Low Income Housing Institute

Specialty: Develop, own and manage low-income and affordable housing; provide technical assistance to other nonprofit developers

Management: Sharon Lee, executive director

Founded: 1991

Headquarters: Seattle

Current projects: Denny Park Apartments; Cabrini First Hill Apartments; Belltown View (in development), which will house LIHI’s offices, the Belltown Community Center and moderate-income housing along with retail and for-sale condos; Lake City Court (in development), which will house the Lake City food bank and a medical clinic, along with housing for homeless veterans and other single people

Photo courtesy of LIHI
LIHI earlier this year opened the Cabrini First Hill Apartments, which has 50 apartments for low-income seniors.

The Low Income Housing Institute specializes in housing for the hardest to house, such as homeless veterans and low-income senior citizens. The nonprofit has 14 projects on tap, from Lynnwood to South Seattle to Bainbridge Island.

Innovative financing, creative partnering and an excellent track record help LIHI do this work. Last month, the city of Seattle passed an ordinance to give the organization some property on Dearborn Street, in the Central Area, for a community land trust. LIHI will build 18 townhouses and flats at the site.

Under the terms of the trust, LIHI will sell the properties, but keep the land.

“The units are much cheaper because the land is not part of the purchase price,” said Sharon Lee, LIHI’s founder and director.

A troubling trend

The conversion of rental apartments into condos in Seattle is a very troubling trend, said Lee. Thousand of units that were affordable to working families are now out of reach.

“Once they are converted, the price doubles or triples and people are displaced,” Lee said.

In other cities, renters have the “right of first refusal” to buy their unit when it becomes a condo, she said. “We would like to see something like that in place (here).”

The end of homelessness?

LIHI relies on the state Housing Trust Fund to develop many of its buildings. The fund provides low-interest or deferred loans, up to $1.5 million, to nonprofit developers who are building housing for very low-income people.

That fund needs to be bigger, Lee said, if Seattle and King County are to reach their goal of ending homelessness in 10 years.

“There have to be capital funds to build the housing and the operating and service dollars to maintain the housing,” she said. “There’s an ever-increasing number of homeless families with children who are being turned away from shelters.”

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