Partner Spotlight: GenPRIDE

Community meeting at GenPRIDE offices. Photo courtesy of GenPRIDE.

We’ve got some big news.

You may have heard that, in partnership with nine LGBTQ-serving organizations, we are building the first LGBTQ-affirming affordable housing for seniors in the Pacific Northwest. Guiding this effort is an Advisory Committee that includes Aging with Pride, Generations Aging with Pride (GenPRIDE), the Ingersoll Gender Center, LGBTQ Allyship, Country Doctor, Gay City: Seattle’s LGBTQ Center, POCAAN, the Greater Seattle Business Association (GSBA), and Seattle Counseling Services.

The past six months have been busy as the Advisory Committee has navigated a site change to Broadway between Pike and Pine and the selection of a ground floor tenant: GenPRIDE. Focused on empowering older LGBTQ+ adults to live with pride and dignity, GenPRIDE promotes, connects, and develops innovative programs and services that enhance belonging and support, eliminate discrimination, and honor the lives of older members of the LGBTQ+ community.

The move to Broadway – originally, the building was to sit at the corner of 14th Avenue and East Union Street – brings better access to more amenities, including the Capitol Hill light rail station, and more visibility for the services that GenPRIDE and others will provide. If this project is funded by the Seattle Office of Housing this fall, we plan to break ground in December 2020.

With 90+ affordable apartments at 60% at or below area median income, a main goal of the project will be to create an anchor for a community at risk of displacement – one that provides health and social services to residents as well as community members not living on site. In addition to becoming its headquarters, GenPride will oversee space on the ground floor to serve community-determined needs.

“This housing project is significant for many reasons—the need for affordable housing is essential, especially for our LGBTQ elders. Many of us have been displaced to far-flung areas in the region where isolation and limited access to services creates more risk to our health and well-being,” says Steven Knipp, GenPRIDE’s Executive Director. “It is also important for us to reclaim Capitol Hill as the LGBTQ+ historic center—and placing this building right in the heart of the neighborhood sends a clear message that we are still here.”

In Development: Station House Update

Last June, we celebrated the groundbreaking for transit-oriented development above the Capitol Hill Light Rail Station. CHH will build 110 apartments affordable to households earning at or below 30%, 50%, and 60% of area median income in a mix of studios, one-, two-, and three-bedroom units at the corner of 10th Avenue East and East John Street. The building is being built with a goal of reaching a LEED Platinum standard and will also include a 1,409 square foot community room. CHH plans to complete the framing of the top story on this, our 50th building, during the week of May 20th.


  See below for an animated look at the evolution of Station House since June!

Photos courtesy of Charles Hall. GIF by Yiling Wong.

Partner Spotlight: Q&A with A-P Hurd

Recently, CHH Housing Development Associate Charles Hall sat down with A-P Hurd, President of SkipStone, a consulting firm that provides real estate and planning services to private and public clients. She is the former president of Touchstone, a real estate development company that built nearly 3 million square feet of office, retail, hotel, and residential space between 2007 and 2017 and won the national Developer of the Year award in 2016. With our real estate team, she has been developing a model for alternative financing which could make the creation of affordable housing less dependent on government funding. Earlier this month, she gave the keynote speech at CHH’s Top of the Town dinner.

Q: What do you think are some common misconceptions about developers and the kinds of changes that occur when cities grow and neighborhoods transform? What would you want people to know about this work?

A: In a growing city, developers are the people who create capacity for new arrivals. For many people who don’t like that their city is growing (and therefore changing), it’s easy to blame developers. But the reality is that development is a consequence of population and job growth, not the cause.

Human migration is the biggest cause of urban growth in places like Seattle. Regional migration for economic reasons is an even bigger demographic force in the US than immigration, but people talk about it a lot less. There’s a lot of “good liberals” in Seattle that are pro-immigration but anti-growth in Seattle—however, the people coming to Seattle from other parts of the country are driven by the same search for economic opportunity as immigrants. So why shouldn’t we make room for them?

We talk a lot in Seattle about “preserving neighborhood character”, but that may be less important than housing everyone who needs it in our region and doing so in a way that is transit-connected to areas of economic opportunity. If you’re a good liberal, that should be the biggest goal of all.

