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Affordable housing bid made

Sat., Jan. 26, 2008

Two Spokane nonprofit organizations have joined with one of the region’s largest residential builders in an attempt to buy more than 200 former Fairchild Air Force Base residences and convert them into affordable housing.

“The idea is to try to do the rehab on the units so we can get them rented and in good use,” said Jayne Auld, executive director of Spokane Housing Ventures, which joined with Habitat for Humanity-Spokane and Greenstone Foundation to submit an offer for the off-base units – 226 in a development called Geiger Heights and 16 in Cheney. The residences are a mix of single-family homes and duplexes.

The offer to GMH Capital Partners has been conditionally accepted and should close this spring, Auld said. The partners are negotiating a purchase price around $7 million, she said.

“The big kicker was finding somebody who had the financial backing to put this all together,” Auld said, referring to Jim Frank, owner of Greenstone Corp. and president of the Greenstone Foundation. The partners formed Geiger Heights Investments LLC to submit the purchase offer, Auld said.

“All the terms have been accepted and we got the final sale document from the selling entity,” Auld said. “It hasn’t been signed, but it’s been agreed to in concept.”

Low-income housing providers have been eyeing the West Plains properties since Fairchild announced in 2003 that base families would need to vacate them by August 2004. Fairchild said it had been ordered to reduce its housing by more than 55 percent, according to news reports.

GMH Capital Partners is buying the Geiger and Cheney properties, family housing units at Fairchild, and other residential properties on bases in Oklahoma and California, said Myrl Briggs, Fairchild’s housing privatization project manager. GMH would then contract with the Air Force to house military personnel in the on-base housing.

“We’re in the process of putting together the closing documents,” Briggs said. “We’re on track to complete that on the 31st of March.”

Though Auld said the Geiger and Cheney properties have “great potential” to be rehabilitated into market-rate and low-income housing, she acknowledged a lack of services in the Geiger area, such as a grocery store, public transportation or social services.

She said the short-term plan for the properties is to renovate them and rent them out. Long term, the partners plan to conduct a feasibility study to determine the best use. If that doesn’t turn out to be affordable housing, the group might sell the buildings and use the money to buy other, more suitable properties, Auld said.

“Selling the homes may provide better long-term value to the community than preserving the homes in place for affordable use,” Frank was quoted as saying in the Spokane Low-Income Housing Consortium newsletter. Frank could not be reached for comment for this story.

“It’s just premature right now until we get in and really understand it and know the potential for the site,” Auld said. “It’s certainly large enough that we expect to have a mix of home ownership and rental properties.”

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