A drawing of the proposed cottages neighborhood, which is nestled along Halibut Point Road and consists of thirteen cottages. The average size of each lot is 4000 square feet. With the land held by the Community Land Trust, the goals is to keep costs low for new homeowners. (Drawing provided by the CLT).

At a meeting of the Planning Commission last week, the Sitka Community Development Corporation unveiled their plan for a cottage neighborhood. The cottages are small, the land is held in trust, and the goal is to make housing affordable for Sitkans of median income. In many ways, the presentation was a dress rehearsal for this Tuesday’s (09-08-15) assembly meeting.

Imagine a condominium where every room is a separate house. That’s the vision of Caitlin Woolsey, an architecture student who is helping the Sitka Community Development Corporation dream up the cottages.

Woolsey points at projections of 2D maps, designed by team member Joshua Houston. “These homes could be for young families who need to get their feet under them, but they could also be for some of the aging population  in Sitka,” said Woolsey. “People with lower mobility.  Wheelchair accessible. So we wanted all of these houses with a bedroom and a bathroom on the first floor.”

In the footprint of the Old City Shops property, the neighborhood consists of 13 cottages that face a common green space. There is a parking lot on either side, right off of Halibut Point Road. Homeowners would access their front door via a double chalk walking path. A car could drive through the neighborhood, in case of an emergency, but the design is friendliest to pedestrians.

Basically, the whole neighborhood is built around the idea of community.

“In the center here, in this green space, there is an area for a community garden, a shared picnic area, and a fire pit,” Woolsey said. “We also thought we’d need shared storage because these homes are so small.”

The average size of each lot is 4000 square feet. And that’s one of many strategies to keep these homes affordable over time. 

Randy Hughey is board president of the Sitka Community Development Corporation. He is also on the planning commission, but recused himself to join in the presentation. Hughey explained that the deed of the house is kept separate from the deed of the land. “The land is not theirs. It never becomes theirs. As the property value gains, they do not gain value from the property,” Hughey said.

Hughey also emphasized that the key to keeping these homes affordable over time is to limit how much cottager owners can profit off the house, once they sell.

“[Homeowners] only get 25% of the difference in the second appraisal from first. The increase in value, they get 25% of it,” said Hughey. “So that way, if someone was right at area median income in 2015 and they sold it in 2020, it will still be affordable to someone at that same income bracket.”

 The Sitka Community Development Corporation is counting on these homes having a high turnover. In fact, the national average for people owning community land trust properties is 5-7 years. These cottages are not for putting down roots. Think of them more like launching pads.

“What we really want,” Hughey said, “is for people to buy this home, own it for 5-7 years, get enough money for a down payment and get out in the open market, where they can capture all the equity gain. Then, when they get to be my age, they can have the equity in a home which they will need. So we see this model as being the first rung of a ladder out of rental.

Whether the Assembly will support that model and award the corporation the land remains an open question.

 The Sitka Community Development Corporation and Community Land Trust will present their proposal to the Assembly at tonight’s meeting in Room 229 at the University of Alaska Southeast. Raven Radio will broadcast the meeting live at 6 p.m.