Cal Anderson House,  built by non-profit Capitol Hill Housing
Cal Anderson House,
built by non-profit Capitol Hill Housing

On Wednesday, July 20, County Executive Dow Constantine and the King County Council held an event to celebrate passage of a proposal to spend $87 million to build workforce housing near train stations and other transit centers. The plan will raise the money from bonds backed by hotel/motel tax revenue which will start to be available in 2021. It will build over 1000 housing units over five years.

At least $24 million is earmarked for construction in Seattle, focused in SODO and Northgate. Another $32 million could end up in Seattle, depending on where partner non-profits decide to build.

33 Replies to “County Approves $87M for Station Workforce Housing”

  1. Wait a minute–$87million divided by 1,000 units equals $87,000 per unit. Must not include parking.

    1. The article is misleading, as noted $87,000 WILL NOT buy you 1,000 housing units anywhere close to Link, much less anywhere else. That’s barely a down payment on housing units.
      Reading the news release hints that this is only an investment towards building around light rail stations. It’s like saying that purchasing stock in Tesla will provide 1,000 people with new autonomous cars in 2021. This is a big dose of cash to entice private sector (profit centered) developers to come in and build low income housing, but what does the the tax payer get back on their investment, and who subsidises the cost of the housing units forever?
      More questions than answers here.

    1. It’s inevitable really, SODO and the northeastern most Terminal will become housing and a new neighborhood someday. After West Seattle, Northgate, the canal/montlake cut region, cap hill, and south seattle are all 3-7 stories of housing and workplaces we will reclaim that land. Just like big european cities have been doing for the past 20 years. This is also possible when the ports eventually merge.

      1. If we can have mixed use commercial and residential, I’m not sure I really see too much of a problem with certain types of mixed use industrial and residential. Most of what is in Sodo isn’t especially dangerous. It’s not like, say, the March’s Point refinery or some other thing that has millions of gallons of explosive liquids sitting around.

        Thanks to a history of former residential land being turned into industrial, Portland’s equivalent of Sodo has pockets of residual residential housing right next to an Esco metal processing plant as well as other heavy industrial sites across many older industrial locations.

        If that works, then why not a tower or two? These warehouses are mostly single level.

      2. The problem with polluting factories was a century ago. The problem now is that if we allow large-scale housing in the remaining industrial land, the developers would bid up the land price beyond what industries can afford and they’d have to leave. That would make Seattle’s economy less balanced, more dependent on a limited number of sectors, give less employment paths for blue-collar workers, and shrink our local-manufacturing and logistics capacity forever. We may need to rev up local manufacturing someday if the globalized economy changes or long-distance supplies become more difficult, and we may need space that material-heavy/truck-heavy startups can locate it.

  2. Careful with this. That’s 1000 units of new or preserved housing. As the $87k per unit shows it’s probably mostly preserved housing. Points:

    1. Your numbers above are probably wrong for construction dollars.
    2. Subsidized TOD construction is great! Subsidized saving of low-density housing near transit: not great.
    3. Preserving housing and counting it as new housing is an easy political win but does more harm than good.

    Expanding on 3, preserving an existing building means you don’t add a single additional home. This doesn’t help transit or affordability (no new units = low income residents elsewhere get pushed out). In fact, it could hurt it quite a bit. What are they preserving it from? Probably demolition and building upward with far more units.

    This is a mix of good news and bad news, at an unreported proportion of each.

    1. Good points. I’m not aware of any housing around SODO to be preserved, which is one of the focus areas. The news release touts ‘come take the plunge with us’ without saying how deep the pond is. Housing these masses of worker bees comes with a price. Who pays, How much, and for How long?

      1. Looking at the press release, it doesn’t say anything about SODO. It does discuss the “Historic South Downtown Public Development Authority” which seems focused on preserving housing in Pioneer Square and the International District. A lot of this existing housing is dense and I’d be happy with them preserving. A lot is not, at least compared to the zoned capacity. The devil, as usual, is in the details.

      2. From the post above: “At least $24 million is earmarked for construction in Seattle, focused in SODO and Northgate. “

      3. Yes, but the post above is wrong. I have the county’s request for proposals in front of me. All projects are allowed to be new, existing, or renovated. So “earmarked for construction” is wrong. Plus there’s no SODO RFP – just a “Historic South Downtown Community and Preservation Development Authority” and Pacific Tower section (“Location: Seattle: International District, Pioneer Square, Beacon Hill, and/or South Seattle.”).

  3. $87 million for workforce housing seems like a lot until you consider the $1.6 BILLION for the expansion of the Washington State Convention Center.

    Both projects will be funded by lodging taxes. There’s money out there. It’s just getting dumped into the WSCC rather than into anything that could actually benefit residents of King County.

    1. Visitors should pay specifically for low-income housing? If there’s a lodging tax, shouldn’t it pay for something that visitors use and promotes tourism? The WSCC isn’t the issue here, there’s no reason the WSCC and low-income housing can’t coexist. The money that’s missing is in rich people’s tax havens and low tax rates.

      1. Straighten me out on this if I’m wrong, Mike, but my understanding is that the private interests behind the wscc have the right to control the way tax money is spent. Which sounds suspiciously like the deal the late Monorail got, and wasted, and that Prop 123 is asking for.

