OH News

Fall 2012

From the Director...


Property Tax Exemption Program Under Review

Seattle's Multifamily Property Tax Exemption (MFTE) program is one of the few tools available to create new housing offering below-market rents. MFTE offers an incentive, primarily to private developers, to include up to 20% of the units at lower rents in new construction projects in return for a property tax exemption on all residential units in a project. MFTE has always required balancing the tax exemption with appropriate affordability requirements, which can be tricky since the rental market is constantly changing.


Where should the program be available? Should it be a tool to spur development in weaker market areas, to secure affordability in robust market areas, or both? What affordability level is appropriate to provide both an incentive to participating developers and to get reasonable public benefit in return?


Last week the City Auditor's Office released a report on the MFTE program. Audit staff performed a "program audit," looking at program goals and OH administrative practices. The report offered 19 recommendations, suggesting City Council look again at program questions such as those posed above, as well as ways for OH to improve oversight.


Historically, we've revisited MFTE objectives every couple years, and we welcome the opportunity to do that again now. The rental market has changed significantly over the last 18 months, during the time the audit was conducted.


We also welcome the opportunity to strengthen administrative procedures. Over the last two years OH has received 47 applications from for-profit developers (plus two from nonprofits), a huge increase over previous years. MFTE applications come in prior to start of construction. With these projects now beginning to complete construction and enter the program, our administrative procedures need review and attention.


Ultimately, OH believes encouraging workforce housing is good public policy to help ensure Seattle is not a city for only the rich and the very poor. MFTE does not take away from our efforts to help the lowest-income households, who continue to be served by the Housing Levy and other funding sources. But moderate-wage workers don't qualify for most subsidized housing, and they are increasingly priced out of the Seattle real estate market. The Dupre+Scott Apartment Advisors Fall 2012 survey shows a 6.9% increase in average Seattle rents over the last year, as Seattle's vacancy rate drops to 3.09%. This low vacancy rate means demand is rising and renters are increasingly being left with fewer options.


In a hot real estate market, the difference between market rents and MFTE rents can be sizeable, especially given that market rents for new construction are considerably higher than those offered in older apartment buildings. MFTE thus helps secure the affordability of some units in neighborhoods that are growing quickly. In slower real estate markets, the rent difference may be less; however, these are precisely the markets that can benefit from a boost in new construction.


The record shows that in all but a small handful of cases, property owners are meeting the program's requirements. That said, the Auditor's report identified areas for better record keeping and opportunities to ensure continued compliance. We believe that many of the recommendations in the Auditor's report will help OH strengthen the program and further its success in ensuring affordability and an active residential development market.


-- Rick Hooper, OH Director

2012 Multifamily Rental Housing NOFA Update
OH Staff Changes
Yesler Terrace Redevelopment Update
HousingSearchNW Offers Landlord-Tenant Info
Hot or Cold Weather, HomeWise Can Help
Hard Hat Zone: Williams Apartments
State Updates Prevailing Wage Rates

2012 Multifamily Rental Housing NOFA Update

Seattle Housing Levy logo

OH's 2012 Multifamily Rental Housing Program Notice of Funding Availability (NOFA) application period, which closed Friday, Sept. 7, resulted in 11 applications for capital funding. In all, the projects represent a total request of $52 million in public funding (City, King County, Washington state). For more information on the proposed developments, download the 2012 Rental Housing Program NOFA Applications matrix.


OH released the 2012 NOFA in June, announcing the availability of up to $17 million in City funds for multifamily rental housing development. With a very limited amount of low-income housing tax credits (LIHTC) available and the restrictions on other leveraged dollars, we anticipate this will be an extremely competitive funding round.


Questions about the NOFA process should be directed to Laurie Olson, OH's Multifamily Lending Manager at laurie.olson@seattle.gov.

Staff Changes at the Office of Housing

A goodbye...

