New affordable housing and preschool at site of former Lake City fire station

SEATTLE  --   A brand new building is providing relief for some low-income renters.

They’re moving into 70 new apartments, at a site that once housed a city fire station.

The six-story apartment building is located on the site of Lake City's old Fire Station Number 39, at the corner of N.E. 127th and 30th N.E., a block west of Lake City Way.

The property was transferred from the city of Seattle to the Low Income Housing Institute.

There’s a preschool on the first floor, and a rooftop deck.

Close to 300 people applied for the 70 units.

So many people wanted to live there, they had to have a lottery drawing to choose the winners.

“We had one of our board members pull out the names, because it’s almost like winning the lottery or winning gold if you can get an affordable apartment,” said Sharon Lee, Executive Director of the Low Income Housing Institute.

Only those who earn between 30% and 60% of the King County Area Median Income were eligible to apply.

“We are going through the process of going through the paperwork and making sure people are qualified,” Lee said.

The building is named after Tony Lee, a Seattle-area civil rights advocate and champion for low income families, people of color, refugees and immigrants.

Rents at the Tony Lee Apartments will range from $526 for a studio apartment, to $1,353 for a two-bedroom.  They're intended to be affordable to households with incomes of $21,050 to $42,150 for a single person and $30,100 to $60,200 for a family of four.

“We have people moving out of homelessness moving into this building,”  Sharon Lee said.  “So it’s not just low wage workers making minimum wage.  It’s also people who may have a pension or disability.”

One of the new tenants just moving in, is Preston Wallace, a disabled veteran with two children.  Three years ago, he and his children were homeless, and living out of a 1997 Chevy Suburban.

“I never thought one day in 2015 I would find me and my two youngest children without a home,”  Wallace said.  “It was a hard trek, one with a lot of soul-searching and coming together and reasoning with life in a different aspect.  With all the disabilities I have, I tried to get through that.”

With help from housing advocates and counselors, Wallace did get through it.  He says his mother taught him to always keep trying.  And now he’s moving into a brand new three-bedroom apartment with his kids.

“There were a lot of tears,” he said.  “A lot of frustration.  A lot of endless times when I thought this has got to end somewhere.  And it did.  So I’m grateful to be here.”

“He moved in here because he has difficulty walking and he doesn’t have to climb stairs,”  Lee said.  “He has a three-bedroom, two-bathroom unit, so he and his kids will be thrilled to live here.

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan says the the Tony Lee Apartments are just one example of how the city can step up to help those in need.

"People can't afford to live in Seattle anymore,” Durkan said.  “And if we don't take intentional, immediate steps to address that, this city will lose its soul and change too much beyond, in front of our eyes.  We're already seeing that happen.  And so programs like this are a stake in the ground to say we can take city property, a fire station, we can think about what it will be for the next generation."

The building includes 15 studios, 25 one-bedrooms, 25 two-bedrooms and 5 three-bedroom apartments.

The first floor includes a four-classroom preschool operated by the Refugee Women’s Alliance.

A rooftop deck, garden planters and solar array are features of the building designed by Runberg Architecture Group.

Walsh Construction Company was the General Contractor overseeing construction.

The leadership of the Low Income Housing Institute says they nominated Tony Lee for the name of the new building, because of Lee’s achievements in this city that include helping so many others.

Tony Lee was in the hospital, recovering from a serious illness during the day’s Grand Opening of the building.  He was not able to attend.  But family members say they can’t wait to bring him there for a tour.

“Tony can always be found in the halls of Olympia, the mayor’s office, the city council and county council, fighting to increase social services, public assistance, immigration rights, health care and housing,” said Melinda Nichols, Vice Chair, Low Income Housing Institute.  “He was effective and compassionate.”

“He’s a charming person and he uses every skill that he has to get what needs to be done for people who need help,”  Nichols said.  “We hope for his speedy recovery and we can’t wait to get him here to see this site.”

The Tony Lee Apartments is just one of the many projects being undertaken by the Low Income Housing Instititue.

“We are finishing a building in downtown Renton that will be for homeless veterans and low wage workers,” said Lee.  “We are starting construction on affordable workforce housing in Little Saigon.  We have 100 units on Island County.  And we have another building we’re trying to get constructed near Othello Station.”

But she says the biggest, and most frustrating barrier to building more low-income housing, is finding financing for construction.

“So, we have land that’s sitting there vacant, waiting for housing capital funds,” she said.  “And this is really serious, because we have a homelessness and housing crisis.

“We have a little bit of good news,” she added.  “The county council voted to give $165 million for low income housing from the hotel-motel tax revenue.  And they reduced the amount for the Mariners and awarded $165 million for workforce housing.”

Resources for the Tony Lee Apartments were provided by the voter-approved Seattle Housing Levy.

Mayor Durkan announced $100 million in city investments in affordable housing through the Office of Housing in 2017 and plans to announce another $70 million later this fall.