County Housing Support Center to verify that their income qualifies for affordable housing.
“Just because we’re Tiny Houses in the Name of Christ, that doesn’t mean that people are all going to be Christians,” Shepard said. “But we did this to acknowledge that the churches actually took this on, because that’s pretty amazing.”
Shepard is in the process of getting churches and local businesses to commit time and volunteer labor to the building of the tiny homes.
She is hopeful that construction will be able to begin this year before the rainy season sets in, but acknowledged that that window of time is closing fast. More donations are needed to help launch the infrastructure portion of the project. An estimated $80,000 is needed.
“It’s all of ours to take a little piece of, whatever part you can do,” she said. “That’s the only way things happen.”