        Because the Convention Center people are acting like it’s up to them whether to consult the public or not. And also like they’ve got the right to dictate when transit has to abandon bus service in the Tunnel. Not to argue either way on that, but why isn’t it’s transit’s call instead of the hotel industries’?

        The truth?

        Mark Dublin

      2. The convention center is operated by a public facilities district, same as the stadiums. It’s an instrumentality of the state government.

    1. Not to feed the troll but I have to admit I’m not a fan of intensely clustering subsidized housing. Ideally we want light rail stations to see a diversity of uses and walks-of-life.

      I would prefer something like:
      1. Build 1000 units
      2. Reserve 20% of those units for workforce housing, and sell off the rest to private developers
      3. Use the proceeds to subsidize 800 housing units distributed throughout the city

    2. Lower income people aren’t any more likely to be criminals than anyone else. [ah].

      1. CC, maybe I missed something here this morning, but did anybody say low income people were especially likely to be criminals? Though I’ll go along with you this far: Eliminate incomes too low to live on, and a lot of social problems will go away.

        I do remember, though, a Times article a couple of weeks back that had a landlord calling a couple of his long-term tenants “freeloaders” because after a couple decades renting from him, they could no longer to afford the “market rates” that had just taken off like a skyrocket.

        Maybe they’d made the mistake of wearing the dress suits they used to work in their lifetime career as teachers, or government clerks, or accountants, making the poor man mistake them for Washington Mutual directors.

        And Glenn, if Ballard could again become the healthy light industrial place I moved into in 1985, I’d gladly pay fair market rent, when we get that back, to live there. Exactly the approach I’m advocating for the Waterfront project.

        Not only would it give Seattle’s philanthropists a welcome break, but also let the new neighborhood earn its living instead of begging for it. Which “Waterfront” by definition used to mean. Making the place an energetic and interesting place for visitors to see. And participate in.

        Which, incidentally, would be able to afford the public transit a live part of a modern city demands. Meaning streetcars, buses, or both, on lanes reserved for them. Instead of a quaint carnival ride on either rubber or rails.

        Mark Dublin

      2. Mark – I presume the ad hominem (“AH”) editorial tag has replaced the insult against low income folks.

    3. The housing shortage is acute at all levels so we need to address all levels. A thousand units of low-income housing either clustered or scattered is a drop in the bucket so we shouldn’t worry about creating ghettos. Low-income housing is less concentrated now than it was forty years ago. Rainier Vista and Holly Park have been rebuilt as mixed neighborhoods and Yesler Terrace is about to become so, and we’re unlikely to get any concentrated low-income developments as large as those.

  4. Pacific Tower (the old Amazon building) gets $3 million, Historic South Downtown (ID/Chinatown/Pioneer Square) gets $8.7 million, Othello Station gets $3 million. The press release says that $32.3 million will be allocated “for projects with nonprofits and partner agencies”. It isn’t clear if this construction will all be public or if there will be public-private partnerships involved.

    1. At least on the Eastside, a lot of affordable housing programs run through ARCH: I think it’s technically a non-profit, but it’s organized as an interlocal agreement between the cities, and funded by the cities. There are some comparable programs elsewhere.

    2. Pacific Tower is the Pacific Medical Center complex on Beacon Hill? It seems too much like a lowrise complex of buildings to call it a tower. But anyway, what’s in it now? Are some of the rooms to be converted to housing?

  5. I often scratch my head in doubt for housing strategies like this.

    It’s clear that housing markets are regional. Even 50 percent of Link stations are outside of Seattle.

    It’s also clear that a whole lot of building and renovating is happening. That’s driven by the market. Every decent builder in town is already doing well.

    I would rather see the funds go to skills training, accessibility conversions (low cost ramp installations) or sidewalks and steps to reach transit. This just seems like a lot of bureaucratic paperwork for a handful of those willing to go through the hoops which eventually trickles down to a small number of actual poor people after everyone has gotten their bite of the apple.

    1. Yeah, I’m still waiting for a call back from City Hall on my ‘Two Mini Winnies for 1,000 driveways idea.
      At 6 people per Winnie, that would wipe out all homelessness in one stroke, costing the same as this idea. Heck, you could just part them at the stations. Some owners could sell coffee, donuts and tacos at curbside.

    2. So you’re fine if everyone making less than $65K has to leave Seattle? Because if you just let the market build housing it will be a long time before there’s enough for it for the workforce to afford it.

  6. The problem with putting houses, residences in an industrial/ port district is not that the industrial will impact the residential. It’s that the residential will in all likelihood impact the industrial. The new residents, especially as they get more affluent, will complain about industry and port operations. They will complain about perfectly legal noises, smells, trucks, early morning or late night operations. Some residents will have bureaucratic skills and will figure out which agencies are most likely to go after the manufacturers.

    Eventually they may harass the manufacturers enough that they move somewhere in deep suburbia. This dynamic has happened over and over, in many cities. This is a mechanism by which working class jobs are pushed out of central cities.

    The city can make new residents sign a disclosure form that they’re moving into an industrial area, but it can’t stop people from complaining.

    It may be that some of SODO should be rezoned from industrial to residential. But nobody should be under the illusion that the two coexist well.

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