Last month, we said farewell to Cindy Erickson, longtime OH Asset Manager, who retired after 25 years with OH (and all its previous incarnations). Cindy has been instrumental in creating and shepherding through many of the systems and relationships OH and our partners depend on daily, including:

  • OH's Multifamily Housing Database, which we use to track and report on all of our multifamily rental housing loans and contracts (now more than 285 projects and 10,000 units);
  • The Monitoring Coordination Task Force, a partnership with other public funders that led to a common annual report and shared property inspections, simplifying the process for funders and housing providers;
  • OH's SeaGreen Guide, which guides energy conservation, operational savings and sustainable building practices in the affordable multifamily housing OH funds (and was a precursor to the national Enterprise Green Communities standard and Washington state's Evergreen program);
  • The Housing Preservation Guide, a "road map" for assessing the needs of individual affordable housing properties and entire portfolios, as well as developing workable plans for preserving that housing. The preservation guide was developed as part of portfolio preservation planning grants OH awarded to several of our nonprofit housing providers, funded through a three-year grant from the MacArthur Foundation's Window of Opportunity Affordable Housing Preservation Initiative supporting technical assistance, capital needs assessments and recapitalization strategies for nonprofit housing owners.

We will miss Cindy's knowledge and experience, her work ethic, determination and unique sense of humor, heavily influenced by her Minnesota roots.


We have been conducting interviews for Cindy's replacement, and hope the new manager will be on board in early October.


And a welcome aboard...

Also in August, OH welcomed Jennifer LaBrecque as the new HomeWise Program Manager, overseeing OH's weatherization and home repair loan programs. Jennifer replaces Miriam Roskin, who moved down the hall to take over OH's planning and policy work earlier this year.


Jennifer comes to OH from the City of Seattle's Office of Sustainability and Environment, where she managed the small business and multifamily sectors for Community Power Works. Prior to joining the City, she spent four years at Impact Capital, where she managed a neighborhood business district revitalization program in partnership with the City's Office of Economic Development and underwrote real estate loans for affordable housing and community development nonprofits. Jennifer holds a BA from Middlebury and an MPA from the UW's Evans School; she also completed the UW's certificate program in commercial real estate development. 


You can reach Jennifer at jennifer.labrecque@seattle.gov or (206) 684-0354.

Yesler Terrace Redevelopment Update

On Sept. 4, City Council approved legislation allowing the Seattle Housing Authority (SHA) to redevelop the Yesler Terrace public housing neighborhood. This is a major milestone in a large and complex project that will transform this neighborhood at the edge of downtown Seattle. The redeveloped Yesler Terrace will provide an increased amount of affordable housing in a mixed-income community close to jobs, transit and services.


Today the 70-year-old Yesler Terrace neighborhood contains 561 public housing units in one- and two-story buildings. Both the housing and supporting infrastructure require major upgrades to continue to serve low-income households. Lacking funds to upgrade the property, SHA proposed a higher density, mixed-income community in its place. The plan calls for sale of a portion of the property to help pay for 561 units of replacement housing, additional affordable housing, new streets, utilities, parks and other amenities. The redevelopment is expected to take 15 to 20 years.


SHA began working in 2006 with a Citizen Review Committee chaired by former Mayor Norm Rice to establish principles for the redevelopment. The proposed development plan and environmental impact statement were completed in 2011. Over the past year, SHA and City staff have worked on the package of legislation, including a rezone of the property and an agreement that addresses replacement of public housing, relocation of the residents, and a host of other elements critical to the project's success. City Council unanimously passed the legislation.


One essential element of the redevelopment is easing the transition for current and future Yesler Terrace residents. The 503 households currently living at Yesler Terrace will be given the choice to return when replacement housing is available. Those households, as well as other future residents, will receive assistance with moving, and the option to move to other public housing or to private housing with a housing voucher, depending on the number of vouchers awarded by HUD. The replacement housing will have roughly the same mix of unit sizes as the existing public housing to accommodate the small and large households residing at Yesler Terrace.


SHA is seeking federal funding through HUD's Choice Neighborhoods Initiative, the successor to the HOPE VI program that supported prior SHA public housing redevelopments. HUD awarded $10.2 million for Yesler Terrace in 2011, and SHA has requested an additional $19.7 million this year. In support of SHA's applications, the City committed $7.62 million in housing funds and $3 million in parks funds over the next five years. The City housing funds -- representing about 6.2% of housing development funds OH will have available between 2012 and 2016 -- will contribute to three housing projects with 202 of the total 561 replacement units and 90 additional lower-income apartments. By producing this housing early in the redevelopment, some residents will be able to move directly into replacement housing, reducing the number who must relocate off-site.


