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Private developers help build low-income housing in Tacoma

Private developers are calling for a more streamlined process so low-income housing can be brought to market faster.

TACOMA, Wash. — The building at the corner of South 46th Street and Pacific Avenue used to be a convenience store, but Bill Schilling of the Garmish Capital Group says it’s now become so much more. 

Pacific Flats is an apartment complex meant to provide low-income housing for Tacoma residents.

The complex has 13 apartments, with rent ranging from $900-$1200, below Tacoma’s fair market rate.

Schilling says the project was a three-year process. Parts of the building, which was first erected in 1925, had to be completely renovated, and the price tag exceeded $1 million.

Jason Gauthier of South Sound Affordability Partnership says the project shows what can happen when the public and private sectors work together.

“This is a great example of a developer being creative, working with the City of Tacoma to find a product that’s going to be more attractive for folks to move into, but also establishes a price point that folks are going to be able to afford at a variety of income levels,” Gauthier said.

Gauthier also says the state legislature is investing $20 million into affordable housing projects in Pierce County, which he says will create more than 500 units of affordable housing over the next few years.

However, Schilling says using money from the public sector would’ve delayed the process.

“We were not able to get public funds,” Schilling said. “The process was going to be too lengthy and difficult to get public funds.”

Schilling says that’s a problem because while private developers can be more innovative and work faster, the current system makes it hard to get the work done, and delays can be costly. 

“We’re more efficient than the public sector, but even so, we need to be more efficient because it still cost us a lot of money to build this,” he said. “We need to be more efficient in the permitting process to have cooperation with the city permitting, as well as our contractors, we have to have them on an efficient timeline so we can bring the product to market.”

Gauthier says that it’s important that cities in Pierce County create an environment that gives developers the incentive to bring projects to the area and provide vital housing.

“Developers are going to pick and choose where they feel most comfortable and most supported developing,” Gauthier explains. “How quickly we’re able to issue permits? How quickly are we able to inspect projects to keep them moving along on the timeline that the developers and their investors expect to begin to see their returns once that project is finalized.”

Despite the current hurdles, Schilling says this work is necessary and is calling on private individuals to look for projects like Pacific Flats to invest in because he says Tacoma and Pierce County as a whole, need more affordable housing.

“Let’s get this moving, it needs to be done,” he says. “We need safer streets, safer places to live. Hopefully, this is the beginning and other people will see it. It’s a billboard of making a change.”

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