Local and state politicians, housing advocates and members of the public gathered in a hot parking lot near the intersection of Seventh and Hendricks streets last Thursday to celebrate the …
Local and state politicians, housing advocates and members of the public gathered in a hot parking lot near the intersection of Seventh and Hendricks streets last Thursday to celebrate the groundbreaking for the first affordable housing complex to be built in Port Townsend in more than 15 years.
Olympic Community Action Programs (OlyCAP) have previously referred to the project as the Seventh and Hendricks project, but a naming competition has recently resulted in a new moniker for the affordable housing complex: Seventh Haven.
Jefferson County Commissioner Greg Brotherton started the event off by thanking those in attendance and offering a special thanks to those front-and-center beside him.
Port Townsend City Councilmember Amy Howard, Washington State Rep. Steve Tharinger, OlyCAP executive director Cherish Cronmiller and OlyCAP’s former executive director Dale Wilson.
“This project has had a long history,” Brotherton began. “I came on as the OlyCAP representative from the county in 2018; Dale was just bringing it to us and it was an idea that we thought was great.”
While the project was passed up for funding initially, the project later received an $11.3 million windfall from the Washington State Department of Commerce.
“Here we are, a couple years later, a fantastic support from the Department of Commerce this year with more than we asked for to make sure we can make this project happen,” Brotherton said. “Rep. Tharinger and Senator Van De Wege and [Rep.] Mike Chapman championed this project and got additional funds for it to close the final gap.”
Amid his praise for those involved, Brotherton said the project was set to break ground and anticipated construction on the project would officially begin in “a month or so.”
“The city has been fantastic to work with in facilitating the permit process,” he continued. “All of the housing providers honestly see this as the first step in many.”
The commissioner gave a dire assessment of the current housing situation in Jefferson County.
“We talk a lot about the housing continuum,” he said. “Every level of the ladder of housing is broken and my sincere hope is that by mending this one step, we can take some weight off the other steps.”
Brotherton also acknowledged that groundbreaking on the project was coming at a less-than opportune time, considering the wildly inflated materials costs amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
But he added that he was confident that the project’s organizers could navigate the challenges ahead.
“We’re going to have to adjust as we move through this process,” he said. “I’m really excited about the team we have assembled, the support of the community that we have to get through this and get 43 units of affordable housing built.”
Tharinger noted the perseverance needed to see a project such as this through.
“When you have a project this large, that has this many partners, it takes time to bring those folks together and to keep an eye on the vision and adjust the reality to the vision,” Tharinger said.
“I’m a money guy, I’m a capital budget chair, I’m a fiscal committee chair, so I deal a lot with numbers,” he added. “But today I just want to emphasize that this is more than numbers; this is a real important piece in the community.”
For individuals struggling with mental health and addiction issues, Tharinger said, it can be incredibly difficult to address their problems and begin working toward a healthy outcome without first having stable housing.
“Those are just impossible to deal with if you don’t have a place to live,” he said. “Since I’ve been chair … we have upped the number in the Housing Trust Fund, which goes through [the Department of Commerce] to a record $175 million this year.”
Tharinger called for a revamping of the entire spectrum of housing in Jefferson County.
“We want to get people out of tents, so to move them into supportive housing right away is extremely expensive and just not do-able,” he said. “We need to look at cottages; we need to look at small homes; we need to look at maybe congregate settings for shelters.”
Hopefully, Tharinger said, individuals experiencing homelessness could end up somewhere like Seventh Haven.
The one who set the project into motion was also present at the groundbreaking ceremony.
Wilson, the former executive director of OlyCAP, shared his gratitude for those who made the event possible.
“Failure was never an option as the emotional and economic well-being of our community was and remains at stake,” Wilson said.
While acknowledging that ultimately the 43-unit complex at Seventh and Hendricks won’t fix Jefferson County’s housing crisis, Wilson regarded the project as a proof of concept and a roadmap for future endeavors.
“This is a huge win and it’s the first step in a long road,” Wilson said after the groundbreaking.
“I think this community had definitely gotten lost. There’s a ton of good intention but a lack of ability to coalesce that intention and make it happen,” Wilson said.
Cronmiller, who now serves as OlyCAP’s current executive director, echoed Wilson’s sentiments.
“This doesn’t come close to fulfilling all the needs we have here in the community,” Cronmiller said. “The marathon has been mapped out. We’re at the starting line.”
“It’s just the start,” she said.