Olympia keeps senior housing proposal alive

Staff writerFebruary 13, 2013 

The Olympia City Council voted 5-2 Tuesday night to spend $30,000 for an environmental study of a city-owned parking lot where a five-story senior housing complex is proposed downtown.

Mercy Housing Northwest wants to build a 52-unit senior housing development on the southeast corner of State Avenue and Columbia Street. The nearly $10 million building would include about 1,300 square feet of ground-floor retail, offices, community space and 14 parking spaces.

Mercy has asked the city to sell it the 0.3-acre lot for $200,000. It hasn’t been determined who would pay for environmental cleanup, which could be costly. The study will better determine the cleanup cost.

The council didn’t decide Tuesday whether to sell the lot, but its action means the project is still alive.

Council members voiced varying opinions about whether the senior development would be a good use of the lot, but most agreed to the study. Voting in favor were Mayor Stephen Buxbaum and council members Jim Cooper, Julie Hankins, Steve Langer and Karen Rogers. Voting against were Nathaniel Jones and Jeannine Roe.

Buxbaum proposed the council do the study, which could be used for the Mercy Housing plan or for another proposal for the lot.

“I think this is an ideal site for senior housing,” he said.

Cooper said he thought Mercy’s proposal was a good project, and Rogers said downtown needs more senior housing, without committing to the project. Langer said “this is an excellent location for senior housing, but it might also be an excellent location for something else.”

Roe spoke against the study, saying the site could be a “prime piece of property.”

“I just have a concern with bringing more low-income housing into the city of Olympia,” Roe said, adding that the city already has plenty of such housing.

Jones said he was concerned whether the complex would revitalize downtown.

“I would be very interested in exploring other sites,” he said, “but I don’t believe it’s at the site that you’re proposing.”

Mercy Housing Northwest President Bill Rumpf said in an interview that it is drawn to the downtown Olympia site because it’s across the street from the senior center at The Olympia Center and has access to transit.

Mercy is asking the city and Thurston County to provide $550,000 in loans guaranteed by federal housing dollars, which it hopes to obtain by this summer. It will also apply for state Housing Trust Fund dollars.

It aims to buy the city property by fall, begin construction in July 2014 or June 2015, and open in August 2015 or 2016 depending on availability of state funds.

Mercy Housing Northwest is part of a national, Catholic-sponsored nonprofit that operates 16,000 affordable apartments nationwide. Some 154 of those apartments are in Olympia, at Evergreen Vista and Evergreen Vista II at 1209 Fern St. SW.

The proposed apartments would be reserved for seniors earning 50 percent of median income or less. The rents would be $350 to $600 per month, said Alisa Luber, senior project developer.

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