The ultimate objective is a community where low-income residents and nearby neighbors -- including many seniors, people with disabilities and new immigrants -- will be able to thrive. Along with the physical development, there are important community partnerships focused on Yesler Terrace. Seattle University and other organizations are supporting local students, particularly at Bailey Gatzert Elementary School. The renovated historic Steam Plant will be home to employment and training services as well as Head Start and youth tutoring programs for Yesler Terrace and surrounding neighborhoods.


SHA is proceeding with Phase I of the redevelopment on property east of Boren Avenue. Phase I includes affordable and market rate housing; developing the 10th Avenue hillclimb connecting to Little Saigon; community gardens at Horiuchi Park; and education support for Bailey Gatzert students and families. Counseling has begun for Yesler Terrace residents who will need to relocate for Phase II. SHA will submit the overall Yesler Relocation Plan to the City in mid-December.


For more information, contact Maureen Kostyack at OH, maureen.kostyack@seattle.gov, or Anne Fiske Zuniga at SHA, afzuniga@seattlehousing.org. Information about the project is available on SHA's website at http://www.seattlehousing.org/redevelopment/yesler-terrace/index.html. Additional information about the City process is available on City Council's website at http://www.seattle.gov/council/issues/yesler_terrace.htm or the Department of Planning & Development website at http://www.seattle.gov/dpd/Planning/YeslerTerrace/Overview/default.asp.

HousingSearchNW Now Offers Landlord-Tenant Information in 14 Languages

Leasing an apartment can be a difficult and confusing process in any language. For people whose first language is not English, it can be doubly challenging. HousingSearchNW.org now offers several documents that can be used by both landlords and tenants to make the process work more smoothly. To download a model lease, landlord-tenant laws, a move-in/move-out inspection checklist and more in 14 different languages, visit http://www.housingsearchnw.org/LegalServices.html.


The landlord-tenant documents were developed by a team of volunteer attorneys on behalf of the Margola Committee - a committee of landlord and tenant association representatives convened by the City of Seattle to recommend use of Margola legal settlement funds. The settlement funds supported translation of these documents as well as creation of HousingSearchNW.org and other community projects to improve rental housing.


HousingSearchNW.org is a free resource to help renters find a home anywhere in King County that fits their household needs and budget. Property owners and managers throughout the county can post apartments or homes for rent any time, which means that the HousingSearchNW list is always current. The website is accessible 24 hours a day, while a toll-free call center (1-877-428-8844) is open Monday-Friday, 6 a.m.-5 p.m. Interpretation in a number of languages is available through the call center. 

 HousingSearchNW logo

HousingSearchNW.org has been up and running since February and is now getting about 7,500 searches per week. Approximately 10,650 rental units are using the service.


If property owners and landlords have a rental property that they would like to list, they can do so on the website or by calling the toll-free number. The site host, SocialServe.com, also offers web-based trainings for case managers, social service agencies and others interested in helping clients search for affordable housing in Seattle and King County. For more information about upcoming training opportunities contact

Crystal Kirby at crystal@socialserve.com
Hot or Cold Weather, HomeWise Can Help

Think insulation is all about keeping the cold out and the heat in? Think again.


Orville and his wife Parry haven't experienced a cold, wet Northwest fall or winter (or spring, for that matter) since the completion of energy-efficiency work and other improvements to their home, facilitated through OH's HomeWise Program. But they already feel the changes.


"We did notice a big difference during this past little heat wave we had," Johnson said, referring to the few days in August when temperatures reached into the 90s. "With all the new insulation, the house was cooler. I'm sure we'll really notice it in the winter time."

Orville & Parry's home
Orville & Parry's home


Orville and Parry bought the home, built in 1945, from the original owner in 1999. Shortly after, they installed a new roof, but otherwise, everything in the home was original, including the plumbing and windows. "All of it was really on its last legs," Orville said. "Our house really needed a lot of things, but we couldn't really afford to do all that was needed."


Orville, a self-employed musician who also teaches and writes about music, heard about HomeWise from a friend who had used the program. With Parry currently not working because of a disability, the combination of the grant-funded weatherization measures with a no-interest home repair loan made it financially feasible to complete all necessary repairs and improvements to extend the life of their home.


