Affordable Housing in Seattle–Preposterous? Pontedera!

by on April 15, 2010

But let me begin with the news that Yesler Terrace, the ramshackle, 70-year-old, vinyl-siding-over-lead-paint “housing community” is being redesigned. It’s currently home for about 1,000 low-income residents, but the city and the Seattle Housing Authority have big public/private plans. An environmental review has just begun of five development options for the 28-acre site.

Besides a token “no action” alternative, and a current-zoning option that allows for 1,500 units, the SHA is considering pumping up Yesler Terrace to between 3,000 and 5,000 “dwelling units.” (Nothing says home like “dwelling unit.” That’s where the dweller units live!) Rezoning would allow between 800,000 and 1.2 million square feet of office space, and 40,000 to 88,000 square feet of commercial space (including retail).

If all goes smoothly, construction could start by late 2012. All will not go smoothly, though. As an instance, here’s a core value driving the Yesler Terrace plan: “a commitment to one-for-one replacement housing.”

That is, after selling off public land to private developers for office space and market-rate housing, Yesler Terrace could house…exactly the same amount of low- and very-low-income people it did before (and that was a struggle). Spend a few moments with the Financial Model Overview (pdf) and you can see that however you model it, the project is guaranteed to create some heated public input as it moves ahead. [UPDATE: A reader reminds me that the most recent plan is to add 250 "low income" units (for people making less than 60 percent of the median income) and 950 "moderate income"  or "workforce housing" units (less than 80 percent of median). But note that this is a goal, not a commitment.]

Meanwhile, HomeSight, a non-profit serving first-time buyers, has just opened its biggest project yet, Pontedera, a six-floor, 102-unit condo in the Rainier Valley–or as real estate people like to say, “South Downtown.” The city donated the land, in exchange for the affordability factor, and a covenant typical with HomeSight developments, that caps resale value on 20 units for 30 years.

The Seattle Condo Blog broke out what makes it appealing to first-time buyers, besides that starting price of $219,000 for a one bedroom (there are two- and three-bedroom units, too, and live/work lofts: floorplans):

For those earning less than 80% of the median income, HomeSight can provide up to $70,000 in assistance that is repaid when the buyer sells or refinances. For buyers earning up to 120% of median income, HomeSight can provide a second mortgage to eliminate the need for mortgage insurance. Finally, Pontedera is the only condominium development to offer the city’s 12-year property tax exemption…

Windermere’s Jada Pettigrew says that the building is already about 20 percent sold, and while first-time buyers are a big part of the equation, so are down-sizers taking advantage of the property-tax exemption (that’s not just for first-time buyers, although it does need to be the buyer’s primary residence).

Filed under News, Real Estate

2 thoughts on “Affordable Housing in Seattle–Preposterous? Pontedera!

  1. So someone who makes 79.99% of the median income ends up with a lot more money than someone who makes 80% of the median income. Excellent.