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April 10, 2020
Market-rate housing is stalled in Seattle due to the COVID-19-related ban on its construction, but low-income housing is moving forward.
One example is Plymouth Housing's 105-unit Bob and Marcia Almquist Place apartment building, which opened in March at 501 Rainier Ave. S. in the Chinatown-International District.
The all-studio, six-story building is for people who have experienced long-term homelessness and live with behavioral health challenges. It includes three units for live-in staff.
Tim Parham, Plymouth's director of real estate, said low-income housing is critical for homeless people who can't shelter in place. Even in shelters, he said, social distancing can be challenging despite the good work of the people operating them.
“There's nothing like being in your own four walls of your own home,” he said.
Low-income housing construction is an exception to Washington Gov. Jay Inslee's March 23 “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order, which limits non-essential business activities, including most other construction.
Parham said worker safety is important to Plymouth Housing. It is working with its general contractors and subcontractors to keep its jobsites safe by doing things such as sequencing work so people are not coming in close contact with one another and requiring workers to have personal protective equipment and wash or sanitize their hands.
However, he said, despite support from the governor, state and community for low-income housing, Plymouth is concerned that productivity may dip while it implements those safe measures.
Plymouth is getting inquiries from design firms seeking work, he said, but construction firms locally still appear to have a full pipeline.
The full impact of COVID-19 on the construction industry hasn't really hit yet, he said, but longer term the global pandemic is likely “to impact everyone in every market and every labor pool.”
Plymouth's housing is targeted at homeless adults.
With record-breaking numbers of people applying for unemployment benefits, Parham said the number of people becoming homeless may rise.
“Our housing is needed now more than ever,” he said.
Bob and Marcia Almquist Place was completed a week early as Plymouth, fearing a shutdown of all construction in Seattle, worked with general contractor Walsh Construction to get city inspections completed quicker than usual.
Amenities in the $33.5 million project include community rooms, a medical office staffed by NeighborCare Health, 1,100 square feet of retail space, and a maintenance shop for Plymouth's residential portfolio. There are also 11 parking spaces for staff.
A corner plaza has a public art piece by Louis Chinn and Huangmeng Yu.
Leasing will start at the end of April. The project is open to people who make up to 30% of the area median income. For a one-person household, 30% is $23,250, Parham said, but the incomes of most of the residents are expected to be about half that.
Financing came from the city of Seattle, King County, Washington State Housing Trust Fund, Enterprise Community Investments (a tax credit investor), and Bank of America.
Weinstein A+U designed the building and Fazio Associates was the landscape architect. The team also included Glumac, electrical design; Sider + Byers, HVAC design; Sunrise Plumbing; Merit Electric; and Emerald Aire, HVAC.
Linc's Tackle and Chau's Auto Repair were on the site before Plymouth redeveloped it.
Seattle-based Plymouth preserves, develops and operates supportive housing for adults experiencing homelessness and provides them with opportunities to stabilize and improve their lives. With this latest project, it owns and operates 15 buildings with a total of 1,156 apartments in and around downtown Seattle.
Plymouth said Bob and Marcia Almquist were among the volunteers who founded the organization in 1980, and continued to play integral roles. In the 1990s, Marcia served on Plymouth's board. Bob, who died in 2019, was a Plymouth staff member for 15 years. He worked in the social services department as a housing case manager and later as a supervisor to housing case managers.
Parham said that typically during a recession, which it appears we're heading into, low-income housing is one of the constants.
“There's always a market for what we provide,” he said. “Unfortunately we're a necessity.”
Lynn Porter can be reached by email or by phone at (206) 622-8272.