As cities above Cascadia attending to abstruse solutions, such as modular construction, to advice abode the region-wide curtailment of affordable housing, one of the better factors currently active up costs is additionally one of the best aggressive to intervention: Acreage prices, which can add tens of bags of dollars to the amount of bearing a distinct subsidized apartment.
Cities don’t accept a lot of accoutrement for blurred acreage costs, but they do own a lot of land—Seattle, for example, is sitting on added than 180 balance or underutilized parcels, abounding of which are adapted for homebuilding.
To aerate aborigine value, best cities usually bargain off their balance acreage to the accomplished bidder, aloof like any clandestine backer would do. But in cities with hot absolute acreage markets, affordable accommodation developers about don’t accept the banking assets to attempt for acreage with market-rate developers. So publicly-owned acreage ends up in clandestine hands, consistently forfeiting its abeyant to advice affected one of the better barriers to the architecture of subsidized homes: accretion of acreage to body on. The backers of Seattle’s Rainier Valley Food Innovation Hub, for example, accept been again outbid by clandestine developers.
But what if bounded governments beheld surplus acreage not as a acquirement architect but an befalling to abate displacement and balance communities? Several Northwest cities accept amorphous allurement that actual question. The aftereffect is a growing cord of affordable accommodation projects addition through Cascadia—from the better ancient advance in accommodation on city-owned acreage in Canada’s history, to an affordable accommodation and preschool development on the armpit of a above blaze base in Seattle.
Until recently, if you capital to apperceive what accessible acreage was accessible in the Seattle area, there was no axial database—no way to calmly accretion out, say, if a assertive fenced-off artifice of acreage that looked accomplished for development was endemic by the burghal or Sound Alteration or King County, whether it had the appropriate zoning, and whether it was up for sale. In 2015, anew adopted King Canton Adjudicator John Arthur Wilson absitively to do article about that; he directed his appointment to actualize a map of every allotment of about endemic acreage central canton limits.
The nonprofit Enterprise Community Partners broadcast on Wilson’s effort, afresh ablution the beta adaptation of an alternate apparatus that allows any absorbed affair to use filters to attenuated bottomward a account of about 10,000 developable accessible backdrop according to specific characteristics, such as zoning, aboveboard footage, and accommodation for tax credits.
“In high-cost cities, it’s absolutely acceptable absurd for nonprofits to advance on a endemic land,” James Madden, the Seattle-based chief affairs administrator for Enterprise, says. “The boilerplate acreage price, as a allotment of the absolute amount of development in Seattle, is about 10 to 15 percent, and if acreage continues to get added expensive, [nonprofits] will be priced out completely. Once you’re advantageous added than $30,000 a aperture [for land], it gets actual adamantine for a accessible bureau to absolve spending above that akin on acquisition.” Market-rate developers can allegation college rents to atone for aerial acreage costs—an advantage not accessible to affordable accommodation providers.
Wilson, the assessor, says the mapping accoutrement ability accept been abandoned informational—a database of accessible acreage for auction at prices out of ability for best nonprofit accommodation builders—if the accompaniment hadn’t taken the aing step, by giving bounded governments the ascendancy to advertise their acreage beneath bazaar amount or accord it abroad for free. “We aloft this affair with [state House apostle Frank Chopp] aftermost year,” Wilson says. “After we pulled calm the account of about endemic land, we said, ‘Here’s the problem: A lot of this acreage is endemic by agencies that accept to advertise it for fair bazaar value,” putting alike accessible acreage out of ability for abounding nonprofit agencies. In response, Chopp supported, and the assembly passed, a bill acceptance accompaniment and bounded agencies to alteration acreage to affordable accommodation developers at little or no cost.
Local leaders bound took notice. Seattle burghal board apprentice Teresa Mosqueda, who campaigned on the charge to body added dense, affordable housing, proposed and anesthetized two pieces of legislation this year advised to animate the burghal to accord abroad its surplus acreage for free. The first, which anesthetized in July, fabricated it accessible for Seattle’s electric utility, Seattle Burghal Light, to actuate of its balance acreage at little or no cost—a above abandonment from its antecedent policy, which appropriate the account to advertise acreage at fair bazaar value.
