Photo depicting the exterior of The Arches Apartments building.

South Seattle Group a Step Closer to Purchasing The Arches for Affordable Housing

by Elizabeth Turnbull

After a concerted effort to acquire the building and to stave off any potential displacement of families, the Brighton Development Group (BDG) is in the process of purchasing The Arches Apartments building in South Seattle.

Despite higher offers from other bidders, BDG now has the purchase of the building under contract after they promised to keep all of the families who are currently living there in place and not raise rents, according to Curtis Brown, who has been advocating for the purchase and is the executive director of SouthEast Seattle Senior Foundation. 

The apartments building, which is at 6601 Rainier Ave. S., used to be owned by Barbara Chamberlain who valued the building as a space for families to stay and kept the rent affordable for residents. 

“This is a community,” said Steve Barton, manager of The Arches. “Everybody knows everybody; they’re pretty tolerant of everybody.”

That sense of community stems from Chamberlain’s care for the building and its tenants, said Barton, who the Chamberlains asked to manage the complex in 2013. The longest-running tenant has been there 42 years, he said, and, at least a third of the complex’s 25 families have been there more than 10 years. Add them all up and it’s a cumulative 209 years of occupancy, not counting a handful of families who have been there a year or less.

Different ethnic groups, ages ranging from children to seniors, and multigenerational families make up The Arches. In fact, Chamberlain and her husband, Norm, who passed away in 2015, raised their family at The Arches, living there for 17 years, Barton said.

Photo depicting Steve Barton in a tan work vest holding a pipe on a workbench.
Steve Barton, manager of The Arches, holding a piece of pipe from a project five years ago to replumb the apartment complex. (Photo: Phil Manzano)

Since her passing three months ago, the building had been put up for sale, which raised concerns about what would happen to the residents currently living there, and if it would remain an affordable space — potentially adding to gentrification in South Seattle.

After a discussion with Chamberlain’s family, BDG is now in the process of securing the purchase of the building. The group is relying on funding from various streams to make the purchase a reality. Thus far, the Rainier Valley Community Development Fund (RVCDF) has expressed a strong interest in providing a $1 million loan and the group is anticipating securing $3 million from a bank loan as well as $2.4 million in donations. 

Brown has spent the last 30 years addressing displacement issues through his work, and learning that BDG would get the chance to purchase The Arches Apartments was a unique win that brought up many emotions. 

“I can tell you that I’ve lost about 95% of my battles,” Brown said. “So to finally win one … I can’t explain the emotion. It’s just a real sense of accomplishment of a community standing up together.”

After Brown visited the building on Thursday, April 14, he said that some residents were concerned that with a new owner, the building rents would go up. Because of the way the building will be funded, he emphasized that rents will remain the same and that residents shouldn’t be concerned. 

First and foremost, Brown emphasized how the community and local groups are capable of fighting for housing and against displacement. For this very reason, groups including RVCDF have been drawn to contribute to The Arches Apartments building purchase. 

“When something gets sold, the rents get, you know, way jacked up,” said Sanjiv Doreswamy, the executive director of RVCDF. “And so that’s not going to happen in this case.”

Chamberlain “would be absolutely thrilled … This is perfect,” said Barton. “She loved this building … I’m sure this is exactly what she would want without any question.”

Elizabeth Turnbull is a journalist with reporting experience in the U.S. and the Middle East. She has a passion for covering human-centric issues and doing so consistently.

📸 Featured Image: The Arches, on Rainier Avenue South, located across South Holly Street from the SouthEast Seattle Senior Center. (Photo: Phil Manzano)

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