Olympia makes deal with low-income housing developer on downtown site

Olympia has negotiated a deal with the Low Income Housing Institute of Seattle to sell the nonprofit a different vacant lot for a proposed 43-unit development downtown.

Known as the Olympia Commons, the project had initially been slated for 320 Columbia St. NW, across from the Percival Landing waterfront. However, the institute now wants to buy a different site: a gravel lot at the northwest corner of State Avenue and Adams Street, near the Olympia Transit Center.

Both sites are about one-third of an acre, but the main difference is the price. The city is asking for $100,000 for the property, and as a condition of sale, LIHI will agree to provide affordable housing at the site for 15 years.

Lee would not reveal the asking price for the lot at 320 Columbia St. NW, although she said it approached seven figures. According to the Thurston County Assessor, that lot had been purchased in 2008 by Evergreen Olympic Properties Inc. for just more than $1 million.

The Olympia City Council is expected to vote Tuesday on a purchase and sale agreement for the State and Adams site.

The housing development is intended to serve homeless veterans, homeless young adults, disabled residents and families with children. Sharon Lee, executive director of LIHI, said she expects construction to start by the end of the year.

“The city was willing to look at providing a good price for the land, which means we’d be able to put more money into the construction,” said Lee, noting the site’s location next to the Transit Center and its proximity to social services as assets. “It’s an ideal location.”

The original Columbia Street site had been controversial from the start. Nearby business owners raised concerns that the project would attract more nuisance crimes. City officials cited a need for more balance downtown between subsidized housing and market-rate housing. The latter is defined as properties sold or rented at market value.

The new site is located about one-third of a mile to the east of the original site. City Manager Steve Hall said the proposed sale of the State Avenue property, if approved, would represent a win-win for all parties. The undeveloped property was valued at about $300,000 by the county assessor, said Hall, adding that the city wanted to offer it to LIHI for a price that made the project viable.

“It will make something happen on that corner,” Hall said. “They can be an enhancement to that part of town.”