Seattle to help buy three new apartment buildings to house people facing homelessness

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Three brand-new apartment buildings near downtown Seattle with 165 studios that were supposed to be rented out at market prices will instead house homeless people and those at risk of becoming homeless.

The non-profit Low Income Housing Institute will buy the buildings on Capitol Hill for around $ 50 million, with city and state housing programs sharing the cost equally. Seattle is using federal COVID-19 relief funds, Mayor Jenny Durkan said at a press conference Monday next to one of the buildings.

Two of the buildings, on Boylston Avenue East and Harvard Avenue East, will be managed by LIHI for adults. The third, on 10th Avenue East, will be run by YouthCare for young adults. There will be a home social worker in each building, said Sharon Lee, executive director of LIHI.

The deals will house people quickly and affordably, compared to the time and cost required to develop low-income projects from scratch, Durkan said, calling the approach “almost like a microwave oven to housing”. All three buildings are expected to be occupied by the end of the year, according to the city.

“It’s the fastest housing we’ve ever put online,” Lee said.

Tent camps in public spaces like parks and green belts developed in Seattle during the pandemic in part because the city lacked shelter and housing, Durkan said outside the Boylston Avenue East building, near the Broadway Market mall.

LIHI will move people to new buildings in the tiny villages it manages for the city, which should open more of those homes for people now living on the streets, Lee said. To face the encampments, “we have to have a place to go,” Durkan added. His administration has come under pressure in recent months from activists who want to see more tiny villages established and other defenders who disagree.

Later Monday, Durkan joined a call with other mayors and the secretary of the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, Marcia Fudge. Seattle will participate in Fudge’s new House America initiative, which will push cities across the country to reduce homelessness with funds allocated by the American Rescue Plan Act that President Joe Biden signed in March, Durkan said.

City Hall is contributing approximately $ 25 million towards Capitol Hill purchases, using funds from the American Rescue Plan Act. The Washington State Department of Commerce is also contributing around $ 25 million.

Each of Capitol Hill’s three buildings has extra-small units, also known as micro-apartments, and each was licensed in 2019, before the pandemic hit.

Since the emergence of COVID-19, disrupting the economy and the real estate landscape, the town hall has been looking for opportunities to help non-profit organizations convert newly completed apartment buildings into housing at low rent.

The transactions announced on Monday follow a pattern established in February, when the Durkan administration helped LIHI acquire the Clay Apartments, a new building on Capitol Hill with 76 units. This sale was worth approximately $ 18 million.

Seattle rents have risen this year after falling in 2020 but haven’t quite returned to pre-pandemic levels, according to data from the online service Apartment List. The city’s median rent for studios was $ 1,523 in March 2020, $ 1,194 in January 2021, and $ 1,500 last month.

The buildings that LIHI is buying with taxpayer dollars were designed in 2017 and 2018, as Seattle’s tech industry was booming and young workers flocked to the city, increasing demand for it. apartments near the city center. They are located near jobs, stores, social services, and transit options, Durkan noted.

Workers hammered and slammed inside the Boylston Avenue East building, which rises seven stories above the western slope of Capitol Hill, on Monday. Some units offer postcard views of the Denny Triangle skyline and Elliott Bay.

When a non-profit organization develops social housing from scratch, the process can take several years and cost as much as $ 350,000 per unit, said Emily Alvarado, director of housing in Seattle. The city and state spend an average of about $ 305,000 per unit on the three Capitol Hill buildings, she said.

LIHI negotiated the agreements with the developers of the buildings, then applied for the funds from the town hall, Alvarado said. Before granting the approval, her office had the buildings appraised to assess their market value, she said.

“It’s real estate, so it’s not unreasonable to think sellers are making a profit. But our job is to manage public resources in a way that we think is getting a good deal, ”Alvarado said. “We have said ‘no’ to some developers who have come to us with prices higher than what we feel comfortable with.”

Each of the three buildings that LIHI acquires is still under construction but nearing completion, said Stephanie Velasco, spokesperson for the Seattle Housing Office.

Some apartments will be reserved for people equal to or less than 50% of the region’s median income ($ 40,500 per year for an individual) and others for people equal to or less than 30% ($ 24,300 per year), she declared. Rents will be subsidized and capped, with tenants not required to contribute more than about $ 600 or $ 1,000 per month.



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