Celebrating Seattle's Roosevelt Neighborhood
Capitol Hill affordable housing: field-trip report

Capitol Hill affordable housing: field-trip report

Members of the RNA got the opportunity to take a “field-trip” to visit mixed-use and affordable-housing developments in Capitol Hill. Thanks to Ainsley Close for organizing the tour, which was incredibly informative in showing the kinds of developments that might be possible at the Roosevelt light-rail site (TOD), or other areas in the neighborhood.

The ‘12th Ave Arts‘ building on 12th and Pine is a major development by the non-profit community development organization Capitol Hill Housing, and is a showcase of what is possible in this field. The award-winning $47M building contains street-level retail, two performance theaters (leased to multiple theater groups), office-space, community spaces, and 88 affordable apartments all in a single complex. Capitol Hill Housing CEO Chris Persons explained that the site was previously a parking lot used by the Police Department, and in the new site there is also underground parking that the Seattle PD continues to use. That’s an amazing variety of exciting uses merged into a single modern and stylish building.

The affordable housing concept is based on charging reduced rents to tenants who earn less than a certain amount. In the 12th Ave Arts building, you need to earn less than 60% of the ‘Area Median Income’ to rent an apartment in the building. For a single person that means you need to be earning less than $38,000 (there’s income verification as part of the application process). Rents are much lower than market rate, around $1000/month for a one-bedroom, where a similar private apartment in Capitol Hill might go for up to double that. Funding for the building comes from a complex array of local and federal grants, tax-credits, a 4.6 million dollar capital campaign, and debt.

It’s worth noting that the building and the apartments we saw feel incredibly modern, light, and livable. Any preconceptions you might have about low-income housing would be swept away by a visit to this building, which is a model for what is possible in a urban site like this.

Additionally Joel Sisolak at Capitol Hill Housing directs the Capitol Hill EcoDistrict, an initiative to improve sustainability in the Capitol Hill Urban Village. Joel has a vision that all urban villages become similar ‘Eco Districts’, so that could be very relevant to the Roosevelt Neighborhood.

The second building we visited was the ‘Anthem‘, developed by the for-profit Spectrum Development Solutions and constructed by Walsh Construction. Jake McKinstry and Kiki Gram from SDS explained that while the apartments are primarily rented at market rates, thirty percent of units are available at reduced rents to residents making 65%-85% of the area medium income ($40,000 to $53,000 for an individual). This means the renters have a diverse mix of incomes, including full-time students, baristas, nurses, and tech workers. Interestingly the market-rate and affordable units are identical in size and amenities, and mixed-up throughout the building so it would be impossible to tell one from the other. In return for providing the affordable apartments, the developers receive a tax break through the city’s Multifamily Tax Exemption Program.

The building itself has a hip energetic feel, and again nothing about it feels low-income. There’s a Jimi Hendrix theme with various musical references in the décor (Jimi grew up and played his first show nearby). The tenants have an average age of 26, and the building is nicely suited to that age range, with a large social space on the ground floor, lots of bike storage, rooftop deck (with strawberry plants, fire-pit, and a mini dog park!), and lots of social activities. Other tidbits we learnt were that having a concierge service to receive packages is essential (as so many people order so much stuff from Amazon), but the gym is the “most requested, but least used” amenity (it was indeed empty when we looked in). The parking in the building is fully leased, but in newer buildings SDS is putting in less parking and finding it less and less used – for people on Capitol Hill living without a car is becoming the new normal, at least for this demographic.

This trip was very eye-opening and showed a range of buildings from non-profit and for-profit developers. Any of these buildings would (IMHO) make a great addition to the Roosevelt TOD site. Thank you so much Chris, Joel, Jake, Kiki, and Afton for an informative afternoon!

[Dave Wood]