As Capitol Hill Housing turns 40, ‘the need has never been greater’

Capitol Hill’s largest affordable housing organization is turning 40 this year and, for better or worse, the organization has never been more relevant.

Launched in 1976, Capitol Hill Housing began by acquiring old buildings to turn them into income restricted housing. As the organization grew, it moved into rehabilitating midsize buildings. When the housing pressures around central Seattle mounted, it lead CHH to embark on ambitious new construction projects under the mission of creating “vibrant and engaged” communities.

“The work has never been more important than it is now,” said Michael Seiwerath, CHH’s director of community programs. CHH now supplies affordable housing for more than 2,000 residents in 48 properties it owns and manages around Seattle, primarily on Capitol Hill.

To help CHH celebrate its impressive milestone, Windermere Real Estate has pledged to match donations during CHH’s annual fundraising drive powered by the Seattle Foundation’s GiveBig campaign. Every $40 gift made to CHH on May 3rd through Seattle Foundation will be matched 4 to 1 (up to $5,000) by Windermere. You can donate here to support CHH in its efforts to:

  • Help people find affordable homes close to work and school
  • Connect residents to job coaching and health care services
  • Keep neighborhoods economically and culturally diverse

More about GiveBIG and other worthy Capitol Hill recipients can be found at givebig.seattlefoundation.org.

If the current chapter of CHH is about building its own housing, Seiwerath said the next chapter will be all about partnerships and expanding beyond Capitol Hill while staying rooted in the neighborhood. “As the land costs go up, and urban space is limited, one of the solutions is more partnerships,” Seiwerath said.

IMG_1044-600x400Examples of such partnerships include the 2003 project with Walgreens at Broadway and E Pine, and more recently, sealing a longterm deal with the Central Area Development Association at Squire Park Plaza. CHS previously wrote about how the nonprofit “public development authority” (technically a government-owned corporation) has positioned itself as the affordable housing partner for two of the most innovative and high profile projects in the neighborhood: 12th Ave Arts (opened in 2014, where CHH is now based) and the Capitol Hill Station “transit oriented development” project.

The second building CHH ever acquired was in Belltown, so expanding off its home base on Capitol Hill is nothing new. The Central District is an obvious target for expansion, and CHH will be doing just that with an in-progress project at the Liberty Bank Building. The six-story mixed-use building at 24th and Union could have up to 115 affordable housing units and several commercial spaces. The project is also being held up by Mayor Ed Murray’s administration as a model development that it wants to see replicated in Seattle.

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 CHH CEO Chris Persons says could be implemented in the future 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.

Partnerships will also be a key theme of CHH’s upcoming annual forum.

Each year Capitol Hill Housing hosts a community forum on local development issues — an event free and open to the public. Topics have included transit oriented development on Broadway, the future of the Central District, and the Capitol Hill EcoDistrict (which CHH launched in 2011). CHH will host its 9th annual community forum on May 26th at The Summit on Pike. This year’s event is billed as Gearshift — not in the often misused sense of abrupt changes, but in the more proper sense of “maintaining an optimal effort for maximum efficiency.”

In that vein, CHH has opted to cover five Capitol Hill development issues for an event that urban policy wonks should definitely plan to attend:

Presenters will include Sierra Hansen of the Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce, John Feit of the Pike/Pine Urban Neighborhood Council, Alex Brennan from the Capitol Hill EcoDistrict, Zachary Pullin of the Capitol Hill Community Council and Tonya Lockyer of Velocity Dance Center and the Capitol Hill Arts District.

The forum is also an opportunity for community members to voice their concerns and opinions on a wide variety of development topics to elected officials. City Council members Kshama Sawant and Mike O’Brien are both slated to attend.

Gearshift, Capitol Hill Housing’s 9th annual community forum, will take place May 26th, from 5 PM – 8 PM at the Summit Event Space, 420 E Pike.

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