Mount Baker’s Gardner House and Allen Family Center Offer Permanent Housing and Resources For Underhoused Families

by Mark Van Streefkerk

The Gardner House and Allen Family Center, a one-stop service hub and permanent housing solution for families leaving homelessness, kicked off their three-day Virtual Grand Opening on June 24. Community members are invited to virtual tours, a Q & A with muralist Kenji Hamai Stoll, and a Meet the Families segment, culminating in a virtual block party on Facebook at noon on Friday, June 26, featuring Seattle Seahawks DJ Supa Sam. 

The Gardner House and Allen Family Center was created through a partnership with the City of Seattle, Mercy Housing Northwest, the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation, along with contributions from other nonprofits and private investors. Just a block away from the Mount Baker light rail station, and two blocks from the Metro transit center, the eight-story facility at 2870 South Hanford St. is optimized to meet the needs of families.

The first floor houses the Allen Family Center, which includes Mercy Housing Northwest, the Refugee Women’s Alliance, Mary’s Place, and Child Care Resources. Those organizations combined provide diversion services, immigrant/refugee family resources, help with affordable and culturally-appropriate childcare, afterschool programs, homeless prevention, community events, and more. 

An enclosed playground on the second floor is a secure play area for the 130 children who live in the building. Photo by Lydia Brewer Photography.

“The idea that families can come in and find a one-stop services hub, and a welcoming environment for their children, really allows us to serve families in the way that we envision, and frankly the way that families have said they needed services delivered here in the city,” said Marcia Wright-Soika, Director of Philanthropy and Strategic Partnerships at Mercy Housing Northwest. 

Colin Morgan-Cross, Director of Real Estate Development at Mercy Housing Northwest, explained that the organization started by asking underhoused families what they needed most. “We held focus groups with families that have experienced homelessness and housing instability. We talked to service providers that serve those families in a number of different capacities, and we really used that learning to guide development of both the physical design of the space to create a very welcoming, inviting space that was very kid-friendly. One of the things we heard was to make sure that families felt welcome; that it wasn’t an institutional feeling,” he said.

94 of the 95 family-sized units at the Gardner House are filled, and of the 250 people who live there, 130 are children. On the second floor is a secure and enclosed outdoor play area. “It’s a secure place that a lot of the apartments overlook, so parents can send their kids out to play on the playground and know that they’re still in the building and safe,” Morgan-Cross explained. 

Humble Design helps furnish apartments at the Gardner House. Photo by Lydia Brewer Photography.

Also on the second floor is a community room that hosts children’s activities, health and wellness classes, and movie nights. Additionally, two of the apartments in the building are designated as licensed in-home childcare. In those units, which have dedicated outdoor spaces, families can operate a childcare business from their apartment, a more affordable option than offsite childcare for other families in the building. The Seahawks, who offered financial support   for the play area, are planning on being involved in the Gardner House through programs and events for youth.

The building is environmentally-friendly, featuring solar panels on the roof, water catchment onsite, and efficient water and light fixtures in the apartments. Tacoma-based artist Kenji Hamai Stoll painted the colorful lotus flower mural on the exterior of the building. 

Construction began in August 2018, funded by $30 million from the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation, and funding from the City of Seattle: $5 million from the Office of Housing and $10.7 million from a tax credit from the U.S. Bank Community Development Corporation. Mercy Housing Northwest owns and operates the Gardner House and family center, and welcomed their first residents in January of this year.

Morgan-Cross said families at the Gardner House have a wide range of incomes. Some came from a shelter or directly from homelessness, and others can earn up to 60% of the area median income, which in King County is about $70,000 for a family of four. “Families who are coming out of homelessness will pay no more than 30% of their income in rent,” he said, noting that subsidies from the City of Seattle help support residents with little or no income. “The last thing we want to do is to rent-burden a family,” he added. 

Mercy Housing has been working with King County Department of Health to ensure COVID-19 protocols are being met, which is the primary reason for the Gardner House’s virtual grand opening instead of a community event.

Join the virtual block party Friday at noon, at Mercy Housing Northwest’s Facebook page

Mark Van Streefkerk is a South Seattle-based journalist living in the Beacon Hill neighborhood. 

Featured image: The Gardner House and Allen Family Center is focused on permanent housing solutions for families leaving homelessness. Photo by Christophe Servieres.