FOLLOWUP: Highland Park ex-substation now officially open for ‘affordable homeownership’ proposals. Here’s what that means

Want to build commercial space and ~16 for-sale homes in Highland Park? As previewed last week, the city Office of Housing is now officially seeking prospective developers for the former Dumar Substation at 16th/Holden.

About a decade has passed since Seattle City Light declared it “surplus,” and now it’s finally on the pathway to something besides sitting vacant and fenced. Community advocates campaigned for it to be rezoned so that a mixed-use project would be possible, and it’s now zoned “neighborhood commercial” for up to four stories. Most recently, the city moved to transfer it from SCL to the Office of Housing, which is now in charge of finding an affordable-homeownership developer for the site.

The documents comprising the newly posted Request for Proposals describe the site and a project already planned for its periphery:

The site is rectangular, relatively level, and is estimated to be 9,425 square feet. In 2025, Seattle Public Utilities will construct a natural drainage system in the property’s frontage and within the public right-of-way. The natural drainage system will be located between existing sidewalks and the new edge of the roadway on SW Holden Street between 16th Avenue SW and 17th Avenue SW. The new system will help improve water quality in nearby Longfellow Creek, diversify landscaping in the neighborhood, and provide roadway and pedestrian safety by adding/updating ADA curb ramps. Proposals will need to include a plan to preserve this infrastructure.

The Office of Housing transferred $424,000 – the property’s current valuation as determined by the King County Assessor – to City Light, using funding from Mandatory Housing Affordability fees paid by developers instead of building affordable housing in their own projects. The documents say the Office of Housing will expect the developer to reimburse some of that, since it’s only supposed to go toward housing, and this project will include some commercial space. However, they also mention that the developer may apply for city subsidy funding to cover part of the costs of building. Other points of interest from the Request for Proposals – here’s how “affordable homeownership” is defined:

Affordability Level: The proposed sales prices must be affordable to households with incomes at or below 80% of Area Median Income (AMI) for the Seattle area as published on OH’s website. For the purposes of this Request for Proposals (RFP), affordable is defined as a 5% down payment, a monthly payment for housing costs (mortgage principal, interest, taxes, insurance, and other dues) of not more than 35% of income, a household size of one more person than number of bedrooms and a realistic mortgage interest rate. Proposals may not contain any market rate housing, even if proceeds from market rate housing would subsidize the cost of the affordable homes.

Affordability Duration: The proposal must be for the development of ownership housing with agreements that maintain affordability for a minimum of 50 years.

The developer also will be expected to involve community groups in figuring out how to use the ground-floor commercial space, the documents say:

Community-Informed Development of Commercial Space: Competitive proposals will include thoughtful plans to engage the community on potential uses for the commercial space and include plans for outreach to potential occupants with a focus on small, locally and/or Black, Indigenous, or other person of color owned businesses that will help to activate the neighborhood and encourage walkability. Local organizations serving Highland Park and its neighboring communities, such as the Highland Park Action Coalition, the Delridge Neighborhood Development Association, the White Center Community Development Association, the Cultural Space Agency, and Nepantla Cultural Arts Gallery, should be included in this outreach effort. Projects that propose selling the commercial space will score higher than those proposing to lease it.

Prospective developers have until May 24 to get their proposals in.

This site was one of six former substations in West Seattle that were authorized in 2015 to go up for sale. Only one has been developed into housing, the former Andover substation site on Pigeon Point; another is now Delridge Wetlands Park, while the other three sites remain vacant.

3 Replies to "FOLLOWUP: Highland Park ex-substation now officially open for 'affordable homeownership' proposals. Here's what that means"

  • $ ? April 2, 2024 (10:57 am)

    It will be interesting to see proposals, considering the restrictions. I can’t imagine how a property being purchased requiring homeowner(s)  to forfeit the American Dream of generational wealth accumulated through home ownership with its 50 year limitation. 

    • DC April 3, 2024 (9:02 am)

      The Area Median Income will rise over time allowing them to still make a profit when they sell it. Of course, it will be less than without the affordability requirement. But it is the affordability requirement that will have allowed them to afford the house in the first place. 

  • Americandreamer April 2, 2024 (5:10 pm)

    I see your point. This feels like the city is trying to pacify the people and appear to be helping while still taking care of big business and themselves as always. On one hand, there are many people who haven’t benefited from daddys money that aren’t thinking about generational wealth. Maybe because they are not having children, focusing instead on how they can contribute to society as a whole, or; they are still living paycheck to paycheck and generational wealth is long down the list of things to worry about. They, myself included, would just like a family home, to stop getting gauged on rent, somewhere they can build a treehouse for their kid, an ADU for their mom. Equity is great and your kids will be surely grateful – I am not knocking it – but generational wealth is kind of the definition of white privilege…A lot of us are not benefactors of such and struggle to attain any wealth in the current climate. NOT that this is the right solution… this just ensures that the gap between those who have always had generational wealth and those who don’t, will remain. Quite brilliant, in an evil way. It seems like a step in the right direction but yet it moves the finish line the same distance away and then.. just a little further. All while appearing to offer a head start to those in need. Ick. A better solution would be to ban big investment groups from buying residential property. They deplete the affordable housing available for first time buyers and rent it back to them at an expensive rental rate – that they can effectively drive up – placing the renters further away from saving to buy a home; should the first time buyer ever get to one before the big company, who pays in cash, does. Portfolios like this own 43% of housing in King County last I checked.  At the end of the day, it will be whomever wins this bid that actually gains wealth – and to be considered for the bid one must have a certain amount of wealth already – and the city will be able to say ‘aren’t we great!?’ and give themselves a nice bonus. And anyone who brings this point up will be viewed as anti-affordable housing, a nimby, or whatever the term of the day is, and we will be distracted with bickering, polarized into the two parties that do the same things anyway. The process will repeat on an endless loop, leaving the disadvantaged no better off and big business still profiting from it with the protection of government. Uh… I just depressed myself. 😔 

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