Capitol Hill a ‘laboratory’ of affordable, sustainable living for Capitol Hill Housing

Capitol Hill Station’s Site B-North affordable housing will join Capitol Hill Housing’s roster of innovative projectins including 12th Ave Arts and the Pantages house development

Non-profit developer’s annual fundraiser Omnivorous is Thursday

If Capitol Hill is ground zero in Seattle’s struggle to create more affordable housing, Capitol Hill Housing has been a crucial first responder.

Over the past year, CHH has positioned itself as the affordable housing provider for two of the most innovative and high profile projects in the neighborhood: 12th Ave Arts (opened 2014) and the Capitol Hill Station “transit oriented development” project.

As part of its mission to build “vibrant, engaged communities,” the 39-year-old community development corporation has frequently found itself outside the traditional role of housing developer. Through the Capitol Hill EcoDistrict, CHH organized the recent pedestrian zone pilot project and studied “district shared parking” in the neighborhood, among other initiatives.

“We see Capitol Hill… as a laboratory of innovation for affordable housing, ecodistricts, parking,” said CEO Chris Persons.

Of course, CHH’s bread and butter is supplying affordable housing to some 2,000 people through 47 buildings in Seattle, mostly concentrated on Capitol Hill. One of CHH’s most recent internal initiatives has been its resident services program where volunteers mentor residents on basic job skills.

To help boost its efforts, CHH is hosting its annual food and drink fundraiser on September 24th at The Summit on E Pike. Omnivorous 2015 will feature a smorgasbord of familiar Capitol Hill food:omni_2015_title

Enjoy an array of fabulous food and drink by some of Capitol Hill’s best restaurants and bars – all under one roof, for just one night!

  • Unlimited plates of delicious delicacies
  • Superb Northwest wines and specialty cocktails
  • An opportunity to help connect your neighbors to jobs, healthcare, and other services

Participants include Altura, Ba Bar, Bar Ferd’nand, Caffe Vita, Chavez, Hello Robin, High 5 Pie, Jemil’s Big Easy, Lark, Mamnoon, Marjorie, Monsoon, Oola Distillery, Poppy, Rachel’s Ginger Beer, Sun Liquor, Tallulah’s, Tango, Terra Plata, The Tin Table, Trove, and WineBid.com.

As City Hall seeks to create thousands of new affordable units in the coming decade, an opportunity has opened for affordable housing developers to pitch some creative ideas around publicly funded housing. One format Persons has started exploring is the use of private investors to develop new buildings with an agreement that the City would come through a decade or so later to take over the project for affordable housing.

“If you would’ve suggested that four or five years ago, people would say ‘We can’t do that.’ Now people are saying, ‘That’s interesting, lets see if we can look at that.”

Finding ways to create affordable housing without any public funding stream is another challenge CHH aims to tackle in the near future. By next year, Persons said CHH wants to acquire an older building to turn into income restricted housing without using any public assistance. If it’s successful, it could become a larger secondary affordable housing strategy for CHH. Dropping public funding also frees up CHH to have a greater mix of tenants. “It’s an exciting time to be creative,” Persons said.

The 12th Ave Arts groundbreaking brought out dignitaries -- and Hillebrities (Image: CHS)

The 12th Ave Arts groundbreaking brought out dignitaries — and Hillebrities (Image: CHS)

Working with the Capitol Hill Champion group to forge a set a community priorities for the new light rail station was one the deepest and longest community engagement processes CHH has participated in to date. The project is planned to have an entire building of affordable housing competed by 2018. Persons said he was happy that affordable housing was included in the project at all — but the years of community meetings paid off after developer Gerding Edlen selected CHH to develop the project.

Transit oriented development projects are a perfect fit for CHH’s mission, and Persons said more of the projects could be in the pipeline in the near future as light rail and streetcars expand in the city.

CHH is now taking that community engagement expertise and applying it to figure out how to best honor the legacy of a historic Central District bank. The 100-unit affordable housing project will replace the old Liberty Bank building just east of 23rd and Union.

The city is assessing the recent Pike/Pine pedestrian zone trial run by the Capitol Hill EcoDistrict (Image: CHS)

The city is assessing the recent Pike/Pine pedestrian zone trial run by the Capitol Hill EcoDistrict (Image: CHS)

Thanks to City Council member and District 3 candidate Kshama Sawant, talking about affordable housing in Seattle today almost always means also talking about rent control. While Persons has publicly stayed away from Seattle’s rent control debate, rent caps have always been integral to CHH’s operations. It’s a policy that Persons said the City should have the power to hash out on its own.

“I don’t know what business it is of the state to be involved in that,” he said.

The Bullitt Foundation-sprouted Capitol Hill EcoDistrict has begun to find its own identity as a neighborhood organization. Persons said since it was launched six years ago, the EcoDistrict splitting off from CHH has always been on the table.

“Is it possible that the EcoDistrict will spin off and be its own thing? Yes,” said Persons. “But there’s no current strategy or plan to do that.”

This month CHH wrapped up work on its strategic plan. Part of that includes more community engagement in neighborhoods like Belltown and the Central District. Still, it’s unlikely that the “Capitol Hill” of CHH will cease to be relevant anytime soon.

“We’ll always be in Capitol Hill. It will always be our core neighborhood,” Persons said.

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