Capitol Hill Housing is looking to expand its services outside Seattle, the affordable housing developer working toward financial sustainability.
At the annual Capitol Hill Housing stakeholder meeting on Tuesday, April 18, CEO Chris Persons told attendees a name change is also being considered as the agency rethinks its service area.
Roughly half of the 1,408 units owned and managed by Capitol Hill Housing are located outside of the neighborhood currently, and now the group is contemplating making further investments around the region.
“Fourteen hundred and eight units sounds like a lot, but when our rents are at 60 percent and below of the area median income, it’s not enough units really to be sustainable,” Persons said. “So we continue to need to develop property to be sustainable.”
Persons estimated 2,500 to 3,000 units are needed for Capitol Hill Housing to reach a breakeven point.
“We certainly can’t do that within the Capitol Hill boundaries, we probably can’t do that just within Seattle, so we’re really looking at expanding our services,” Persons said. “As we see the need to grow, the need to consider this [name] change becomes more and more apparent.”
Persons told the crowd not to expect a new name anytime soon, and the agency might decide against ultimately making any changes to the name.
Capitol Hill Housing plans on focusing expansion near transit centers, as the agency looks to grow within the broader region. Other future projects include streamlining the leasing process to reduce the vacancy rate, according to Heyward Watson, director of property management.
“In this marketplace, you all know that housing is a hot commodity, and affordable housing is an even hotter commodity,” Watson said. “So we got to get people in there sooner.”
To reach a goal of getting residents into units 15 days sooner, Watson said buildings will have onsite leasing.
During the annual meeting, Persons and several staff members also recapped their 2016 accomplishments, which included a pilot program that attempted to tackle the second-biggest household expense for many low-income residents—transportation.
Capitol Hill Housing partnered with the Seattle Department of Transportation to provide discounted Orca cards to residents in three of the agency’s buildings.
“We wanted to make transit more accessible for our low-income residents,” said Joel Sisolak, CHH sustainability and planning director. “The uptake was really great and now we want to expand the program.”
After the first year, SDOT, which subsidized part of the cost, now wants to grow the program to other neighborhoods and work with other affordable housing providers.
“Ultimately, we think that every affordable-housing household in King County should have access to transit through this program,” Sisolak said.
Jill Fleming, deputy director and CFO, told the audience even though the agency predicted 2016 to be a break-even year, the group ended with a $100,000 budget surplus.
“We had some challenges in 2016,” Fleming said. “We had no new developer fees from new deals. This was at the same time growth in our portfolio was requiring more staff.”
Fleming said the group balanced that with increased cash flows from properties and with money raised by the foundation, which had a great fundraising year.
Several projects in the pipeline include a 110-unit project near the Capitol Hill light rail station and a six-story 115-unit mixed-use project on the former site of the Liberty Bank Building at 24th Avenue and East Union Street in the Central District. Capitol Hill Housing is planning to break ground on that project this year.
Persons ended the meeting by addressing how changes in federal funding will impact the agency.
“The Trump administration is proposing a $6 billion cut to HUD [Housing and Urban Development],” Persons said. “The bottom line is, we are probably OK. HUD is probably going to see the brunt of the cost.”