By Jack Stubbs
Issues around affordable housing continue to plague the city of Seattle, but one mixed-use project that will bring 156 affordable housing units to Seattle’s Rainier Valley was recently given the green light at an Early Design Guidance (EDG) meeting. On Wednesday, January 28th, SMR Architects presented preliminary project plans to the southeast design review board on behalf of non-profit developer Bellwether Housing. Fazio Associates Inc. is the landscape architect on the project.
The development, called the Rainier Avenue Apartments and located at 7930 Rainier Ave S., will two buildings comprising 156 units of affordable housing, 133 parking stalls, 8,600 square feet of childcare space and 2,800 square feet of non-profit office space. The Rainier Avenue Apartments marks the latest chapter for Bellwether Housing, who owns and operates four buildings in southeast Seattle totaling 295 units and 5 commercial tenants.
The primary objectives of the project are to create an active pedestrian experience along the streetscape; create an appropriate massing for the neighborhood context; provide large shared open spaces for residents and commercial tenants; and foster community engagement through interior and exterior amenity spaces, according to the applicant’s submitted project plans.
In the broader context of the city, the vision for the project is to address the critical needs around affordable housing. According to the submitted plans, 40,000 low-income households in Seattle spend more of their income on housing and there are 2,800 people currently homeless. Additionally, Rainier Beach is one of the four neighborhoods identified in Seattle’s Vision 2035 growth plan as being at risk of high displacement.
Following the applicant team’s presentation, the board agreed to advance the project forward to submit a Master Use Permit application, according to Wendy Shark, public relations specialist with the Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections. The board unanimously approved the applicant’s preferred massing option and agreed that it had an especially strong open space concept.
The board also had some specific feedback for the applicant team to incorporate into the project plans before the next stage of the design review process. The board strongly encouraged the applicant to be responsive to the multicultural context of the surrounding community and also directed the applicant to further develop the pedestrian connections to the adjacent properties. Additionally, the board recommended that the applicant team work on reducing the perceived bulk and scale of the west building through articulation and materiality and incorporate landscaping along the streetscape to improve the pedestrian experience at street level.
Along with Bellwether Housing’s in-the-works project, there are a number of other affordable housing developments taking shape throughout the city of Seattle and the Rainier Valley. Music education non-profit Seattle JazzED is partnering with Capitol Hill Housing to develop a 12,000 square foot performing arts center to bring approximately 100 new affordable homes to 2101 22nd Ave S. in Mount Baker.
Developer HomeSight has plans in the works for the Weber Thompson-designed Othello Square, a four-building project currently undergoing design review that will bring 430 units of mixed-income, workforce and homeownership housing to the Othello neighborhood in Southeast Seattle. The first groundbreakings on Othello Square are expected sometime in early 2019.
And in late June 2018, affordable housing developer Mt. Baker Housing, Lake Union Partners and HAL Real Estate announced its plans for its Grand Street Commons development in Seattle’s Judkins Park neighborhood just south of the Central District. The 3.2-acre transit-oriented Grand Street Commons project is set to add nearly 300 family-sized affordable homes, approximately 400 market-rate units and 65,000 square feet of neighborhood retail amenities. The project is slated to begin construction in 2021 and anticipated to be complete in 2023 in time for the opening of the Judkins Park Light Rail Station opening.