Urban renewal comes to Bremerton. So do higher rents | KUOW News and Information

Urban renewal comes to Bremerton. So do higher rents

Jun 29, 2017

It's a lot less expensive to live in Bremerton than on the Seattle side of Puget Sound. That's allowed many people to pursue their way of life. But housing costs have started to tick upward, and builders are redeveloping land where cheap rental housing used to be. The result: fewer cheap places around.

Bremerton has many old buildings that need to be either fixed up or torn down. But on streets near Bremerton’s downtown, the fate of old buildings is pretty clear. Developers are tearing houses down and building new apartments up.

That’s what happened on a cold morning on Washington Avenue, steps away from Bremerton’s city hall. An old building fell to the wrecker to make way for new housing.

Brian Kelley and Kelly Poole came to watch. "I am actually happy about this," Kelley said, because the old building had been dangerous. Floors were bowed and walls had long ago lost their plaster.

“Bremerton is going to rise up. In the next five years this is going to be a very cool place to live,” he said.

He and Poole live nearby in a studio apartment at $625 a month. Poole said the property is run-down, the landlord is slow to make repairs and there have been attempts to get them to move out.

But rent of $625 a month is hard to find in Bremerton anymore. And wages in the city tend to run low, since the Navy and the shipyard are major employers.

“I see people on social media saying 'I’m looking for a place to live. What can I get in the $700 range?' Everyone says, 'Move on; you won’t find it,'" said Debra Gartin, a Bremerton landlord.

Gartin’s properties rent out for over $1,000 a month, and that’s where rents in the city are headed. The new Spyglass apartments can cost $1,400 a month. It’s high for Bremerton but not for people coming from the other side of Puget Sound.  

Cheap rents helped make Bremerton what it is today, a city with an edgy, artsy feel. There’s a guitar-maker beside the Masonic temple and a brewery across the street. That’s just one street corner. 

So it's not really a surprise that there's an old Quonset hut in Bremerton, with a man inside using a laser saw to make wood projects.

He's Dan Schiaffo, and he wanted a fresh start and a workshop. First he found Bremerton, and then he found the Quonset hut: a big shed with an arched roof made of corrugated metal.

It’s large, but it’s pretty rough. It’s also very cold in the winter. Schiaffo pays $1,200 a month, and he envisions the place as “kind of like a paint-your-own pottery place, where people can come and make amazing, wonderful things.”

But the Quonset hut is for sale. Asking price: $299,000.

Andrew Johnston is selling the shed on behalf of his family. He said the price is firm.

“I could ask $500,000, and it would be just as reasonable. It’s uncomparable,” meaning there is no other Quonset hut in the area to compare it to for value. “When something is uncomparable, it’s worth what you get — no more, no less.”

At Bremerton’s city hall, they know all about the Quonset hut. “It certainly sounds like a very high price for a structure from what I’ve seen on the outside,” said Andrea Spencer, Bremerton’s director of community development. But she says Johnson might be right.  

The Quonset hut sits on valuable land. It has a view of parkland and water, and it sits in a pleasant neighborhood. It's perfect for redevelopment into more expensive apartments.

“The zoning of that particular area, we’ve identified as a pedestrian oriented mixed-use development, Spencer said. “It’s got great development opportunity.”

Johnston appears to know he's sitting on a gold mine. “People try to sweat me on the price. Move on!” he told a reporter. “I’ll get it. It’s just a matter about when. And somebody would be happy to pay half a million for it."

But Schiaffo the renter said he can’t afford the asking price. He said he'll stay as long as he can, and maybe he can crowdfund the money to buy his workshop.

Carolyn Adolph can be reached at cadolph@kuow.org. Have a story idea? Use our story pitch form.