by Andrew Engelson
In an online news conference on Tuesday, the City of Seattle’s Office of Housing announced a new round of $55.8 million in affordable rental and owned housing that would create 840 new units, putting the City on track to either approve or start construction on a record $115.8 million worth of new affordable housing in 2020. The funds, which in total will create 1,430 units in projects across the city, include $62.58 million from a 2016 voter-approved housing levy, $5 million from HOME, a federal Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD) program that makes grants to states and local governments, and $53.22 million from the City’s Incentive Zoning and Mandatory Housing Affordability programs.
The fund represents a major leap forward for low- and moderate-income housing in Seattle during a year marked by the COVID-19 pandemic and a major economic downturn. Eager to burnish her legacy after announcing she won’t run for another term, Mayor Jenny Durkan’s office pointed out that the City and City Council have funded $400 million to create 5,300 new affordable units since Durkan took office in 2017.
The housing announcements will be spread out across the city, with many projects in the works in the Central District and South End.
“Coming into this office, I was facing a huge affordability crisis in our city,” Durkan said. “For far too long families in our city could earn a living but still not be able to afford to live in Seattle because of the high cost. … Our low and moderate income families are our essential workers — they’re the people keeping the businesses going that we’ve relied on throughout COVID. They’re also our delivery drivers, our teachers teaching our children online, and our store workers who had no choice but to go to work so we could live our lives.”
“We have to be more innovative to get affordable housing built more quickly,” Durkan said.
Regarding today’s announcement, City Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda told the Emerald, “This proves that development does not have to equal displacement if you work with community-led organizations.” Mosqueda praised the Office of Housing for its “visionary” work on creative solutions and said, “Let’s do this and do more. The problem is far too big to wait around.” Mosqueda noted that in addition to these Notice of Funding Availability (NOFA) grants, the mayor could support the Council’s JumpStart business income tax, which provides an additional $145 million annually for affordable housing. The Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce announced today that it is suing to end the JumpStart tax.
During the press conference, when Mayor Durkan was asked by the Emerald if her support for these projects would also extend to JumpStart, Durkan demurred, saying “we will be looking for every available tool in our toolkit to address affordable housing.” Durkan noted that in her final year in office, her administration would push the state legislature to pass a regional income tax as well as seeking changes to City zoning regulations and greater property tax exemptions to spur creation of new housing.
The City announced three separate Notice of Funding Availability (NOFA) rounds of affordable housing grants in 2020, which was unusual. Still, Emily Alvarado, director of the Office of Housing, admitted “this isn’t sufficient to solve our affordable housing crisis.” In a press release, Alvarado noted, “Especially in light of the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on housing instability, we must continue to implement and scale a long-term vision for housing justice rooted in racial justice. This year’s affordable housing awards reflect our City’s continued commitment to act with urgency, further fair housing, and make equitable investments that will serve Seattle for generations to come.”
Among those present during the online press conference was Sam Cameron, vice president of Mount Zion Housing Development, a non-profit housing organization sponsored by the long-time Black church in the Central District. Cameron pointed to partnerships such as the Samuel B. McKinney Manor at 19th Avenue and East Madison Street, which was approved in this year’s Office of Housing grants and will provide 61 low-income units for seniors and people with disabilities. “This project will assure that many seniors from the congregation and the community will have an affordable place to stay that is near public transportation [and] grocery stores and within walking distance to the church,” Cameron said.
Among the projects in the South End that will benefit from the $21.8 million in new fall funding is the Elizabeth Thomas Homes project in Rainier Beach, a collaboration between FAME Equity Alliance of Washington and Catholic Housing Services. When complete, this affordable housing complex created with assistance from First AME Church, the city’s oldest Black church, will include 119 new units, half of which will be family units with two or three bedrooms.
The new fall announcements also include renovation and rehabilitation of 154 housing units at the Kerner Scott House-run Downtown Emergency Services Center in the Cascade neighborhood and the 5th and Seneca YWCA housing center downtown. Added to that are a $60 million investment in 599 units of permanent supportive housing as part of a program that also offers integrated services to individuals who have previously been homeless. Though most of these supportive housing projects are in the North End, the list does include 103 units at the Good Shepherd Housing project planned for 22nd Avenue and East Union Street in the Central District.
In addition to collaborating with Black church-based housing nonprofits, the Office of Housing has worked with Habitat for Humanity to create owner-bought homes that are affordable for low- and mid-income people. Among the affordable home ownership project funded by $2.8 million in awards in spring 2020 is the South Park Cottages Project at 712 South Donovan Street which, when it opens in November 2021, will feature 13 two-bedroom homes that will be made available to buyers according to economic need. The project, a partnership between Habitat for Humanity Seattle-King County, Blueprint Capital, and Duwamish Valley Affordable Housing Coalition, offers housing to first-time homebuyers earning no more than 80% of Area Median Income ($88,250 for a family of 4).
Andrew Engelson is a Seattle-based freelance writer and editor.
The featured image is a rendering of South Park Cottages project. (courtesy of the City of Seattle)