New co-op opens door for poor families


Herald Writer

Snohomish County’s newest co-op has no bulk foods, organic vegetables or rows of vitamin supplements.

Instead, what is being called the first housing development of its kind in the county is an innovative way to allow renters more say-so in managing the development.

Oakes Avenue Commons is a 20-unit cooperative apartment development opening later this week on the corner of 32nd Street and Oakes Avenue in downtown Everett. An open house is scheduled Friday.

The apartments, paid for through a combination of city, county and state grants and a federal tax credit, is the latest project by Housing Hope, a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing low-income and affordable housing in Snohomish County.

Renters, or members as the residents will be called, eventually will have a role in managing the $2.3 million development, including its $100,000 annual budget, said Ed Petersen, Housing Hope’s executive director.

"They will be deciding whether an outside management agency is retained to do repairs and grounds upkeep or the co-op does it and thereby saves expenses," he said.

The tradeoffs: Doing the tasks themselves would reduce costs and help stabilize rent prices, while contracting for the services would be mean fewer hassles but would cost more.

Housing Hope staff members have drafted the co-op’s initial budget, Petersen said. "Come January, (members) will start to be much more involved.

"Part of our challenge is to teach them what’s involved in the decision-making process," he said, everything from how to read legal documents to organizing meetings and resolving conflicts.

"We reassured them we would provide them with the mentoring they need and would ease into this," Petersen said. "They won’t have responsibility they can’t handle."

To help with the transition, a Housing Hope staffer will be assigned to the development so members have a designated person to turn to when problems arise.

"What we’re trying to accomplish is a solution to homelessness," Petersen said. "The more they have these (management) kind of skills, the more they can negotiate their personal affairs and maintain their housing stability and never become homeless."

Members also will screen new members of the cooperative as turnover occurs.

To live in the apartments, the annual income for a family of four cannot exceed $19,750, Petersen said. Rents for a two-bedroom apartment will be $362 a month and $410 for a three-bedroom unit, about half of current market rates.

"It’s clearly designed to be affordable to that very low-income threshold," he said.

The organization decided to test the cooperative method of managing as part of its dedication to helping people move from homeless shelters to "their optimum level of independent housing," Petersen said.

"Part of our values is people should have some say-so, involvement, control and sense of ownership in their living environment," he said.

Once members are accepted into the co-op, they can stay as long as they like, even if their incomes rise.

"We’re trying to help people pull themselves up," Petersen said. "We don’t want to penalize them for making progress toward that."

You can call Herald Writer Sharon Salyer at 425-339-3486or send e-mail to

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