The second, which the board anesthetized absolutely beforehand this month, requires the burghal to accede whether surplus acreage can be acclimated for affordable accommodation and, if so, to accomplish it accessible for that purpose. The legislation additionally allows the burghal to ascendancy assimilate acreage while a nonprofit accommodation accomplice secures financing; directs the city’s Appointment of Accommodation to accomplice with “culturally accordant and historically rooted” nonprofits in areas breadth association are at aerial accident of bread-and-er displacement; and mandates that 80 percent of the funds from any absolute auction of burghal acreage go into one of the city’s affordable accommodation funds.
“Through acute administration of accessible land, and application surplus and underutilized accessible acreage for the best accessible good, we can abate the amount of architecture the affordable accommodation our communities need,” Mosqueda says. “This will additionally advice us apprehend added community-led affordable accommodation and small-business development” by giving accommodation providers added time to cull calm allotment and development affairs for backdrop that become available.
The greater Seattle area’s bounded alteration authority, Sound Transit, has had a agnate action in abode back 2016, back a accompaniment law went into aftereffect acute the bureau to action 80 percent of its surplus acreage to affordable accommodation providers, and appropriate the acceptable applicant to accomplish 80 percent of the consistent accommodation affordable to bodies authoritative beneath than 80 percent of the breadth average income—a action accepted as the “80-80-80” rule. The new accompaniment law complements that, acceptance Sound Alteration to additionally advertise its acreage for beneath bazaar amount or accord it abroad for chargeless to condoning affordable accommodation developers.
Already, Sound Transit’s aphorism change is advantageous dividends, in the anatomy of two approaching affordable accommodation projects. One, in the close Aboriginal Hill neighborhood, will be a bifold rarity: A high-rise affordable accommodation activity (nearly exceptional of in Seattle) with 368 units for low- and actual low-income seniors and families, congenital on acreage that would accept amount the nonprofit developers, Bellwether Accommodation and Plymouth Accommodation Group, at atomic $8.6 actor (the adjourned value) beneath the old Sound Alteration policy. Another project, this one adjoining to the planned Roosevelt ablaze abuse base in North Seattle, would body 245 new affordable units, including added than 100 family-size apartments.
Meanwhile, in the North Seattle adjacency of Lake City, a new accommodation and preschool development on the 9,000-square-foot armpit of an old blaze station—the blazon of baby bindle that, in the past, ability accept been awash to a for-profit developer—just opened its doors. The developer, the Low Assets Accommodation Institute, acquired the acreage at no amount in what LIHI administrator Sharon Lee calls “a continued and annoying process” that preceded the city’s accepted policy. Lee anticipates that the new law will accomplish it decidedly easier for nonprofits like chastening to defended acreage and move advanced with architecture faster.
“Right now, we accept to accretion a antecedent of bargain costs to buy the acreage and get arch allotment for accretion if the agent wants a quick purchase,” Lee says. “To the admeasurement that we can accept burghal or canton or accompaniment acreage that can be appointed for nonprofits [at no cost], I anticipate that will be really, absolutely helpful.” As Seattle’s accommodation bazaar sizzles on, owners added generally appeal actual abounding acquittal for land, as adjoin to the added acceptable advantage acceding to acquirement it later.
Housing advocates see alike greater abeyant in abundant above sites—like the city-owned three-acre “Mercer Megablock” in Seattle’s South Lake Union, a adjacency that is home to the city’s better tech companies as able-bodied as some of the accomplished residential rents in the city. The megablock is absolutely two properties—the alleged megablock or “teardrop” armpit on Mercer Street, and the Copiers Northwest armpit on Aurora Ave. N. The city’s contempo appeal for proposals (RFP) seeks the admittance of at atomic 175 accommodation units rent-restricted for households earning up to 60% of Breadth Average Income. The armpit has allowance for 1,300 homes.
On the accessible market, the accumulated megablock acreage is acceptable account in the ambit of $90 million—indeed, the RFP advertises the acreage as a attenuate advance befalling in a arena breadth rents, and accordingly profits, are acceptable to rise. But because both sites in the accumulated megablock were purchased, in part, with gas and bartering parking taxes, an estimated 54 percent of the accretion from the auction or charter of the acreage charge be either spent on busline purposes or alternate to the city’s busline department, according to Seattle account administrator Ben Noble. (The burghal adopted a absolute of $31 actor adjoin the Mercer armpit alone, including $26 actor for a adjacent alley activity and $4 actor for homelessness-related projects, which charge be repaid.) Any acreage amount above that could either be discounted to the developer in barter for accouterment of affordable homes on site, or acclimated by the burghal to armamentarium subsidized homes elsewhere.
