August 6, 2008 in Business

Housing won’t go to poor

Empty homes on West Plains to be rented at market rates
By The Spokesman-Review
 
Jesse Tinsley photo

Geiger Heights, seen here Tuesday, is a neighborhood of tan houses, mostly duplexes.
(Full-size photo)

Inside

Private company Balfour Beatty to run family housing at Fairchild/A11

Nearly 250 vacant homes on the West Plains will see new life as rental dwellings, but not as low-income housing as two Spokane nonprofits and an area homebuilder first proposed.

Greenstone Corp. expects to buy and renovate the former Fairchild Air Force Base houses as planned. But for at least the first four years, the single-family homes and duplexes will be offered for rent at market rates.

After that, Greenstone might decide to sell at least some of the homes, said Greenstone CEO Jim Frank.

Spokane Housing Ventures and Habitat for Humanity-Spokane had teamed up with Greenstone to submit an offer to buy the units from their new owner, Balfour Beatty Communities LLC, of Newtown Square, Pa.

Balfour Beatty acquired 226 units in the Geiger Heights development several miles east of the base and 16 units in Cheney as part of a deal with the Air Force to privatize base housing at Fairchild and two other bases.

The organizations pitched renting the homes out initially and conducting a study to determine their best use, perhaps including selling the buildings and using the money for other properties more suitable for low-income housing. Legal issues made that partnership unfeasible, the organizations said Tuesday.

The nonprofits planned to be part owners, allowing for affordable housing, Jayne Auld, executive director of Spokane Housing Ventures, said Tuesday. Now, however, there’s “really no opportunity for us as community partners to be part of the ownership structure,” she said.

“I don’t think the long-term goal has changed,” Auld added. “That may be a little bit further out than we had originally envisioned.”

The organizations still will study the dwellings’ best potential uses, she said.

Advocates say there’s a critical need for low-income housing in the region. More than 250 low-income residents have been displaced in the past year and a half because of redevelopment and closures of low-income buildings. Spokane recently has experienced very low vacancy rates for one-bedroom apartments.

Spokane Housing Ventures classifies affordable housing as housing for people who make 60 percent or less of the area’s annual median income. For a family of four, that’s $34,500.

While helping to fill the low-income housing gap might be out of the question for now, Greenstone foresees the properties becoming “economically diverse” communities offering much-needed worker and student housing.

Organizers had questioned the feasibility of the Geiger site for affordable housing, because it sits far from transportation and social services.

Greenstone plans to offer shuttle service to bus stops and job sites, Frank said.

“There’s a lot of folks that are hardworking folks … and they’re still finding it very, very difficult to find housing that’s in their budget,” Auld said. “So I certainly expect that the property out there will meet needs for what I would consider affordable housing.”

Full terms of the sale, originally said to be in negotiations for about $7 million, were not disclosed Tuesday. After a “major renovation” of the grounds over the next two years, the project will be worth more than $15 million, according to Liberty Lake-based Greenstone.

Vacated in 2004, the houses are in “excellent condition,” according to Greenstone, which has developed several regional master-planned communities.

The first units should be available in September, Frank said. A subsidiary company called Rockwood Property Management will provide leasing and management services for both properties.

Reach Parker Howell at (509) 459-5491 or at parkerh@spokesman.com.


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