By Katherine Khashimova Long Seattle Times business reporter

The Sound Transit board voted unanimously Thursday to transfer at no cost 1.6 acres of unused land worth $9.38 million in the Rainier Valley to the city of Seattle, which plans to build 150 affordable townhomes and condos.

Lower-income households — those earning less than about $95,000 for a family of four — will be eligible to apply to purchase one of the homes for much less than market rate. A three-bedroom home in one of the new developments could cost roughly $290,000, according to the mayor’s office. Similarly sized market-rate homes in the Rainier Valley are currently listed in the mid-$500,000s.

One condition of the sale: The new owners won’t be able to pick their price when the time comes to sell and move out. They’ll have to agree to re-sell the home for more or less what they paid for it, taking inflation into account.

“Through these permanently affordable homes, we will create both long-lasting equity and stability for low-income families, as well as broader community control of land,” said Emily Alvarado, director of the Office of Housing, in a statement.

The Sound Transit transfer is the latest in a string of deals siting affordable housing on underused public land. In June, the city accepted the former University of Washington laundry near the Mount Baker light rail station to build 450 units of affordable rental housing. Last autumn, Seattle transferred three city-owned parcels to nonprofit developers.

The transfer of the Sound Transit properties “is proof of what is possible when government and community come together to advance racial equity in our most important causes,” said Mayor Jenny Durkan, in a statement.

“Our sky-rocketing rents, affordability challenges, our racist history of redlining and more have forced many from our Black community and other communities of color out of our City,” Durkan said. “The City of Seattle is making real on deep investments into communities that have been impacted by displacement.”

The city’s 2019 “community preference” policy will encourage whichever developer ends up building housing on the old Sound Transit land to prioritize longtime Rainier Valley residents when selecting homebuyers from the pool of applicants. A September report commissioned by the city found that residents of Southeast Seattle and some North Seattle neighborhoods were most vulnerable to displacement due to rising rents.

Sound Transit acquired the properties in the early 2000s to construct the Rainier Valley light rail line. When construction was completed in 2009, 16 parcels remained. The sites “for the most part are too small to accommodate the scale necessary to support affordable multifamily rental housing,” according to Sound Transit, but could work well as for-purchase homes.

The city’s Office of Housing will spend $10 million to develop the homes and intends to start construction by spring 2022. Families will be able to move into the homes in 2023, Durkan spokesperson Kamaria Hightower said in an email.

Durkan’s office said the transfer “builds on” the mayor’s proposal to invest $100 million “into communities facing systemic racism and oppression.” Durkan had pledged to invest that sum in communities of color in response to this summer’s movement for Black lives.

Community groups and some city council members, though, have questioned where that money will come from and how it will be spent, with some also voicing skepticism about the timing of recent transfers of other publicly owned properties in the Central District.

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The mayor’s statement cited the June transfer of the decommissioned Fire Station 6 at 23rd Avenue South and East Yesler Way to the Africatown Community Land Trust as evidence of Durkan’s commitment to “investments in neighborhoods experiencing gentrification.”

That transfer came as a surprise even to Africatown executive K. Wyking Garrett, who said he learned via social media that his organization would finally receive the fire station, the South Seattle Emerald reported in June.

Community groups initially secured the city’s agreement to turn the shuttered building into a cultural innovation center to boost Black-owned businesses in 2016. The transfer, though, stalled until this summer, when protesters jammed city streets calling for greater city investment in racial justice, with many advocating Durkan’s recall.

Similarly, the City Council passed a resolution in 2018 declaring the city-owned Central Area Senior Center should be transferred to the organization that runs the much-loved facility. The Durkan administration didn’t move on that resolution until September.

An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated the date the Durkan administration struck a deal with the Central Area Senior Center. The date was mid-September, not early October.Katherine Khashimova Long: 206-464-3229 or kalong@seattletimes.com; on Twitter: @_katya_long.


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