Weatherization work, which is free to income-qualifying households, included weatherstripping of doors, installation of bathroom and kitchen exhaust fans, plus insulation in the attic, walls and basement. These measures will make the home more comfortable (cooler on the hot days, warmer on the cold days), as well as reduce energy use.


OH's home repair loan program allowed Orville and Parry to complete other much-needed improvements, including replacing those 65-year-old windows, plumbing and electrical fixes, exterior painting and other minor repairs. As with all HomeWise clients, they also received carbon monoxide detectors, a smoke alarm and compact fluorescent light bulbs.


"The program really enabled us to make [our home] last, really, for the rest of our lives," said Orville. "If we get 30 more years out if it, we'll be happy."


To learn more about the Office of Housing's HomeWise Weatherization and Home Repair Program, visit www.seattle.gov/housing/homewise or call (206) 684-0244.

Hard Hat Zone logo 

Welcome to the Hard Hat Zone, where we provide updates on the construction of affordable housing developments that receive Office of Housing funding. This month we're highlighting Plymouth Housing Group's Williams Apartments.

Williams Apartments
Williams Apartments under construction

Williams Apartments 

Last spring, Plymouth Housing Group broke ground on the Williams Apartments, located in the Cascade/South Lake Union neighborhood on Pontius Avenue North, between John and Thomas streets. Once completed in January 2013, the building will provide 81 studio apartments for single men and women with a history of long-term homelessness who have faced major obstacles to housing, plus three units for resident managers. With the help of onsite supportive services, Plymouth will operate the building in a manner that promotes sobriety for tenants.


Additionally, eight units will be set aside for veterans, with the support of VASH vouchers. The HUD-Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) program combines Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) rental assistance for homeless veterans with case management and clinical services provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).


The first floor will include a lobby, community room, computer lab, social service office space, a 24-hour security office, common laundry room and an outdoor patio space for tenant use. There will also be a room for on-site health services.

Williams Apartments rendering
Williams Apartments rendering


There's been a lot of visible, high profile growth in this neighborhood in recent years, especially with Amazon relocating its headquarters there in 2010. Economic development is important, but often people with the fewest resources and power bear a burden from the impacts of development activity in our neighborhoods. But in this case, Amazon's move to South Lake Union is helping in the creation of these apartments, as the City's incentive zoning program provided an avenue for the developer to contribute money to OH's affordable housing fund. OH is investing some of this money, together with Seattle Housing Levy dollars, in the construction of the Williams Apartments.

State Updates Prevailing Wage Rates
The Washington State Department of Labor and Industries' Prevailing Wage Program has published updated wage rates. The new wage rates became effective on Aug. 31, 2012, 30 days after publication.


Construction work on multifamily projects funded by OH is subject to minimum wage rate requirements. OH has established a set of procedures and monitoring practices to ensure the appropriate payment of wages.


L&I offers two ways to view or print prevailing wage rates:

  1. At the following website you may view or print a report of the new journey level wage rates by county or by trade: https://fortress.wa.gov/lni/wagelookup/wageupdatepublication.aspx?PubCtlId=55
  2. You may also look up or print prevailing wage rates for journey level or apprentice wages by visiting the following webpage: http://www.lni.wa.gov/TradesLicensing/PrevWage/WageRates/default.asp. Be sure to select an effective date on or after 8/31/2012 in order to view the new wage rates.

If you have questions regarding the prevailing wage rates please contact Emma Moreno of the City of Seattle's Finance and Administration Services Department at (206) 684-0384 or emma.moreno@seattle.gov.


OH's wage rate policy, plus other related documents, can be downloaded from OH's website at http://seattle.gov/housing/development/construction.htm. If you have questions about OH's policy, please contact Dan Foley at (206) 684-0585 or dan.foley@seattle.gov.

Seattle Office of Housing logo
Home Base is published monthly by the City of Seattle Office of Housing. OH funds affordable workforce housing, both rental and ownership, as well as supportive housing that helps vulnerable people achieve stability and move along a path toward self-sufficiency. Office of Housing initiatives also help stimulate housing development, allowing families to thrive and neighborhoods to provide a full range of housing choice and opportunity. The mission of the Seattle Office of Housing is to build strong healthy communities and increase opportunities for people of all income levels to live in our city.
For more information on our programs, visit our website. If you have questions about this newsletter, please contact Julie Moore via email or at (206) 684-0604.