Dear Ms. Winfrey:
Welcome to Orcas Island!
My family moved to Orcas Island in 2010 for a simpler life. After camping on the island for the previous two summers, I knew then that this island was spiritually calling me home. And so, now at age 52, I often tell people that I have come to Orcas Island to die, mind you not for 40 more years! If, as a chiromancer once told me, I should live to be 92 then this will be my physical habitat where I will, in the words of Thoreau, “live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”
What belongings my wife (Mariah), son (Thian) and I had were stored courtesy of family until we got settled. We had little money and no work lined up. That was actually the plan. For three months we lived in a tent on property courtesy of an islander. Our son entered the public school in 2nd grade. My wife and I each sought employment and gradually moved into an apartment and finally a rental house in 2012.
After living for six years in one rental house – the longest duration that either my wife or I lived at a single address – we were required to vacate. Because of financial reasons the owners had to sell and we were not in a position to purchase the home. This could not have arrived at a worse time for us financially or emotionally.
My wife has stable employment and I am a freelance writer and a stay-at-home dad (although our son is almost 15 years old now and quite a capable young man). We have operated with a fixed income and have been spared the gouges of rental rate hikes over the years. Now, despite the fact that we have a modest rent budget of $1200/month, there is no suitable housing on our island for that rate. In fact, there have been only three or four, 3-bedroom houses advertised in the last six months. Astonishingly, even studio, one and two-bedroom housing is equally rare.
The housing crisis on Orcas is driving low-income employees off the island ironically resulting in job opportunities for those seeking to fill those vacancies. As long as we’ve been here, it seems “the Orcas way” is for an islander to have three jobs and it is quite often talked about humorously. People do what they need to survive here. However, the culture is changing. In addition to a large number of summer homes that lie vacant most of the year, Airbnb is reducing long-term, year-long rentals even more on our small humble island. Fewer places available for permanent residents lead to an economic problem that affects everyone from local business owners to tourists.
Madrona Tree, LLC, a company you are associated with has recently acquired a private residence and, in addition, an associate of yours, Bob Greene is apparently invested in some commercial properties on the island (see attached news article). While this seems to have caused some gossip in the community, the feelings are not necessarily good. As it is, each year brings a seemingly increasing number of tourist footprints and traffic. And while I personally welcome a regular periodic stream of visitors, most of us do not wish to see so much commercial growth that nature here gets uprooted for the West Coast’s version of Martha’s Vineyard.
There is, as always, another perspective. What seems to be a problem can be an opportunity for someone with your compassion and business acumen. This island needs low-to-medium income housing and, with the right investor at the helm, Orcas Island could thrive instead of struggle. Think of 10 or 20 acre parcels with affordable “tiny homes” that people can actually own or rent-to-own. This is community building at a fundamental level.
Ms. Winfrey, I want Orcas Island to thrive, yet, remain the peaceful “Walden” we islanders consider home. Will you help us?
Physical Address: the guest room in the basement of a kind friend’s home until we find housing
PO Box 323
Eastsound WA 98245