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With a vision for affordability beyond the neighborhood, Capitol Hill Housing won’t just be Capitol Hill Housing much longer

Developed in conjunction with Africatown, The Black Community Impact Alliance, and Byrd Barr Place, Capitol Hill Housing’s Liberty Bank Building opened in March

By Tim Kukes for CHS

Capitol Hill Housing held its annual meeting Tuesday at the 12th Avenue Arts building, one of several projects across Seattle created by the nonprofit developer of affordable housing.  Members of the organization gave status reports on the successes of the past year and discussed some of the challenges they were facing.  But, CEO Chris Persons did what in journalism is called “burying the lede”.

“We’re coming up with a new name,” Persons said, late in the meeting.  “Think about our name, Capitol Hill Housing, neither of those really represent what we do as an organization, so it is time after 40 years to select a different name.”

What was discussed prior to the announcement Tuesday morning illustrates the need for a new name and rebranding of the organization.  As the leadership spoke it became clear that the message was that CHH was more than in the business for providing affordable housing and its scope was beyond Capitol Hill.

As Persons put it, “Building beyond buildings.”

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“It’s our commitment and focus on building vibrant and engaging community,” Persons said.  “We do that in a lot of ways. The building you are in now, there’s more than just affordable housing – art space, community, retail, non-profits.”

One of the key accomplishments for this year was the opening of the equitably developed Liberty Bank Building, with 115 units and 86% of the residents African American, according to Persons. The project is not the only CHH undertaking that is outside of the Capitol Hill neighborhood. Another project is slated for White Center.

Greg Gibson, vice president for strategy and innovation, explained that financially, CHH was looking healthy and appeared to be optimistic about the future, noting that CHH was up $516,000 for 2018 compared to being down $750,000 in 2017.  He went on to say that developer fees were increasing, and certain developments were exiting year 15 – a period where the limited investor owns almost the entirety of the property – which would further increase the 2018 numbers.

“That’s important because in 2018 the Helen V property and the Oleta property both had 15-year exits and now are part of our consolidated financial operations,” Gibson said.

Gibson also said that CHH was experiencing tremendous growth.  In 2017-2018 CHH increased staff to cover projects that are coming to fruition by borrowing funds which they expect to repay through developer fees in 2021.

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.

Capitol Hill Housing’s growth is hoped to be a template for more affordable development in Seattle. In March, city officials also came to 12th Ave Arts to sign the expansion and upzoning of Seattle’s Mandatory Housing Affordability program because the development represented so many goals of the new legislative effort.

Though its vision is growing to include more and more of the city and region, CHH remains busy in its home area.

Community planning work has begun with its partner Africatown to create the next equitable development project near 23rd and Union.

Its next affordable project under construction on Capitol Hill is Station House at Capitol Hill Station. Station House will create 110 homes affordable for “working families.” CHS is also in the early development phases for The Eldridge on Broadway between Pike and Pine. It’s a stretch of street the developer has already greatly shaped with the Broadway Crossing building at Broadway and Pine.

Capitol Hill Housing is also working on plans for new affordable, LGBTQ-friendly housing for low-income seniors at 14th and Union.

On community outreach and development, CHH leadership Tuesday noted many endeavors to promote empowerment.

Ashley Thomas, senior manager of resident services, expressed that people needed access to services that would allow them to thrive, not just survive.  For 2018, Resident Services had 600 resident referrals, 560 residents attended events coordinated by resident services coordinators, and 147 1-on-1 meetings.  In 2019 efforts would go to process improvements, stability and sustainability, and resident centered data.

“The eco-district is community development at the community-scale,” Joel Sisolak, senior director of sustainability and planning, said. “So, it is not about focusing on particular site.  What we’re really looking at is the neighborhood.”

Projects that were worked on in 2018 for the eco-district were: a negotiation with the Washington State Convention Center for $82 million in benefits, some that going towards affordable housing, protected bike lanes, and park improvements; parking reform; bike lane workshop; homeless outreach funding restored for Capitol Hill and First Hill.

One of the new projects involves Lowell Elementary, which according to Sisolak, 40% of the student population is homeless.  The project is a plan to create a school-based health center by Country Doctor, which received a grant from Kaiser Permanente for this purpose, and members of Sisolak’s team.

Other projects for the coming year include reducing, or removing, pesticide use from city parks and a public life study with the Seattle Department of Transportation.

“All our projects are centered in principals of equity,” Sisolak said.  “So, the neighborhood has to work for the most vulnerable members of the community.”

Kiley Dhatt, Rise Together Campaign Manager, talked about how rapid growth has not benefitted everybody.  Many who are left behind are people of color, refugees, LGBTQ seniors, artists, and low-income families. Rise Together tries to help these communities.

“Rise Together really starts with affordable housing,” Dhatt said.  “Then asks, what does community really need to thrive?”

To promote that idea that they are working in three communities: The Central District, Capitol Hill, and White Center.  Some of these projects are the Bolyston-Howell Family Housing Rehab, White Center Community Hub, and an arts stabilization fund.  In total these projects will create 400 new affordable homes, according to Dhatt.

Persons also discussed some of the challenges the industry is facing, capital and talent.  He went on to say that there would be a greater public outcry over housing and homelessness.

“It is outrageous that one of the wealthiest, best educated, most liberal communities in the United States cannot grapple with the homeless problem,”  Persons said.

Other issues included more competition from the private sector, building asset ownership and wealth for people, affordable housing without subsidy, and consolidation of non-profit organizations.

“Every person regardless of income has a right to a home and a healthy future,” Persons said.  “Every community should be served with the wholeness of its current and future members in mind.”

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11 thoughts on “With a vision for affordability beyond the neighborhood, Capitol Hill Housing won’t just be Capitol Hill Housing much longer

  1. I fully support LBB and it’s 86% African American occupancy rate. But every time I read about it I can’t help but wonder, how did they get around anti-discrimination laws while they were targeting African Americans to occupy the building? If I were a leasing agent giving preferential treatment to any other race, I would be in jail so fast!

    • There has to be a building like this so politicians can say “something was done” about gentrification and get their picture taken. I’d like a building on Capitol Hill for white gay men. Another culture that has been diluted. Good luck with that one.

  2. I am wondering how the Liberty Bank building got filled with tenants considering that CHH has a page that lists available apartments and no openings in that building were ever listed. I checked on a frequent basis. On a side note, CHH doesn’t take care of the property or tenants it currently has. They are very negligent.

    • Even if every single unit in that building were reserved exclusively for African Americans, it still wouldn’t make up for 0.000000001 percent of the housing discrimination that community has suffered right here in Seattle, let alone the rest of the country. Let it go.

  3. A lot of African Americans put the info about this building on social media. This seems how there was a large Black population that eventually moved in. I saw several posts on Facebook.

  4. The entire last 30-45 minutes of this meeting was questions and complaints from current CHH residents with violence in their buildings and issues with CHH grossly incompetent property management staff. About 20% of the room had serious complaints and came out at 8:30am to an important meeting that CHH failed to even tell their tenants about. It clearly wasn’t for us peon tenants. After this started, the writer of this article got up and left. He didn’t cover one word of this. That’s a journalistic failing and a disservice to low income people. And yes, as noted above, CHH property management doesn’t create community, it creates danger and someone needs to stop it. Shootings, serial rapists and rats. There’s Capitol Hill Housings property management for you. They clearly don’t do housing!