Still, developers make a convenient bogeyman when people aren’t feeling brave.

Q: Last fall, the Seattle Office of Housing received more than $250 million in applications for housing but had only $40 million in its coffers. That seems to indicate great need as well as great motivation on the part of developers to build affordable housing. Tell us more about why helping Capitol Hill Housing is important to you and why a market rate commercial real estate developer might be a good partner?

A: Capitol Hill Housing is one of the most innovative affordable housing providers in the region. I love that CHH thinks big and thinks about environment and housing. CHH also thinks creatively and systemically about problems and gets things done.

In fact, the workforce housing project that we are working on together recognizes the need for housing at all price points and the importance of getting housing into production quickly. We’re hoping to come up with private sector capital strategies that can build workforce housing (80-90% of average median income) in larger volumes in the hands of an experienced non-profit like CHH, and get it built faster than we might otherwise be able, given the limited availability of public funds for a traditional non-profit capital structure. If we can do something replicable, it will be a huge win.

Q: Do you have a life philosophy that ties to the work you do?

A: Hmmm. Yes, but haven’t boiled it down to 200 words yet. How about this:  Be kind, be myself, think in systems, own the problems and work them, and live like someone who’s only got one planet.

Q: Describe an ideal developer in three words.

A: Creative, empathetic, realistic.

Capitol Hill Housing Hires Community Liaison

Steven Sawada joined Capitol Hill Housing as Community Liaison in April
“My goal is to support the growth
of empowered, autonomous communities.”

Capitol Hill Housing welcomes Steven Sawada as our new Community Liaison. A resident of Capitol Hill for more than ten years, Steven joins us from Catholic Housing Services, an organization built around deep values and a commitment to its mission, he says.

Steven studied communities and networks at the University of Washington Evans School of Public Policy and Governance “to give language to the skills” of community engagement and policy-making. For years, he worked in residential home loan processing and made connections to his experience as a housed person living alongside houseless neighbors. Motivated, as he says, to “reconcile equity with urgency”, he charted a new path.

While volunteering at two Capitol Hill organizations, Community Lunch on Capitol Hill, a homeless meals program, and at Lambert House, a community center for LGBTQ youth, Steven was inspired by the resilience he observed in neighbors caring for one another. With support from his wife, he emphasizes, Steven sought to take on “wicked” problems – those that are systemic, perpetual, and ingrained.

At CHH, Steven’s work will focus on neighborhoods beyond Capitol Hill. A Community Liaison like Steven is an important and valuable addition to our team, especially as we continue to grow the number of projects done in partnership with other organizations and communities.

Steven hopes “to work with communities that have been historically disenfranchised and who are in danger of displacement in our rapidly growing, changing region”. To do that, he will listen to what has been working, acknowledging the expertise that lives within the invisible network of every neighborhood that has held itself together despite threatening odds.

We’re Hiring: Senior Real Estate Developer

Scenes from the June 2017 groundbreaking at the Liberty Bank Building at 2320 E Union Street.

Capitol Hill Housing is looking for a full-time Senior Real Estate Developer. Join an exciting team responsible for helping us build and preserve affordability in Seattle. Interested in applying? Read more about the positionYou can learn more about some of our real estate projects in development on our website.

Since 1976, Capitol Hill Housing has worked alongside the community to build and preserve housing affordable to working families and promote the qualities that make Seattle a vibrant and engaged city. Today, we provide secure, affordable homes to over 2,200 of our neighbors across the city while working to make our neighborhoods safer, healthier and more equitable through the Capitol Hill EcoDistrict.

Read more about the position.

CHH and the Housing Levy

Seattle voters have a strong record of support for affordable housing at the ballot box. Since 1981, voters have approved one bond and four levies to provide money to keep the city affordable. Seattle has now funded over 12,500 affordable apartments for seniors, low- and moderate-wage workers, and formerly homeless individuals and families. Those same funds have provided homeownership assistance to more than 900 first-time low-income home buyers and emergency rental assistance to more than 6,500 households. Voters face another big choice this August.

