By Jack Stubbs
Housing affordability remains a pressing issue throughout Seattle and the rest of the Puget Sound region, and affordable housing developers are continually striving to come up with creative solutions to tackle the problem.
“This could be a transformative project for Mt. Baker due to its size and proximity to light rail. The Mt. Baker Light Rail Station and Town Center have yet to experience the type of growth that the other light rail stations around the region have experienced—in large part because of these contaminated sites that had no solution for the expensive remediation required,” said Conor Hansen, director of real estate at Mt. Baker Housing Association. “Our partnership with the Department of Ecology helps bridge this significant financial gap for the site.”
Mt. Baker Housing recently announced the details about its partnership with the Washington State Department of Ecology to bring 144 affordable housing units to the Mt. Baker neighborhood in South Seattle. The development, which will also remediate a large contaminated sight in the neighborhood, is the first of its kind in the state, according to Hansen. “We are the first nonprofit to enter into a Prospective Purchaser Consent Decree (PPCD) and to be awarded funding directly from the state for these types of projects,” he said. “This innovative new model for urban brownfields will benefit other non-profits in the future who would like to develop sites where the contamination has been cost-prohibitive.”
In terms of funding for the project, Mt. Baker Housing will use state funds to clean on-site contamination left by a gas station and dry cleaner. In 2017, the Department of Ecology provided $400,000 to the non-profit developer to start the cleanup process and the Legislature has since authorized another $6.2 million to complete the cleanup work.
The team for the project—on which Mt. Baker Housing hopes to break ground in 2019—includes Aspect Consulting (Environmental), Perkins Coie (Environmental), Impact Capital (Acquisition Lender), Mithun (architect) and Beacon Development Group (Development Consultant).
The two-building, multifamily affordable housing complex—called ‘The Maddux’—sits in the Mt. Baker Town Center within blocks of the Mt. baker light rail station, and is located on S. McClellan street on the east side of Martin Luther King Jr. Way S. All 144 of the units will be affordable to those earning 60% of area median income (AMI) or less and includes studios, one-, two-, and three-bedroom apartment homes.
The recent announcement outlining the plans for the affordable housing development marks the latest chapter for the project. In early 2017, the City of Seattle designated Mt. Baker Housing’s five parcels in Mt. Baker as a Redevelopment Opportunity Zone, and Mt. Baker Housing is designing the two buildings to take advantage of the extra floor area that comes with the MHA rezones.
Mt. Baker Housing has had a long-standing presence in the neighborhood, which has evolved considerably since plans were put into motion for The Maddux a couple of years ago. “We’ve been in this neighborhood for decades and its a great neighborhood whose proximity to light rail is incredibly important in furthering transit-oriented development and housing affordability,” Hansen said. “At the time we went into contract on these five parcels, there was nothing happening in the neighborhood. However, within the last two years there have been a series of new land acquisitions, projects in planning, and groundbreakings in the Mt. Baker neighborhood.”
Given the required remediation on the site, the project did not come with its associated challenges—but the hope is that The Maddux will nonetheless help to spur other transit-oriented affordable housing developments in Seattle in the future. “Any time you create something from scratch there are challenges, [and] while it is still an ongoing process, we have gotten past the first hurdle of getting our agreement and template formatted with Ecology,” Hansen said. “The next step is educating the rest of the industry including debt and equity institutions.”
With regards to the pressing issue of housing affordability in Seattle, the undertaking represented a unique opportunity in terms of other development occurring throughout the city. “This model is especially important for potential projects in Seattle because most of the ‘clean sites are either gone or snatched up by market-rate developers,” Hansen said. And according to Jim Pendowski, who manages the Department of Ecology’s Toxics Cleanup Program, the required remediation on the site was a central priority throughout. “Clean-ups have always supported economic redevelopment and livable communities. Now we will be able to broaden the benefits of clean-up. The [project] funding will enable MBH to help revitalize the neighborhood and address a critical public priority,” he said.