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October 2015

700 workforce homes planned near transit centers

(Speaking) Dow Constantine, King County Executive and Sound Transit Board ChairUp to 700 units of affordable workforce housing would be built near transit stations in King County as part of an initiative announced in late September by King County Executive Dow Constantine. A trio of mechanisms would fund development of the mixed-use, mixed-income communities.

Photo: (Speaking) Dow Constantine, King County Executive and Sound Transit Board Chair

"Light rail has the power to transform communities. With this vision we can be deliberate about creating vibrant, walkable, economically diverse neighborhoods around new and existing stations," said Constantine, who serves as Sound Transit Board Chair. "Using funding tools authorized by the Legislature, we can create at least 700 units of permanently affordable workforce housing to help meet the regional need, while catalyzing market-rate residential and commercial development near rail stations."

The Executive's Transit Station Housing and Development Initiative calls for creation of Transit-Oriented Developments, or TODs, that include housing, shopping, schools, and job centers. It would be funded in three ways:

  • King County Housing Bonds - As much as $45 million over the next six years would be generated under new authority from the Legislature to use anticipated lodging tax revenue sooner than expected. The final amount will be determined in collaboration with stakeholders and the county council. The revenue will fund creation or preservation of at least 500 units of affordable workforce housing in healthy and sustainable transit-oriented communities.

  • REDI Fund - At least $18 million is currently pledged to a new revolving loan fund called the Regional Equitable Development Initiative. REDI funds will enable the purchase of land and buildings for construction or preservation of 200 units of workforce and mixed-income housing over the next five years. The REDI Fund will be administered by the non-profit Enterprise Community Partners.
  • Sound Transit 3 (ST3) ballot measure - Legislators who authorized ST to go to the voters for expansion of light rail added a workforce housing fund for creation of housing near light rail stations. Subject to voter approval, it provides authority to contribute an additional $20 million over four years to a revolving loan fund, like the REDI fund. (A public vote is anticipated in November 2016.) The agency has authority to institute three different taxes to fund Sound Transit 3: a property tax of 25 cent per $1,000 dollars of assessed value of property within its taxing district, an additional 0.5% in sales tax, and a motor vehicle excise tax (MVET) of 0.8% of the vehicle value annually.

Northgate StationDuring a news conference at Northgate Station to unveil the plan, officials from the public and private sectors praised the undertaking.

Photo: Northgate Station

"Our expanding rail network is opening up so many opportunities to align housing and job centers with transit stations," said Greg Johnson, president of Wright Runstad & Company. "I was excited to learn that King County is taking a leadership role in helping to realize these opportunities."

"As a non-profit developer of affordable housing, I applaud the county executive for combining these potent resources to enable equitable development near light rail lines," said Bill Rumpf, president of Mercy Housing Northwest, which breaks ground in December on housing for 108 lower-wage working families on an ST site next to Othello Station.

"Sound Transit's commitment to make more land available near light rail for affordable and workforce housing will enable us to build much more housing for families to get to work, school and play," added Rumpf.

"The State is proud to be a partner in this new regional TOD initiative," said State Rep. Jessyn Farrell, who authored the amendment to create the workforce housing fund in ST3. "Working together at the state, regional, and local level, we can help catalyze developments to maximize our investment in regional light rail."

In the next eight years Sound Transit is on track to build more than 30 miles of light rail extensions approved by voters under ST2. As the system expands and stations are completed, the executive has led board action to direct that surplus land be freed up for community-building opportunities radiating outward from the stations.

"Rents and housing prices are rising faster than wages all over King County," said King County Councilmember Dave Upthegrove, chair of the Council's Health, Housing and Human Services Committee. "I look forward to working with the Executive to build more housing as quickly as possible to help alleviate this housing crisis for King County's working families."

Also attending the unveiling was Devin Culbertson, Program Director for Transit-Oriented Development at Enterprise Community Partners. "Thoughtful site selection is the cornerstone of creating affordable, connected communities," he remarked. "Sound Transit dispositions and REDI Fund acquisitions can together create a pipeline of opportunities to efficiently provide hundreds of homes to those at risk of being priced out of the region's transit-rich neighborhoods."

Since its formation in 1982 Enterprise has worked to create opportunity for low- and moderate-income people through affordable housing in diverse, thriving communities. Headquartered in Columbia, Maryland, it offers a range of financial products and programs to improve and increase the supply of affordable housing as well as revitalize communities.

Under the Regional Housing Initiative, Sound Transit will ramp up its work "to make station areas vibrant and thriving places where people of all walks of life will live, work and play." The agency will kick-off a four-month effort to engage stakeholders and develop recommendations for the Sound Transit Board. Other near-term elements include a listening tour, workshops and a summit early next year.

Photos courtesy of Sound Transit