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From the CEO

A little over a week ago we held our annual fundraiser, Top of the Town. (Thank you to all who sponsored, attended and donated—because of you, we exceeded our fundraising goal.) What follows is a version of the remarks I gave at that event.

Originally I had planned to talk about the crisis of homelessness and affordable housing in Seattle and King County—an issue that has not only been in the local media spotlight lately, but one that is at the very heart of CHH’s mission. However, the events that have transpired in the past few weeks surrounding the Liberty Bank Building have made me realize that there is a different dialogue I want to engage in today.

On Monday, April 25, CHH held a community design charrette to solicit input from community members about the Liberty Bank project, a CHH development in the works that will create 115 new affordable apartments in the Central District. The architects presented current massing studies and other early design elements; then community members met in small groups, brainstormed their priorities, and reported back to the whole group. It was great! We got a lot of good ideas that will be incorporated into the final design of the building. It’s exciting when these events function as they are supposed to, extracting meaningful feedback from stakeholders that will make a project more useful and equitable for the immediate community. But this charrette stands in stark contrast to the design meeting we held the week before with the Land Use Review Committee (LURC). At that meeting, there was so much pent up frustration from a small number of people in the audience that CHH was unable to even make a presentation.

To understand why this happened, you need to understand the history of the Liberty Bank Building. Liberty Bank existed on the corner of 24th and Union from 1968 to 1988. It was the first African American owned and operated bank west of the Mississippi. The founders, the owners, the managers, the tellers, the borrowers and the depositors were all local residents. The bank became a hub for the Black community, a proud institutional resource for a community that has historically been excluded from the kind of banking services that White America takes for granted.

Sadly, as is the case with most small businesses, Liberty Bank suffered some turbulent times and was forced to go out of business. When the bank closed, people lost money. That was 28 years ago, and to this day there are lingering resentments and a sense of ownership loss.

When CHH acquired the building in 2015 it was from Key Bank, who had been operating a branch there for 22 years. Although we had significant community support, we were also met with an effort to turn the site into a historical landmark, preventing any future development on the site. Though the landmarking effort was ultimately unsuccessful, we listened closely to the community. We convened an advisory board that included two daughters of Liberty Bank founders, and worked with them to determine the most sensitive and dignified way to memorialize the history of Liberty Bank at the new development. Among other things, we’re naming the development “the Liberty Bank Building”; we are incorporating the original sign into the building; we are creating places with remembrances of the bank for people to sit and reflect on that history; and we are displaying many old photos of staff and bank history.

Since making those commitments a year ago, we’ve been doing normal development stuff like demolishing the old building—but we’ve preserved the vault door, the safety deposit box doors, and many, many bricks, all of which we’re incorporating into the design of the new building. We’ve done our soils remediation work, hired our general contractor and architect, and have been negotiating a partnership with Centerstone. All of this work led up to the productive charrette at the end of April, where we continued to absorb stakeholder thinking that will lead to a design supportive of community priorities.

* * *

What I’m about to say next will seem like a tangent, but if you bear with me, I promise these stories will come together.

Let me tell you about Uncle Ike’s marijuana shop. A little over a week ago, there was a protest outside Ike’s. If you don’t know, Uncle Ike’s is likely the most successful marijuana shop in the state, and is located at 23rd and Union next to the Liberty Bank Building. It has a huge marquee lit sign, murals and glassware displays—and, as you’ll know if you’ve ever walked or driven past it, it’s a pretty popular spot.

As it turned out, the coordinated protest of Uncle Ike’s also happened to be the same day as the Liberty Bank LURC design meeting. The community was protesting because they don’t want a pot shop in such close proximity to a church, Mt. Calvary Christian Center, and its teen center. Now, there’s no State law against how close a marijuana shop can be to a church or teen center, and no one complained about Ike’s proximity during the formal licensing period in 2014. These protestors had gone to court and for these reasons, the judge ruled against them. That ship has sailed. But how would you feel if a drug dispensary opened up next door to your place of worship?

