Affordable housing finds a home on pricey Eastside
by Gina Kim
It's much more than a roof over their heads. For Julia Taylor and her three children, the three-bedroom apartment at Bellevue's Wildwood Court just east of Meydenbauer Bay provides a sense of dignity.
"People think low-income housing should be in low-income places. And that teaches my son that he's low-income," said the 31-year-old single mother. "Here he sees people who make money, have gone to college and drive nice cars. He's seeing upward mobility."
Taylor, who pays $111 a month in rent, has lived at the low-income housing complex since 1996. A one-bedroom condo next door is selling for $144,950, and a two-bedroom up the street is going for $211,500. Market-rate one- and two-bedroom apartments rent for $765 to $980 at the nearby Meydenbauer Court Apartments.
After years of being mainly a city phenomenon, low- and moderate-income-housing projects are making inroads into upscale suburban communities, with hundreds of units springing up next to posh apartments and condos in affluent Eastside neighborhoods.
More than 700 units of affordable housing - both rentals and owner-occupied residences -- have been funded on the Eastside by King County in the past decade.
An additional 450 are under construction, and 480 others are in the planning stages, said Maureen Kostyack, the county's housing- financing-program coordinator. The county has funding requests for 200 more units, she added.
Hundreds more have been built by nonprofit groups with city, state and other funding.
"Particularly the Eastside community has become more and more aware of affordable housing in the last 10 years," said Carla Okigwe, executive director of the Housing Development Consortium of Seattle-King County, an organization of nonprofit housing developers. "When they found that their police officers couldn't afford housing, that was alarming."
Most affordable housing is targeted at people who make no more than 50 percent of the median income - or less than $25,250 for a one-person household.
Long a priority in Seattle, affordable housing became a concern for Eastside cities a decade ago when a rapid rise in housing prices coupled with inflation and employment growth left many residents struggling to pay housing costs.
The state Growth Management Act of 1990, which required cities and counties to plan for urban growth, provided another incentive. To comply with the law, King County cities agreed to build affordable-housing units equal to at least 20 percent of growth.
A citizens task force in Bellevue came up with the idea of pooling the money, knowledge and land of Eastside cities to create affordable-housing projects to meet their mutual needs.
The result was A Regional Coalition for Housing (ARCH), which launched with three cities in 1991 and has since grown to 13.
The coalition is funding many of the new Eastside developments and takes credit for assisting in the construction, rehabilitation or preservation of more than 1,600 units of affordable housing on the Eastside, from Bothell to Mercer Island and Bellevue to Issaquah. Another 500 are in some form of the construction or planning phases, said ARCH program manager Arthur Sullivan.
"Do we have a long way to go? The answer is `yes,' " said King County Executive Ron Sims at the dedication of an affordable-senior-housing complex in Kenmore yesterday. "But each unit makes a difference."
The 51 one- and two-bedroom apartments, near the Kenmore public library, are painted in neutral yellow and green with balconies trimmed in white. Next door, construction workers are erecting the complex's sister project, 46 units of family rentals, expected to be completed in December.
Hundreds more in the works
The momentum appears to be building.
In Redmond, 308 units of affordable housing are being built above a park-and-ride lot and bus-transit center.
At the posh Snoqualmie Ridge development near North Bend, Habitat for Humanity will use volunteers to build 20 homes over 12 days in August.
In Woodinville, which now has just 25 units of low- and moderate-income housing, developers will break ground this summer on 120 units to be built on 22 acres along Woodinville-Duvall Road.
Funded partly by ARCH, the project - including apartments, town homes and houses - is being built through a partnership of commercial developers Shelter Resources and Camwest Development, and the nonprofit Downtown Action to Save Housing (DASH).
Since DASH was founded in 1991 by members of the Bellevue Downtown Association, it has built or renovated 240 units of affordable housing throughout the Eastside and has plans for an additional 470, said Mark Thometz, DASH executive director.
While ARCH is primarily a funding, educational and lobbying group, DASH develops and manages affordable-housing properties. Despite its Bellevue roots, DASH will build anywhere on the Eastside where land can be obtained, said Thometz.
Land cost a big hurdle
"One of the biggest challenges is the cost of land," he said. "It can cost up to $45,000 per unit."
The key to successful suburban projects is their appearance and taking care that they blend into their upscale neighborhoods, said Thometz.
While some Eastside residents have voiced concerns about traffic and other impacts of affordable-housing complexes going up in their neighborhoods, ARCH's Sullivan said that property values have often increased after new projects.
"And when it's a preservation project, there's a lot of support because someone like DASH will go in there and fix up old buildings."
But even with the multiple projects under construction, the need for affordable housing hasn't diminished.
One in five renters in King County earns less than 50 percent of the median income, according to the county's 2000 Annual Growth Report, the most recent numbers available.
And for the more than 54,000 who earn less than 30 percent of the median income, there are fewer than 400 market-rate units available.
The Eastside's recent economic boom intensified the need, said Redmond Mayor Rosemarie Ives, whose city is struggling to provide housing options for the influx of single residents, young families and residents reaching retirement.
"When you have this imbalance of very, very rapid job growth, there's no surprise that it's going to affect the other necessary infrastructure," she said.
When Lee Gould, 77, was told that the Newscastle mobile park where she had lived for 26 years was going to be developed into pricier homes, Gould was forced to leave many of her friends.
But she didn't have to go too far. Now she is paying $395 in rent for a one-bedroom apartment at Ashwood Court in Bellevue, a senior-housing development built by DASH in 1999.
DASH is venturing into the arena of assisted living with the purchase of Washington Court in Bellevue. The nonprofit developer plans to renovate the assisted-living facility this fall and offer prices that will be affordable to low- and moderate-income seniors, said Thometz.
As for Taylor, the mother of three feels fortunate to be living in the upscale Bellevue neighborhood with her children attending the district's well-regarded schools.
After being evicted from another Bellevue apartment for failing to pay her rent on a part-time preschool teacher's salary, Taylor had made a Kenmore shelter her home for several months.
"It was a place to sleep," she said of the experience. "Now, I'm pulling us up by my bootstraps."