Few takers for affordable rentals

By Ted Grossman
The Islands' Sounder

Orcas Island, WA - 3/22/03 - Affordable rentals are sitting vacant on Orcas Island, and with no certainty that a demand for local housing will be appearing soon.

This could mark a dramatic change on an island where, for the past 20 years or more, a landlord with an affordable, year-round rental was all but guaranteed to have prospective tenants knocking on the door, pleading to be taken, regardless of the condition of the unit.

Up until this past year, prospective renters could regularly be found checking local bulletin boards or lining up at local stores early Wednesday mornings, waiting to check the local paperís classified ad section so they could beat others in what was often a weekly race for an affordable place to rent. Word-of-mouth alone often did the trick. Even affordable rentals that were only available during the so-called off-season, from September to May were often filled.

The changing situation has stunned Karen Speck, property manager with Cherie L. Lindholm Real Estate. Speck, who has been handling rentals for the past 17 years, says she has never before seen so many units sitting empty.

Last week Speck placed a classified ad for nine rentals that, she says, were occupied last year. (There were 16 units listed for rent in the March 12, 2003 Sounder, compared to six in the March 13, 2002 edition of the paper.) Nine are advertised by Cherlie L. Lindholm Real Estate all available year-round. One studio-apartment lists for $360 a month, while three others go for $450 monthly. The highest priced rental on her list goes for $1350 a month. Speck admits that she got some expressions of interest regarding these rentals in the last week or two, but not much.

The other seven rentals listed in the classified ad section include a cottage for $475 a month, a three-bedroom home for $800 a month, and a two-bedroom cottage for $875 a month.

Speck believes there are three reasons why so many rentals are now vacant: 1) the economy; 2) the OPAL Community Land Trust; and 3) Rosario Resort, which was closed during the winter.

OPAL has created affordable home ownership for 50 households since 1996. It now is in the planning stages to build seven rental units scheduled to be completed by December 2003. The local land trust will be constructing five one-bedroom apartments, at $325 per month, and two three-bedroom apartments, at $650 a month. To date, OPAL has yet to advertise for renters, says Executive Director Lisa Byers, admitting that the local land trust is paying close attention to the rental housing market on Orcas Island.

Rosario, which will be reopening April 1 after being shut down for the past four months, built a housing complex for 39 of its employees in 1999. Last year it added another 24 beds on the property which are reserved for workers at the resort.

Many employees who worked in Colorado for the winter at resorts affiliated with Rosario are now returning to the island. But a spokesperson for the resort didnít know how much demand for rental housing on the island would be created prior to summer. The spokesperson did indicate that there will be a large demand for seasonal rentals when the peak season begins.

One who is not surprised by the rental housing vacancies is Superintendent Barry Acker, who has watched as enrollment at the school has declined dramatically over the past couple years. Last summer, 25 students left the elementary school, 18 of them when their families moved off-island. The school surveyed all those who departed to find out why they were leaving. Most said they couldnít afford to stay, according to Acker.


In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, any copyrighted work in this message is distributed under fair use without profit or payment for non-profit research and educational purposes only. [Ref. http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.shtml]

Back to Current Edition Citizen Review Archive LINKS Search This Site