By Kristin Bentley

An affordable housing development broke ground today in Seattle’s University District. As nonprofit housing developer Bellwether celebrates the success of providing another 133 apartment units to low-wage workers and families, the city takes another step forward in its initiative to solve the ever-present affordable housing crisis.

“I think it is important to realize that this crisis is not just a national crisis, but an international one,” Mayor Ed Murray said at the groundbreaking. “There are good things happening right here in the city of Seattle, and Arbora Court is one of them.”

It will be the biggest building we have ever constructed, with many family-sized units as well as outdoor community spaces

Members of University Christian Church made a decision to sell its 30,000-square-foot parking lot for $4 million, well under market value, to Bellwether in order to help fund and support the project that has become Arbora Court. Last December, the City of Seattle allocated $6.6 million from the year’s $45 million affordable housing budget to the project, sources say. Other funding sources include King County and Washington State, while the The Washington State Housing Finance Commission is allocating federal low income housing tax credits.

“The name Arbora Court was inspired by the tree of life that hangs over a mantel in the church’s library, just down the hall,” Susan Boyd, the director of development for Bellwether Housing, shared with those that attended this morning’s event. “It will be the biggest building we have ever constructed, with many family-sized units as well as outdoor community spaces. We are estimating between 130 to 180 children will live here.”

After breaking ground this morning, general contractor Walsh Construction Co. is scheduled to finish work by March 2018. Once complete, Arbora Court will be a seven-story development on 15th Avenue NE, located just across the street from University Christian Church. Thirty-three of the units will be two-bedrooms, 20 will be three-bedrooms and 40 will be for families transitioning out of homelessness. In total, 40 percent of the units will be reserved only for families.

In consideration of the families that will be living in the development, Seattle-based Weber Thompson Architects designed a courtyard that will be elevated off the alley, where children can play. At the center of the site will be a preserved signature tree, and at the entry will be an artful “legacy” panel that will tell the story of the building and the unique partnership that made it possible. Wood-like slats and other natural durable materials will be used in the design, and the ground floor residential flats along 15th Avenue will be set back from the street in order to create a vibrant pedestrian-scaled environment, according to the architecture firm’s design proposal. There will also be 113 above and below grade parking stalls for use to both Arbora Court residents and members of University Christian Church.

With an annual budget of $20 million, Bellwether has developed around 1,900 units that it manages at 30 different locations throughout Seattle. Boyd says many of these are concentrated at the city’s center, however, some are in Rainier Beach and others in Northgate. When looking for a site to best service its residents, Bellwether considers proximity to transit, well-rated schools, nearby public amenities such as grocery stores and parks, and potential for new local employment. “We look for places where residents can easily get everything they need without having to spend all of their resources, causing them to scramble just to survive,” Boyd said.

Anchor Flats is Bellwether’s next project, a 71-unit affordable housing development on Dexter Avenue in South Lake Union that will offer mostly one-bedroom apartments. Boyd added that this project is focused towards individuals and smaller families, and is scheduled to break ground on October 4.