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'Tiny homes' on Vashon Island make home ownership affordable for low-income families

The Sunflower, a new tiny home community, is making home ownership affordable for low income wage earners. Vashon Household, a non-profit group, received grants from the county and state to buy the land to build the homes. (Photo: KOMO News)

VASHON ISLAND, Wash. - Not far from the center of Vashon Island, tucked away in the trees, there’s The Sunflower, a new tiny home community who’s affordability is within reach of low income wage earners.

For $170,000, a person who makes less than 80 percent of the median income of king county, roughly $50,000, could buy a 750-square-foot, one bedroom, one bath home with a loft and full size appliances. The median price for a home on Vashon Island is approximately $530,000.

It's made possible by a program called Vashon Household, and could be the frame work for other affordable housing projects. The goal is to get people into homes and build up some equity.

“You have single family ownership forever,” said Chris Szala, executive director of Vashon Household.

The non-profit land trust received grants of $680,000 from King County and $800,000 from the State of Washington to purchase the land. The organization build 14 homes on the six-acre plot. Because Vashon Household owns the land, it can put income restrictions on who can purchase the homes the land sits on.

Homeowners are granted a 99-year land lease and the homes can be sold to whoever meets the income restrictions. The homes cannot be sold for market value. They have an appreciation cap of 3.5 percent each year the owner has the home. Owners must live in the homes to qualify and cannot sublease.

“It’s a really good idea,” said Allan Koslowski, a metro bus driver whose routes are on the island. “I think it’s a way for people of average, or slightly less than average means, to get into home ownership. It was a new experience for me.”

Koslowski had been living in Seattle where rents are skyrocketing. He said his mortgage payment is basically the same as the rent he was paying.

Jeff Matusky and his wife would have been priced off the island had The Sunflower not been around.

“I couldn’t afford the housing prices on Vashon on the disability payments I receive,” said Matusky.

The income restriction only applies at the time of purchase. So, if a homeowner were to become a millionaire over night, they could still live at their home as long as they like.

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