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Central District’s affordable Liberty Bank Building gets $13M boost

The Liberty Bank Building still needs to go through design review — here’s a look at the three latest projects around 23rd and Union

Mayor Ed Murray’s administration has put its money where its mouth is in hopes that a Central District affordable housing project will become a model development in Seattle. The non-profit developers of the Liberty Bank Building will receive $12.2 million in funding from the city’s Office of Housing and $1 Million from the State of Washington for the mixed-use project at 24th and Union.

Capitol Hill Housing plans to use the Seattle Housing Levy funds to help build 115 units affordable to individuals and families earning $18,000 to $54,000 a year. CHH also has plans to incorporate local businesses into the project and to honor the site’s historical importance as the home of the region’s first black-owned bank. A community-based advisory board is helping steer the effort.

Construction isn’t planned to start until mid-2017 but the old Liberty Bank building came tumbling down in October. Environmental remediation is now underway at the site that was once home to a gas station.

CHS reported earlier this year on how the project has come to represent the aspirations of Murray’s administration to combine affordable housing, arts space/cultural identity, and economic development under one roof.

Liberty Bank could also be a model for how Mayor Murray intends to use an expanded Seattle Housing Levy, widely regarded as the backbone of affordable housing development in Seattle. This year Murray is asking voters to double the existing housing levy—which has collected $145 million since 2009—to $290 over the next seven years. This amounts to an annual increase by $122 for the median Seattle homeowner (up from $61 annually) as per city estimates.Screen-Shot-2016-03-28-at-7.31.41-AM

The blueprint for utilizing the revenue is essentially the same, with the majority of the funds going towards increased investment capacity in the development, preservation, and operating and maintenance of projects, as well as $11.5 million in rental assistance for families at risk of eviction and homeless and $9.5 million in financial assistance for low-income homeowners and prospective homebuyers.

The Liberty Bank project will join blocks around 23rd and Union that are also busy with development. CHS broke news on a $23.5 million offer to buy the Midtown Center property on the southeast corner of 23rd and Union, which has been in place since late last year but held up by a lawsuit from longtime property manager Tom Bangasser against his family’s partnership that owns the land. Africatown-founder Omari Tahir-Garrett has also filed a lawsuit against the partnership and City Hall for racial harassment and back pay for managing the 23rd and Union property, where he operates the UMOJA P.E.A.C.E. Center.

One six-story building is now complete on the southwest corner and another just wrapping up design review on the northwest corner. Both are projects from private developer Lake Union Partners and both are being put together as market-rate developments — though a quest to upzone the northwest project will help the community have a little more influence over the development.

Capitol Hill Housing will also be seeking a contract rezone as part of the planned Liberty Bank Building project.

In 2014, the Seattle Landmarks Preservation Board rejected the 1968-built bank as a protected landmark despite support from the daughter of the bank’s founders, James C. and Mardine Purnell. The decision cleared the way for the Capitol Hill Housing development at the site to move forward. Liberty Bank operated at the site until 1988 when KeyBank took over. CHH had agreed to acquire the property from KeyBank in 2013 “at a rate well below its assessed market value, in order to develop a mixed-use building with affordable apartments and space for local businesses.”

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RWK
RWK
5 years ago

Yet another levy? It just one after the other. It seems the Mayor has never met a levy he didn’t like….and he is never content just to replace an existing levy, but instead he significantly increases the total, in this case doubling it. Enough is enough!

jseattle
Admin
5 years ago
Reply to  RWK

Surprised to see you end your comment so abruptly, Bob. Alternatives to help create developments like Capitol Hill Housing is working on with the Liberty Bank Building?

Jim98122x
Jim98122x
5 years ago
Reply to  RWK

There’s only one feasible alternative, but nobody has the political stomach for it– a state income tax. But we all know that’s a political non-starter. Till then, we’ll just keep taxing the shit out of homeowners till Seattle chases all us middle-income people out, as we sell our homes to highly paid tech workers. Then Seattle will have highly paid tech workers supporting low income people, with nobody middle class left.

Either that or we start failing this endless succession of levies, and they’ll stop spending money. One way or the other, the soak-the-middle-class gravy train will grind to a halt soon enough.

Jim98122x
Jim98122x
5 years ago
Reply to  RWK

“…if I need to spend a little more of my hard earned money to make sure we ALL have a better shot at making Seattle great, so be it.”

Just curious, P-Patch…how much have your property taxes gone up in the last 2 years? Are you a single-income home, or two-income?

James
James
5 years ago

Hmm….paying taxes so that my money can go to some private individuals to pay for their mortgages or rent.

So when I come up short on a bill at a restaurant can I have the phone number of all of these people and ask them to chip in for my bill.

No thanks Mr. Murray. I would rather not spend my hard-earned money to pay for housing for somebody that I have never meant with no strings attached.

Jesse Kennemer
Jesse Kennemer
5 years ago
Reply to  James

James…twice on this same post you have conflated the need for housing with…the need for a steak.

They are not comparable. If you cannot afford the steak, there are many cheaper options to keep you from going hungry, like some moderately priced groceries.

