Transit and Urbanism advocates are used to a defensive crouch when hearing news from Olympia. But buried in a supplemental budget earlier this spring, the Departments of Ecology and Commerce created a great new program.
The Governor’s Budget request included $7.4m for the Healthy Housing Remediation Program (HHRP) . Nonprofit organizations identify contaminated sites that would be good candidates for affordable housing, and the Program selects some to clear up to reduce costs of that development. The first round of applications was due Saturday. Scott O’Dowd of the Department of Ecology says that two applications are submitted, and three more requested an extension to tomorrow. They span the state from Kennewick to Bremerton, and include a project in Seattle’s Chinatown.
The prototype for this approach is happening at Mt. Baker. Ecology is cleaning up the legacy of a gas station and dry cleaner on behalf of Mt. Baker Housing. In addition to planning grants for the process described above, the appropriation awarded $6.2m for this. This will enable construction of Maddux: a 144-unit, $55m affordable project to begin in 2019 and open in 2021.
The Maddux is unusual: the process for nonprofits to get State grants requires them to go through their municipal government to create a “Redevelopment Opportunity Zone”, a process that few can complete. Historically, Ecology has cleaned up a site and then passed on the cost to a market-rate developer, resulting in less affordable units, O’Dowd said. The HHRP will dramatically streamline this process, though much depends on Ecology’s 2019 budget request this fall.
There’s no telling how many seemingly obvious development opportunities are wasting away due to these kinds of obstacles. It’s great to see the State stepping to up to address contamination issues that affect the entire community, since the actual perpetrators are long gone.