UW creates affordable housing for employees

The UW recently announced it will build 150 to 200 affordable housing units, with priority given to UW faculty and staff, by 2021.

The building stages are just beginning, however. The UW has yet to choose a developer, make design or construction plans, and decide financials. The university has chosen a site: Roosevelt Way Northeast and Northeast 42nd Street, a property they already own. Though tentative, the UW is also looking at housing and services for homeless youth and childcare.

Via The Daily

How affordable is “affordable?” Only those who make 60 percent or less of Area Median Income (AMI), which is currently $57,600 or less for a family of four, can live there. The AMI is subject to change once the housing is available in 2021.

Rent would cap somewhere between $1,000 and $1,300 a month, depending on the choice of a micro studio, one-bedroom or two-bedroom apartment. There’s even a slim possibility for three-bedroom apartments. The average rent for University District is $1,195 for a studio.

“We’ve been aware of increasing cost of housing for several years now and we heard concern from our employees about how that affects the rest of their lives,” said Aaron Hoard, UW’s regional and community relations person.

But there’s more than just wellbeing concerns at stake here. The UW is also concerned about recruitment retention, on which they feel long commutes have an impact. Hoard pointed out that weather conditions can make it harder for people to get to work. Without the commute, it wouldn’t be an issue.

“We have an interest in making sure people can live closer to campus,” Hoard said. “They can also help contribute to the vitality of U-District.”

Following the line of logic that UW employees likely make more money than students do, an influx of their money to the area could mean some positive changes when their income isn’t all going toward rent. This decision also has environmental impacts and monetarily beneficial ones for employees. The closer they live to their workplace, the less likely it is they’ll need a car.

Priority for tenants is given to UW employees, of which there are approximately 29,000.

“It’s not a complete solution for everyone, for sure, but it’s good to see the university take a step in this direction,” Hoard said. “My hope is we’ll learn some things and continue to do more of these in the future.”

The UW has previously created affordable housing with Seattle Children’s Hospital (SCH) approximately four years ago for UW and SCH employees. That housing, though, is mostly market-rate units with a small subset (37) capped around 75 percent AMI.

The current project is the first time the UW initiated working with the Seattle Housing Authority (SHA), a department of Seattle’s city government responsible for low-income, elderly, and disabled public housing. SHA is the largest provider of affordable housing in the city.

The two entities decided SHA would only serve as a development partner. This means the UW still needs to find a long-term operator for the project. SHA will oversee the Request For Qualifications, which includes design and construction.

“How you put together financing packages and the tax credit program is a huge part of that,” said SHA’s communications director, Kerry Coughlin. “But that’s down the road.”

The tax credit program is essentially an incentive for developers, banks, and others to privately invest because they’ll save money, rather than lose money, by building affordable housing. It’s a type of financial write-off.

Seattle has had a housing crisis for years, however. It began with the 2008 recession after the housing bubble, and grew with higher tech salaries and gentrification.

“We don’t see anything as a drop in a bucket,” Coughlin said. “Maybe things seem proportionally small compared to the demand but this is a significant project. Do we need more? Certainly. But we can’t become paralyzed because the demand is higher than the supply.”

Coughlin said the UW should be applauded for this project. Working families, she said, are getting priced out of the market and the UW is being sensitive to its own workforce.

“It would be terrific if there were more companies that could donate land and figure out partnerships for affordable housing,” Coughlin said, “because companies operating in seattle need a workforce and a lot of that workforce has to commute.”

While the UW and SHA are in only the very early stages of building, they’ve already received inquiries about applying, according to both spokespersons. But they can’t do anything until a couple of months before the housing is completely built.

The lot for this housing recently had its zoning laws change, increasing to allow a height of 240 feet, but Hoard said the project would’ve been feasible without that. He doesn’t expect the building to reach that height.

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