Let us say you try to buy reasonably priced groceries to cook a home meal and you STILL cannot afford the cost. Can you call public housing occupants on their cell phones to have them food the bill? Nope, but you can definitely receive food stamps or other form of aid.

The same goes for housing. In Seattle, the cost of reasonable housing, the equivalent of buying groceries instead of buying a fancy steak, is outrageously unaffordable. That means LOTS of people cannot afford the steak OR the cup o’ noodles.

So to make sure those people do not end up homeless like the hundreds of homeless people who live in this city, the government is attempting to step in and use a bit of your hard-earned cash.

You can dislike it, you can vote against it…but don’t pretend like there isn’t an equivelent to publicly-subsidized housing in the context of food.

AffordableCH
AffordableCH
5 years ago

@James – there are many strings attached to both this money, and the $4.00 of non-city funds for each city dollar granted. There are many layers of compliance and long term affordability requirements tied to this money by land use title restrictions.

http://www.seattle.gov/Documents/Departments/Housing/HousingDevelopers/ProjectFunding/RentalProgram_Awards_2015.pdf

Ian
Ian
5 years ago

I am continually perplexed why the press reports Liberty Bank as a “Black owned bank” when the reality is it was founded by 3 black men, a Jew and a Japanese man. At the time. the fact that 3 different types of people came together to try and fix a systemically racist issue of no banks lending to minorities was a huge deal. I think the more important message is different types of people of color working together to solve a problem rather than re-writing history. The community didn’t want Liberty Bank to exist and these brave guys did it anyway. That’s important.

PM
PM
5 years ago

Wow, I wish I was more shocked at the negative comments, but unfortunately they no longer surprise me. I for one am thrilled to see a low income housing building going up. Neighborhoods thrive when they have a mix of socio-economic statuses, races, etc. I know many people (single and with families) making minimum wage who will be excited at the opportunity to stay in the neighborhood they have called home for many years as rents and property values skyrocket. I hope we have even more affordable housing and mixed housing to come!

James
James
5 years ago
Reply to  PM

Great. Then you should pay for it. Or better yet, let someone use a spare room at your place if you have one.

I don’t see why I should support the living expenses of somebody who makes just a little less than me. Basically I end up with the same take-home pay after rent as somebody in subsidized housing oftentimes because I pay significantly more in rent.

Perhaps people don’t have a right to pay significantly less for the same housing as I do.

Or by your logic we should have Morton’s steak at $10 for those that cant afford it.

P-Patch
P-Patch
5 years ago
Reply to  PM

James, I understand that social contracts and urban covenants don’t always jibe with libertarian beliefs. Your portrayal of this project as some sort of hand out suggests that you’ll likely vote against this levy and that’s fine. As with many things in life, one person’s waste of money is another’s good investment.

I’m not a big fan of our mayor, but I do support this (his) project for a variety of reasons. Affordable housing, for one, is an issue cities up and down the coast are struggling with. San Francisco struggles. Vancouver struggles. Seattle struggles. Maybe this project turns out to be a failure, but I’m hopeful that at least it’s something we can learn from, because this problem isn’t going to go away or fix itself.

Seattle’s growth cannot be dictated strictly by the needs of its wealthiest citizens and industries. The artist, the cook, the coffee shop owner and the teacher all bring value to the community. It’s their city too and if I need to spend a little more of my hard earned money to make sure we ALL have a better shot at making Seattle great, so be it.

Self-Made Man
Self-Made Man
5 years ago
Reply to  PM

“I don’t see why I should support the living expenses of somebody who makes just a little less than me. ”

Drive to the overlook above the I-90 bridge and look to the east. See all those expensive homes on Mercer Island, and in places like Medina and Beaux Arts? You’re subsidizing them through the lack of income tax in this state. Why not help the poor folks out as well?

Jim98122x
Jim98122x
5 years ago
Reply to  PM

The best way to do that is to stop this nonsense of taxing the middle class ever more, and working for a fair income tax.

jseattle
Admin
5 years ago
Reply to  Jim98122x

Why not work on the “fair income tax” first and THEN stop taxing “the middle class” once you get that squared away, Jim?

Jim98122x
Jim98122x
5 years ago
Reply to  PM

Obviously

James
James
5 years ago

And somebody’s decision to have kids that they cannot support is not my problem. I will gladly have my tax dollars used to support their kids but I would rather adults take responsibility for themselves and their actions and not rely on my hard work to support their decision to have a family.

Whichever
Whichever
5 years ago
Reply to  James

I’ve personally always thought that the first two kids should be free – as in included in the base tax rate we all pay. If you pop out more than two, then you pay more taxes to support your usage of the school systems, etc. It isn’t right that a family of 6 can pay the same in property taxes that a family of two can pay if they shared opposite halves of a duplex, for example.

HuskyDown
HuskyDown
5 years ago

Big congrats to Capitol Hill Housing! Great organization with a great track record. I’m sure this will be success like some of their other recent projects, like 12th Avenue Arts and The Jefferson.