WANTED: Habitat for Humanity’s search begins for owners for new affordable-for-Seattle condos on Capitol Hill

Capitol Hill project

By fall of 2022, there will be new Capitol Hill homeowners on 11th Ave E between Harrison and Republican. Thanks to Habitat for Humanity and its new efforts to create affordable housing on Capitol Hill and in the city’s core, these new condo owners will be more like the younger, less affluent renters living nearby.

While Habitat for Humanity has built projects in urban areas in other parts of the country, this is a first for the local branch.

“This is sort of our entrance,” said Patrick Sullivan, director of real estate and development for Habitat of Seattle-King County.

In recent years as housing affordability in the region has gotten more and more challenging, the group has tried looking at what can be done in the city.

“We’re just trying to respond to the need,” Sullivan said.

The first project to open will be at 410 11th Ave. E., between Harrison and Republican. The 1904-building that started as a single family home and has served as a 6-unit apartment building that stands on the property is making way for a 13-unit condo complex with six one-bedroom units, five 2-bedroom units and 2 three-bedroom units.

The condo complex, Sullivan said, is a way of maximizing the number of units they can get on the site. Habitat could have tried to put up two or three townhouses, but going condo will allow them to more than quadruple the total number of units.

The kind of building will possibly mean some small changes for Habitat’s construction model. In typical projects, new homeowners are expected to help with the construction of the home. That is, they must physically be on site doing labor, which Habitat calls “Sweat Equity.”

For buildings like this, however, the construction may be a bit too complex for the typical proto-homeowner. Sullivan said they still plan to find ways to incorporate the sweat equity in less hazardous situations, such as landscaping, or painting. Or they may ask people to commit to helping with other less technically challenging projects.

Sullivan said they hope to break ground on the 11th Ave project in June and he expects a roughly 16-month construction timeline.

The other project will be a 17-unit building at 1620 14th Ave., between Pine and Olive streets. The space is occupied by a single family home, which is a rental. The new building will house 13 one-bedroom units, two one-bedroom with a loft units and two two-bedroom units.

14th Ave’s planning has just begun

Habitat is partnering with local company Green Canopy, a developer which focuses on environmentally sustainable projects. At least, they started out that way. Now their mission is beginning to expand to include building projects that are more affordable, as well as eco-friendly.

The company realized that just building green isn’t enough and that addressing the climate crisis and the affordable housing crisis doesn’t have to be an either/or proposition.

“We have to find opportunities for intersection,” said Susan Fairchild, director of investor relations and impact for Green Canopy.

In this case, Green Canopy’s expertise came to match Habitat for Humanity’s. As a nonprofit, Habitat has access to funding mechanisms that for-profit developers do not. But Habitat doesn’t have access to the sorts of scale and equipment that a for-profit can bring to the table, Fairchild said.

While it’s a challenge to build affordable housing, and more of a challenge to do so using sustainable techniques, Fairchild said Green Canopy can manage, owing to the systems they use. She said they are able to contain costs very close to the original estimates (almost unheard of in construction). Doing so allow them to understand where in their budget they can add in the needed green features.

“Because we integrate and make decisions on the front end, we can get the green choices in at the beginning,” Fairchild said.

In the case of the 14th Ave project, this is planned to lead to a Built Green 4-star rating, meaning they have an energy use 20% better than what is mandated by state code. As a happy side effect of building more efficient units, they should have lower utility costs. Welcome news for anyone, doubly so for the lower-income families in this project.

Sullivan said they hope to break ground on the project in the spring of 2022.

The projects are part of a small wave of efforts around affordable home ownership in Seattle. The Seattle Times reports Homestead Community Land Trust also is planning two condo buildings. Those projects are located in the Phinney Ridge neighborhood.

An important factor in the projects is keeping the properties affordable for future owners. Habitat’s properties will also be placed in a land trust “providing permanent affordability for future generations and ensure that low-income individuals and families continue to have a place to build lives in Seattle,” the organization says.

Meanwhile, Habitat’s 11th Ave project is set to begin accepting applications online on July 1st. Those interested in more information and applying to buy should visit Habitat’s website. Applicants must earn less than 80% of the area median income, be willing to “partner and complete sweat equity,” and have lived or worked in King County for at least a year. You’ll need to be able to afford a mortgage ranging from $150,000 to $195,000 for a one-bedroom to $300,000 to $325,000 for a three-bedroom unit. UPDATE: We have corrected this post. Applications open July 1st.

Household median income in the city, we should note, has climbed above $100,000.

The 14th Avenue project is not yet ready to accept applications, but it may sometime this fall. Sullivan said the best option is to watch Habitat’s homeowership website for updates.