Mt. Baker Housing expects to start construction in 2020 on a 160-unit low-income apartment project with a community food center at 8600 Rainier Ave. S., near the light rail station in Rainier Beach.
Conor Hansen, director of real estate for the Seattle nonprofit developer, said this will be the first substantial apartment building to be constructed near the station since it opened in 2009.
Generally land near the station hasn’t been for sale or at the right price, Hansen said, and some developers are waiting to see if there is an upzone before moving forward.
Hansen said he expects more development, including market-rate units, near the station in the next few years, given the community’s diversity, proximity to water, and closeness to Interstate 5 and Renton.
“We believe this area is a tremendous opportunity, and we want to be the first to get the ball rolling,” he said.
Mt. Baker Housing’s project will be on a 50,000-square-foot site, with views of Lake Washington and be near sports fields and parks.
The developer sees the project as a gateway to Rainier Beach. The site is on the north edge of the town center outlined in the neighborhood plan update.
Hansen estimates the project cost at about $52 million, but said that could change.
The site is zoned to 40 feet but the developer will use the city’s Mandatory Housing Affordability policy to gain an extra floor, said Hansen.
The five-story building will have 8,400 square feet for Rainier Valley Food Bank’s headquarters and a “community food center,” which will include a commercial kitchen and a rooftop hydroponic farm. Since 1991, the food bank has operated out of a building near Columbia City.
The apartments will be for people making up to 60 percent of the area median income. There will be about 50 below-grade parking spaces, Hansen said.
Mt. Baker Housing bought the site for $4.2 million from Sunbright LLC and Surrendra Kavita Batra on March 30. Vince Vonada at Core Commercial was the broker for buyer and seller.
The developer said this is the first Seattle project to use Enterprise Washington’s public-private Regional Equitable Development Initiative Fund, recently launched to help finance property along transit corridors. Projects that use that loan must have at least 10 percent of units affordable to households at or below 80 percent area median income or 20 percent below the market rent for a comparable unit in the submarket.
The project will be financed with tax credits, tax-exempt bonds and Seattle housing levy money.
Hansen said Mt. Baker Housing was able to include the Rainier Valley Food Bank because the site meets federal criteria for a Low-Income Housing Tax Credit Qualified Census Tract.
That designation allows tax credit dollars to fund commercial space in a low-income project, when typically they may only be used for housing, Hansen said.
Mt. Baker Housing is planning two other low-income apartment projects near Seattle light rail stations: one with 144 units adjacent to the Mount Baker station at Martin Luther King Jr. Way S. and S. McClellan, and one with partners adjacent to the Judkins Park station. Both sites are contaminated, and must undergo remediation before construction can start.
Hansen said he expects a lot of new development in the Rainier Valley in the next five years.
There are a lot of new players permitting or trying to permit multifamily projects there. “From I-90 to Rainier Beach, land prices are going up rapidly,” he said.
MBH was founded in 1988, and owns and operates seven housing properties totaling just over 300 units, including the 144-unit Mt. Baker Village in Mount Baker.