A lot of people roll their eyes at the protesters and write demeaning things about them in the comment sections of the blogs. But I understand their frustration, because there is a dark irony at work in the background of Uncle Ike’s. For a hundred years, the Central District was the only neighborhood in Seattle where Black folks could live. They were shunted there by redlining and racially restrictive covenants so that by the 1970s and 80s, seventy percent of the Central District population was African American. The community faced disinvestment from business and industry, and from public investment. So a concentration of poverty built up. And the corner of 23rd and Union became the place where some young Black men, who were given so few options and so few opportunities, plied the drug trade. Some were arrested; some were killed; and most were unable to gain employment because of their newly minted criminal record.

So this corner is steeped in symbolism and history. It is entrenched in the memory of a community who banded together for economic freedom, to create a Black-owned financial institution that was a community hub. And it is now at the epicenter of the radical change that is happening in the Central District. It has changed from an African American poor and working-class neighborhood to an increasingly white and affluent one. It has changed from a neighborhood where young Black men were arrested and jailed for selling marijuana, to a neighborhood where White people buy and sell pot freely—not only without fear of arrest or violence, but also at great profit.

So after the protesters were done demonstrating at Uncle Ike’s, a small number of them (perhaps eight) came to the Liberty Bank LURC meeting, steeped in a hundred years of neglect, indifference and inequity. We could not make our presentation because of the hostility, yelling, and sometimes hateful language.

I don’t condone their behavior—it was beyond disrespectful and certainly misplaced. But I do understand it. I hear it. As a community organization and as a developer that builds for the benefit of the community, we respond to those concerns, angry or not. In the end, the project that we deliver will have shared ownership with a local Black-led organization; it will be designed to reflect the priorities of African-American and African cultures; it will memorialize the history of Liberty Bank and its role as a hub for the Black community; it will be set up so that small local and Black owned businesses can operate there; and it will be planned so that African American individuals and families may find the Liberty Bank Building a comfortable and welcoming place to call home.

The commitment of CHH isn’t to do what we want. Our commitment is to do what the community wants. Some communities ask for theaters in their buildings (perhaps you’ve heard of our award-winning 12th Avenue Arts building). Other communities ask for ownership. And in this case, as in all cases, it has not been easy to meet all of the stakeholder priorities. But that does not mean that CHH shies away. We stand firm in our mission and will continue to listen, humble ourselves and take on the projects that we know will build up the cultural fabric of this great city. And in the process we will provide affordable housing to the families and individuals who serve as the backbone of our communities.

Of course, no community is a monolithic voice. It is a thousand voices. In the presence of this chorus—or perhaps more accurately, this cacophony—our vow is to listen. We listen so that we can reflect those voices, and out of them, together with the community, we strive to bring them into relative harmony. At the end of each project there can only be one song, but it is composed by many, many authors.

* * *

My friend George Staggers and I sometimes share funny e-mails exaggerating how much we get beat up in the community. But I sent him one the other day that shared some real exasperation, and he said, I don’t have any solutions or advice except to be honest and sensitive. And then he said, Peace.

This is my expectation of myself. To be honest, and to be sensitive. And if I may be so bold, this is my expectation of you, too. Our design team and contractors, our vendors and stakeholders, our staff and board members, I say this to you. As we venture into these grounds steeped in symbolism and mired in history: be honest, be sensitive.
     Christopher Persons, CEO

It’s been quite a year

As the year comes to a close, we’re reflecting on all that’s happened in 2014. It’s been quite a year for Capitol Hill Housing. Here are just a few highlights:

We launched a new website for the Capitol Hill EcoDistrict and installed the first community solar array atop our Holiday apartments.

We began construction on the remodel of the Haines, to improve and preserve homes for extremely low-income individuals. Construction will be complete in 2015.

And of course, we opened 12th Avenue Arts, which created 88 new affordable homes in the urban center of Capitol Hill. This truly mixed-use project also houses two theaters, nonprofit space and police parking. Three local restaurants will open here in spring 2015.

One of the new residents of 12th Avenue Arts, April Kim, says:

I’m one of the many people who work in central Seattle, but couldn’t afford to live in the city. My passion is photography, which I’m hoping to turn into my own business. For the first time in my life, I can pursue my dreams, while still working full time.

Donate now to help CHH preserve affordability and strengthen communities in 2015.