Slog - The Stranger's Blog

Line Out

The Music Blog

« Tucker Carlson on Dancing With... | Dreamy Aberdeen »

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Upscaling the U-District

Posted by on September 13 at 12:34 PM

As $1 million is beginning to look like a cheap price tag for a downtown condo where are all those reasonably but not outrageously well-paid professionals going to move in search of affordably classy living?

Looks like: The U-District.

Four major market-rate apartment buildings are currently in the works around the Ave… though market-rate is a questionable term, since rents in the U-District are lower than much of the city and county. Several dust-ups occurred this past year over whether higher rent apartments are good for the neighborhood and what qualifies as “affordable.”

Harbor Properties is constructing two big projects (the 73 unit Ellipse and 78 unit Helix) at the corner of 12th and 50th NE. The Ellipse originally caught my eye because the foam core advertisement posted on the fence around its construction area promises a free Feng Shui consultation with move-in. Between the night club names and the yuppie nod to eastern spirituality, I was highly skeptical about what sort of people the developers were hoping to attract to the U-District.

Well, explains Harbor Properties project manager Amy Baldwin, young professional types. “There’s not a lot of quality housing for people who can afford it,” she told me. In June, the vice-president of Harbor Properties wrote an article in the Seattle Daily Journal of Commerce called ”Urban Core too Pricey? Try the U-District” which notes that the time is right for constructing upscale apartments in the U-District as “graphic designers, researchers, nurses, artists and other `creative class’ members” get priced out of downtown.

The exact rent in the new buildings has not yet been decided, but Harbor Properties says they’ll be studios, one and two bedrooms and rents will be in line with those of similar buildings in the U-District, like the Kennedy. In that complex, studios go for $950 a month and two bedrooms for $1,585. Here’s a rendering of the Helix, with the main building entry on 12th and the cross street being 50th:

and here’s the Ellipse, which is on 12th (for context, this is next to a Walgreens and across the street from a Safeway):


So they’re not building affordable housing. But at least they’re not jacking tax-payers while they do it. Two blocks over, an apartment complex with an even more cringe-worthy name - the Lothlorien — is taking a $1.5 million property tax break for renting three dozen units at $914 to $1,112 a month. Although the average one bedroom in the U-District rents for $750 a month, the Lothlorien’s rents are technically “affordable” since they’re within the city-defined means of people making 70% of Seattle’s median income (or $38,150 a year).

Baldwin says she and other Harbor Properties planners heard the onslaught of negative community feedback about the Lothlorien’s “affordable” development and decided NOT to seek the tax break for the Ellipse and Helix, even though they might be able to qualify.

So it’s inevitable that the U-District is going to see more upscale renters moving in (with just the Lothlorien, Ellipse, Helix and long-planned Unico building, the district will see 302 new apartments priced over $900 on the market in the next five years) but since these projects can fit through the affordable housing tax break loophole, the hot question is what affordable housing advocates should do next. Fight to change “affordable” to be defined on a neighborhood, not city-wide basis? Mandate contributions to an affordable housing fund at the risk of scaring developers?

Kian Pornour, a board member for Roots homeless shelter — which is adjacent to the proposed 26 market-rate apartments of the Unico building — had an interesting response when I asked him whether he was nervous about the new class of people moving in so close to the shelter. He believes the shelter and the neighborhood will benefit from more upscale renters. “We’re counting on people who are moving there volunteering at the Shelter,” he said, “The best way to get them on your side is to recruit them and make them part of your family. Recruit them! Ask them for money!

CommentsRSS icon

So how profitable is this "non-affordable" affordable housing for the developer? So profitable that Harbor couldn't make it work despite the volume of units (guess they should have applied for the tax breaks after all). Both projects are on the market while they are under construction (which is unheard of here in Seattle). Such desperate measures indicate that the numbers have turned really bad, really quickly. Don't count on the new buyer to offer rents anywhere close to what Harbor told you for the post.

Only in Seattle could a sinking neighborhood like the U District lobby against market rate housing.

Remember when apartment houses had names like the "Mari-Don", the "Ellen", and the "Kon-Tiki"? Plebian, but referring to actual people and things, not "lifestyle concepts". The older and grouchier I get the more I believe that "marketing consultant" is an even more offensive descriptor than "Bush operative". And that people who express interest in free Feng Shui consultations would make excellent labor camp inmates.

I wonder if the Lothlorien was built by the same company that built the Rivendell on 15th. I about vomited when I saw that for the first time, particularly as it was sorority girl central.

Adding market-rate housing to the mix is only a good thing in terms of new neighbors plying the streets and the influence they affect. That said, the question of market-rate "rentals" may be irrelevant in regard to Elipse and Helix - Both projects are currently being offered for sale (and are listed with CBRE). Reasonable odds that this pair end up serving the "for sale" market as a condo conversion...

Maybe the builders were counting on Microsoft to buy the Safeco building, as was rumoured. Instead, the UW's futher expansion to Brooklyn St may create more space for students rather than "young professionals."

Are you kidding me? There's a building going up named after Galadriel's forest from LOTR!?

Ahhh yes, more of the new Seattle. Hope y'all are enjoying the "density".

It's amazing to see the Stranger, after years of baiting affordable housing advocates as being "anti-density", put out info like this without any kind of mea culpa.

Why is no one complaining in these threads the way they are complaining about new development on Capitol Hill? Is there not anything hip or interesting to preserve in the U-District? Dive bars? Red Light? Sassy gay poser bars? AMERICAN APPAREL FOR CHRISSAKES!

I'll readily complain about the glut of built to the lot line (and overpriced) yuppie anthills developers are vomiting up in the UD - but not about American Apparel - which managed to fill a long-vacant retail space without putting up some generic oversized monstrosity in its place.

Never mind that median icome is BEFORE all the excess expenditures and taxes from WA's higher than average cost of living.


A million is not much for a condo. In Manhattan you wouldn't get much for a million. I love the cheap real estate in Seattle, and I agree there's no reason to encourage cheap rents. Anyone who doesn't buy a condo is just flushing their money down the drain.

Easy for you to say, you fucking prick.

Comments Closed

In order to combat spam, we are no longer accepting comments on this post (or any post more than 45 days old).