It charcoal to be apparent how abundant affordable accommodation the burghal will advantage out of the amount of the land. Mayor Jenny Durkan afresh mentioned the megablock as an archetype of how the burghal can “make abiding that we’re not aloof affairs the silverware.” She continued: “The cardinal one catechism about every allotment of acreage that we’re activity to sell, trade, or the like… is how can it move us advanced on affordable housing.”
Outside Seattle, added Cascadian cities are demography accomplish to accumulate accessible acreage in accessible hands, and use it to actualize subsidized homes. In one of the best aggressive contempo examples, Vancouver, B.C.’s burghal board acclimatized a accord with the nonprofit Community Acreage Trust to body about 1,000 units of accommodation affordable to low- and moderate-income renters on accessible sites above the city. In a burghal breadth the average two-bedroom accommodation costs about $3,200 Canadian, the above two- and three-bedroom townhomes will max out at about $2,000, with hire angry to income.
In Tacoma, the city’s redevelopment ascendancy is appointment a allotment of acreage it owns forth a approaching ablaze abuse extension, at no cost, to the nonprofit accommodation provider Mercy Accommodation Northwest. The activity will accommodate 65 apartments affordable to seniors authoritative beneath than 50 percent of the breadth average income, and some apartments will be affordable to seniors authoritative beneath than 30 percent of median. Meanwhile, the Tacoma Burghal Board is alive on a new public-land disposition action and an account of about endemic land, abundant forth the aforementioned curve as Seattle’s.
Earlier this month, the burghal of Spokane—responding, like Seattle, to the state’s new surplus acreage bill—adopted a new action acceptance burghal agencies to alteration surplus acreage at low or no amount for affordable housing. According to the Spokane Spokesman-Review, the burghal of Spokane owns about bisected the acreage in the city. In a statement, Spokane Burghal Board President Ben Stuckart said, “Instead of consistently chargeless the amount of accessible acreage in agreement of dollars, let’s additionally attending at it in agreement of the cardinal of bodies we can abode on that acreage in accommodation they can afford.”
The burghal of Portland, which has its own online map of city-owned balance and surplus property, has an centralized action that requires burghal agencies to accomplish surplus acreage accessible for auction to the city’s Accommodation Bureau. This year, the city’s Water Bureau awash three acreage of acreage in North Portland to the Accommodation Bureau at a below-market amount of $3.35 million; the accommodation bureau affairs to use the acreage to body dozens of affordable homeownership units.
Across boondocks in Southeast Portland, according to Accommodation Bureau backer Martha Calhoon the burghal chopped about 10 percent off the amount of a activity for low-income seniors and parents adopting kids out of advance affliction by leasing acreage from the accessible schools and alms it to an affordable accommodation nonprofit, the Native American Youth and Family Center (NAYA), for free. (The project, alleged NAYA Generations, after drew altercation for affidavit different to the charter deal.) And in 2016, Multnomah Canton agreed to accord a one-acre acreage in North Portland, at no cost, to the California-based nonprofit Arch Accommodation Corp., which affairs to body 61 units of low- and very-low-income accommodation on the site—again, according to Calhoon, abbreviation costs by about 10 percent.
The abstraction of giving abroad accessible acreage to abutment subsidized homes instead of affairs it to anon armamentarium government casework may be atypical for bounded governments acclimatized to cerebration of surplus acreage as a banknote cow. But at a time back acreage prices are more out of ability for alike the best-funded nonprofit accommodation developers, cities can amend the donation of accessible acreage as a broadly adjourned tax that has abiding accessible benefits. By trading concise accretion for a abiding advance in affordable homes, cities can abutment assorted communities and acceptable bodies of all incomes.
In an ambiance where, as Madden from Enterprise notes, “it’s absolutely acceptable absurd for nonprofits to advance on a endemic land,” application the amount of accessible acreage to angel accommodation looks more like a astute investment.
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