The Low Income Housing Institute of Seattle is trying to buy a vacant lot in downtown Olympia for a subsidized housing development.
However, some say more low-income housing is a bad idea for downtown, and the city wants the developer to consider another site.
The institute is under contract to buy the 0.33-acre lot at 320 Columbia St. NW, located at the corner of Columbia and Thurston Avenue across from Percival Landing. Pat Rants, owner of Evergreen Olympic Properties, said he expects LIHI to close the real estate deal later this year.
The 43-unit housing development will be called Olympia Commons. At least 16 units will be set aside for homeless veterans and 10-12 units will go toward homeless young adults, said Sharon Lee, executive director of LIHI.
The building will also house disabled residents as well as families with children, said Lee, who praised the site’s proximity to amenities such as the Olympia Transit Center and Percival Landing. As for funding, the project is waiting for the state Housing Finance Commission to allocate tax credits, Lee said.
“We’re hoping to start construction at the end of the year,” Lee said. “We’re hoping that will be a very attractive building.”
Chelse Pagel, co-owner of Gardner’s Restaurant on Thurston Avenue, said downtown Olympia needs more market-rate housing — defined as properties that are rented or bought at market value.
Pagel’s business borders the proposed building site. She is concerned that more low-income housing will bring crime and vandalism to the area instead of an economic boost.
“Our neighbors are trying to take care of their properties. These guys are doing stuff to bring people down to this neighborhood,” she said, referencing the nearby Doubletree Hotel and the new Oly Taproom, among others. “We’re feeling like this is a step in the wrong direction.”
One of the city’s long-term goals is to bring more market-rate housing downtown. Market-rate housing represents about 10 percent of downtown’s 1,557 residential units, according to a 2013 report in the Thurston County Regional Consolidated Plan. At least 81 percent of downtown housing units are subsidized or considered low-income, while the remaining 9 percent are liveaboard units on boats in the city’s marinas.
Pagel and fellow co-owner Sarah Felizardo spoke about the development’s potential impact on their restaurant Tuesday at Olympia City Council meeting. Both called for a better balance between market-rate and low-income housing. The latter will deter customers from coming downtown, they said, adding that the area already has plenty of subsidized housing such as the Boardwalk Apartments.
“We’re afraid the venture can drive locals and tourists away,” Felizardo said Tuesday. “We know this will create a huge impact on businesses downtown.”
The city has not received any plans or applications for the LIHI project, said city spokeswoman Cathie Butler.
At Tuesday’s council meeting, Mayor Stephen Buxbaum said city staff has been asked to research other potential sites for the project.
“We have been in communication with (the developer) to try and collaborate and find an alternate site,” said Buxbaum, noting that “this is not a city project and does not have city money in it.”
If it’s built, the Olympia Commons would be the fourth subsidized LIHI property in Thurston County. Other properties include the Fleetwood Apartments, 119 Seventh Ave. SE, Olympia; Arbor Manor, 1322 Skyridge St. SE, Lacey; and Magnolia Villa, 1410 Magnolia St. SE, Lacey.