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JUNE 10, 2019 //     

A Bellwether for Affordable Housing

Credit: Seattle TimesBy: Hamilton McCulloh


Progress is very good for economic development. Longtime residents of the Pacific Northwest still recall the billboard in the 1970s on I-5 that asked, “Will the last person leaving Seattle turn off the lights?” following a massive layoff at Boeing. It was primarily a one-industry town at that time.

Fast forward 40 years, and the region is home to Amazon, Microsoft, Starbucks, Costco, Nordstrom, Zillow, Weyerhaeuser, Expedia, REI, and many others. Tech giants like Google, Facebook and Apple are all expanding operations here. Progress is indeed good, but growth does pose significant challenges — traffic and affordable housing chief among them.

This issue is not unique to Seattle. According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, the United States has a shortage of seven million rental homes affordable and available to extremely low-income renters whose household incomes are at or below the poverty guideline or at 30% of their area median income. This is true in all 50 states, although it is extreme on the West Coast in markets like San Francisco and Los Angeles, among others.

This is what it looks like when tens of thousands of people move to one City every year. The rapid rise of new Seattle: Time-lapse video shot over 3 years captures city’s massive growth

Let’s park the traffic problem for now and focus on affordable housing. Thanks to a very innovative non-profit organization, Seattle may be unique in how to respond to the challenge.

Bellwether Housing was created by business and civic leaders through the Downtown Seattle Association in 1980 to help close the gap between income and ever-increasing rent. Its goal was (and is) to build diverse communities where people of all incomes and backgrounds share in the prosperity of the region. Bellwether believes it is vital to create stable communities and access to opportunity through affordable housing, even as demand far outpaces supply. The organization steps in to develop and manage homes for people with limited incomes near job centers.

Bellwether provides affordable homes to 3,500 people every year at 32 properties. But its next challenge is even greater, and Bellwether is going to need a lot of help.

Bringing the community together to help solve the problem

Affordable housing in rapidly growing cities is not a new challenge. And the solutions are not so easy to explain. So how does one go about developing a communications strategy to engage the local decision makers?

Allison+Partners’ Real Estate Group works with a wide range of real estate organizations, helping them to communicate to stakeholders what is being done to enhance affordability and livability in their communities. We recently hosted a reception on behalf of Bellwether Housing. In attendance were 60 of the region’s top developers, investors, contractors, brokers and architects, among other business and civic leaders, to hear from Bellwether CEO Susan Boyd about their new impact-investment opportunity.

By pulling this group together, key decision makers from across the region’s business and civic communities now have a much greater understanding of how they can help make this innovative vision a reality – collectively. 

Investing in opportunity, our neighbors and co-workers

In response to the accelerating need, Bellwether’s Building Opportunity Campaign offers socially minded, accredited investors a meaningful way to address the affordable housing challenge. Invested funds come to Bellwether and go directly into a targeted housing development. The housing financed today is preserved for future generations.

Building affordable housing costs just as much as building any other property. Bellwether is working to develop 750 new units in four buildings in the Puget Sound region to respond to the area’s increasing affordability gap. Each new development is located on the Sound Transit Light Rail line for easy and affordable transit.  

Rents continue to outpace salary growth for many. Bellwether Housing has secured $257 million through a variety public grants and non-profit partners but they need to raise an additional $9 million in private funding to fully leverage the power of the money raised to date. The private funding allows them to offer homes to a wider range of incomes and develop larger homes for families. Those who invest will receive a modest but guaranteed return on their investment over five, 10 and 15 years. But really, the idea of helping people have the security of a place to call home is a great investment.  

Here is video that provides more information.

Hamilton McCulloh is a vice president in Allison+Partners’ Real Estate Group. He has more than 20 years of experience overseeing communications, community engagement and media relations in the real estate industry.

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