Home AEC “More Than a Unit Count:” Beacon Hill Project Rethinks Traditional Multifamily Metrics

“More Than a Unit Count:” Beacon Hill Project Rethinks Traditional Multifamily Metrics

Beacon Hill, Seattle, North Lot Project, Weber Thompson, Rushing, Pacific Hospital Campus, SCIDpda
Courtesy of Weber Thompson

By Meghan Hall

In the world of multifamily, a project’s unit count is often the baseline for how a development will evolve. The metric is not just important for systems, layout and design, but it is the most standard metric when evaluating potential return on investment. However, an affordable housing project in Beacon Hill is looking to challenge the unit count as the  go-to metric for housing development. In a recent webinar, the project team behind the North Lot project in Seattle’s Beacon Hill neighborhood challenged the industry to look at different measures of success during development and construction processes.

“Our big take away throughout this project has been how important it is  to look beyond the simple statistics like cost per unit or even the EUI,” explained Maggie Carson, associate at Weber Thompson. “There are so many other important factors that are not captured in those metrics specifically. Those metrics really cannot quantify the value of providing a healthier building for residents in the city, and they really cannot quantify the value of families staying in their community near their support networks, and they really cannot qualify the value in less resident turnover or family stability.”

The North Lot Project will include the redevelopment of a three-acre parcel on the historic Pacific Hospital campus. Spearheaded by the Seattle Chinatown International District Preservation Development Authority (SCIDpda), the project team also includes architecture firm Weber Thompson and Rushing, an engineering firm.

The first phase of the project will include 158 units of affordable, family-sized housing, of which 20 percent will be  three- or four-bedroom units. A 24,000 square foot facility for a PRogram for All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly (PACE) is planned, as well as a 10,000 square foot Jose Marti Child Development Center. The daycare will be operated by El Centro de la Raza.

One of the biggest goals of the project is to fight high levels of displacement, environmental issues and inequity. Maiko Winkler-Chin, executive director at SCIDpda, emphasized that increasing development pressures and gentrification have made existing community members vulnerable. Both Beacon Hill and the CID neighborhoods have been identified by the City of Seattle as communities that are of particularly high risk.

“If you take all of that into consideration, there are a lot of equity issues to consider here as we build our project at this site,” stated Winkler-Chin. 

In an effort to combat these challenges, the project team is incorporating a number of feature into the development. First, and perhaps most importantly, the development is placing a high emphasis on family-sized units. According to SCIDpda, average tenancy in affordable housing is about seven years, and 22 percent of residents stay for more than 15 years. Across SCIDpda’s portfolio, 19 percent of tenants in multi-room units are 61 and older, highlighting that families in the area are multigenerational and need space to accommodate not just parents and children, but extended relatives as well.

“One of the unique things about this project is the abundance of multi-bedroom units,” said Carson. “More than 50 percent of the units have two or more bedrooms, with over 20 percent having three or four bedrooms. This unit mix really accommodates families like few other developments in the city do.” 

Winkler-Chin added, “Family-sized units are something that SCIDpda has talked about for a long time.” 

In order to achieve more multi-bedroom units, the floorplan of the project will be notched to allow for more windows and decrease the length of frontage that units require. To create a sense of community, a shared hub space with a library, study desks and lounge will be located on every floor. An amenity patio and community lawn will also help to facilitate community connection.

“All of these spaces together really amplify family apartment [living] and building community within the project,” Carson stated.

The project team is also taking great care to minimize the environmental and health impact of development on residents. Heat pump technology, energy recovery ventilators, a high-performance building envelope and low flow plumbing are just several of the ways that the team is looking to make the project healthy for the community.

“It is all about rethinking metrics and rethinking from just how do we check the right boxes to get to this energy goal, and thinking more holistically about the outcome of the project design,” stated Rushing’s Manager of Energy Services, Andi Burnham.

Construction on the first phase of the project is expected to kick off this summer, with completion expected during the summer of 2023. Phase two is currently in the planning and design phases as the project team evaluates how best to design the project to fit in with their goals. By the time the development is entirely built-out, the property will have close to 300 units.