Nearing completion, the first cottage in a small village of houses will provide affordable housing for low-income skilled workers in South Whidbey.
The village, located across from the South Whidbey Community Center, represents a five-year effort of volunteers, donations of goods and services, permits with the town of Langley and help from high school students.
Tiny Houses in the Name of Christ, or THiNC, started as an idea in 2017 and is the first tiny village to be approved in Island County. The plan of each of the nine 264 square foot houses includes a bedroom, a bathroom and a living room/kitchen.
The cost of building each house was reduced to $22,000, thanks to the help of volunteers and discounts on building materials. Prior to the Tiny Homes design, THiNC renovated a full-size home on the property in 2017, which a low-income family now lives in.
Although not faith-oriented, THiNC founders Coyla Shepard and Marilee Johnson work with a number of churches, organizations, businesses and volunteers whose cumulative efforts have resulted in a breach in providing housing for the workforce.
“THiNC is focused on keeping our local low-income workers here by providing them with affordable housing,” Shepard said. “Many of our local businesses are struggling to stay open and some have already reduced opening hours due to a housing shortage, which has caused workers to leave the island.”
Pending the installation of utilities by contractor Clinton Madsen Enterprises, the tiny homes are nearing completion and eventual occupancy.
Tenants will pay rent on a sliding scale based on their income. Their applications will be reviewed by the Island County Housing Support Center, which provides rental assistance to qualified applicants.
Also on the selection team is Mary Michell, McKinney-Vento liaison for the South Whidbey School District. McKinney Vento is a federal law, requiring school districts to immediately enroll children in unstable housing.
“At the moment, 63 families are experiencing housing instability in South Whidbey,” Michell said in a recent phone call. “I talk about families as being in housing instability, rather than being homeless. These are kinder, less stigmatizing words.
People who live in a shelter, couch surf with friends and relatives, or live in RVs and trailers are experiencing housing instability, she noted. Since she began working to help families eight years ago, there has been an increase from two to 15 families living in RVs and trailers.
Regarding the small hometown of Coyla Shepard, Michell added, “You have to hand it over to Coyla. She persevered when no one else would.
“I’ve got the best assist, Judy Thorslund being one of them,” Shepard said.
Thorslund, a force of nature when it comes to finding out-of-the-box solutions to help homeless people, is the founder and former chair of the Whidbey Homeless Coalition. She has since retired from her role with the nonprofit, preferring to work at the grassroots level and advocate for “the poor and vulnerable”. She spends a lot of her time these days volunteering with THiNC, when she’s not outdoors, and helping the depressed.
In a recent interview, Shepard said she wishes there was a story every day in the newspapers about islanders who can’t find housing.
“People don’t realize the horror and degradation of being homeless,” she said. “A roof. A door. A key to lock the door. A light. Without a home, they can’t get a driver’s license. We take those who have nothing.
Meanwhile, THiNC celebrates its first chalet.
Students from Woodhaven High School Initiative, a community-inspired nonprofit, helped build a playset and porch on the cottage on February 18. Enrolled in the Learning Lab Wood Shop in Langley, the youngsters worked with Joe Whisenand, who runs the wood shop program. Whisenand said his program connected with THiNC more than two years ago.
Whisenand said the school has already held two construction readiness classes for students who want to prepare for summer jobs or even careers in the construction trades.
“This particular tiny house project is right across the street from the Learning Lab’s carpentry shop – it’s not a leap of logic to see the natural fit,” he wrote in a text message. . “We are already lined up for more construction projects to add value to the development. It is a hands-on application and a fabulous learning opportunity for the student/participants.
The Living Design Foundation, which supports Langley’s Learning Lab financially and administratively, includes three programs: Cabinetmaking, Kitchen, and Greenhouse/Garden. The programs provide a platform for instructors in each of the classes to impart generational learning to their students. For example, instructors at the Whidbey Island Woodworkers Guild have taught over 225 classes over the past four years.
“It’s been a great experience for these students,” said Marli Jenkins, administrator of Woodhaven High School. “It is important to educate children about homelessness. I am grateful to them and our other Woodhaven students for working with Joe.