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New Seattle housing complex aims to house working families, reduce climate footprint

Willow Crossing in Seattle's Othello neighborhood is built for tenants making 60% of the area's median income.

SEATTLE — On Thursday, Governor Jay Inslee, Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell, the Coalition for Affordable Housing Development and GMD Development celebrated the opening of Willow Crossing, an affordable complex on par with market-rate housing.

They touted the apartment building as an affordable complex on par with market-rate housing and complete with EV charging stations, solar panels and high-efficiency windows.

Willow Crossing is located a block from the Othello Link light rail station, with a goal of providing affordable housing for working families near public transit. The mayor and governor underscored the importance of providing more affordable housing so people can stay in their neighborhoods.

"There's a certain level of racial and socioeconomic and religious diversity - I call that the culture of an area - that's near and dear to me having grown up on these streets, that we're going to be very intentional about preserving," Harrell said.

Harrell noted that his own family made around 60% of the area median income growing up. That's the amount families make to qualify for Willow Crossing. He said it's essential to protect livability for Seattle residents making a wider range of wages. 

State Senator Rebecca Saldaña said she and other community members in the area have fought for transit justice and, that along with getting public transit in the neighborhood, it was a priority to ensure it would be longtime residents who benefitted from it, not just new residents who could afford to pay more for housing.

"Making sure that this promise that we had when we built the light rail would actually be seen and experienced by the people that live and worship and work in this district and that we wouldn't actually be all pushed out before we could see the benefits and the beauty of what we promised," Saldaña said.

Planners said the project was funded through the federal Low Income Housing Tax Credit and Tax-Exempt bond program headed up by the Washington State Housing Finance Commission. Governor Inslee said empowering more housing projects using these tools is crucial, and he hopes to unlock other options as well.

"The first thing we gotta do is remove some of the antiquated, antediluvian, unfair, anti-diverse zoning rules we have in our state of Washington that prohibits building affordable housing," Inslee said. "And we need the Legislature in the next session to work together with our city leaders to find a way to have more land available for affordable housing."

Along with housing, the complex will have affordable commercial space, including a new location of The Postman, a locally owned small business providing shipping and other services. 

"We're really excited to open up in this neighborhood and to expand our passions," co-owner KeAnna Pickett said. 

Pickett said she grew up in White Center in Park Lake Homes, which are no longer there. She said she understands the importance of preventing displacement and having a sense of "home" in a neighborhood. She's hopeful as a small business owner she'll have the chance to feel that again.

"When people ask where I'm from I have a sense I can't claim one neighborhood like the Central District like my husband who can say, this is where I was born and raised. I was born at the University of Washington and moved around. I lived in the Park Lake Home Projects. I've lived as far south as Federal Way and currently we've been displaced to Puyallup. But being a small business owner gives us those roots that I've sought my whole life and feel like I'm connected," Pickett said.

One of the residential tenants who will be living in Willow Crossing said the move is lifechanging.

"I kind of felt a little Sex and the City, or like Frasier, with the beautiful view, it's centrally located ...," Millicent Douglass said. "We are next to one of the stations here, not even a 4-minute walk, and there's always trains coming."

As a working mom, Douglass spent years juggling jobs and trying to afford to raise her daughter in Seattle; a city she said offers so many opportunities for her future. She said she and her 9-year-old daughter McKenna are thrilled to now have an apartment where they feel safe and where they each have their own room, offering a sense of solitude and stability as they work toward the future.

"I can now afford to work toward another goal, another dream, another aspiration. I love that I'll be able to start walking my little one to school again," Douglass said. "Having our stability and seeing it here within Willow Crossing is just above and beyond. It's unexplainable and so exciting."

Developer GMD Development recently completed projects including Linden Flats with 170 units in Bitter Lake and Encore Apartments with 60 units in Belltown. It is about to complete a 153 units development, Eclipse, in Fremont. They also recently started construction on 145 units at Watershed Renton.

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