Affordable housing, eco-friendly construction come together in Renton townhomes | KNKX

Affordable housing, eco-friendly construction come together in Renton townhomes

Apr 29, 2021

Tucked away behind a mix of single-family homes and new apartments, close to the Renton Highlands Library and transit lines, is Willowcrest Townhomes, a new development meant to demonstrate how affordable homeownership can blend with eco-friendly design to create stability for local families.

It also shows how much it takes to pull off. 

Willowcrest is a 12-unit townhome complex developed by Homestead Community Land Trust, a nonprofit that works to preserve and create affordable homeownership options for households making between 60 percent and 80 percent of the area median income. That’s often called “workforce housing,” or “the missing middle.” 

The three- and four-bedroom townhomes cost between $243,334 to $315,000, substantially less than the $589,173 that real-estate website Zillow quotes for “middle price tier” homes in the city. The model allows buyers to build a limited amount of equity while keeping the homes affordable in future sales.

The Renton Housing Authority donated the land for the project, but even so, it took 11 sources of funding to get the 12-home project off the ground, said Kathleen Hosfeld, executive director of Homestead, to a group of city and county officials who gathered at Willowcrest for a tour of the new townhomes.

“We can do 30, 40, 50 units if we had the funding,” Hosfeld said. 

Homestead received $500,000 from King County under its transit-oriented development bond fund to pay for construction as well as another $180,000 from the county’s WaterWorks grant program to fund stormwater infrastructure.

 

The city of Renton put in $332,000 for additional eco-friendly infrastructure and worked with Homestead and the Renton Housing Authority for roughly five years to bring the project to fruition, said Mark Santos-Johnson, the economic development manager for the city.

Homestead broke ground on the project on April 20, 2020, the month after Gov. Jay Inslee declared a state of emergency in response to the coronavirus pandemic. The lockdown and closure of many public buildings created some unorthodox challenges with the paperwork, said Eric Pravitz, Homestead’s director of real estate development.

“I got a mobile notary to bring the title documents to the director of the Renton Housing Authority,” Pravitz said. “We set up a table in his driveway.”

The group did manage to avoid some of the construction cost escalations brought on by the pandemic, securing lumber before it more than quadrupled in price, Pravitz said.

The landscaping will be native and drought-tolerant plants with no additional irrigation infrastructure needed to support them. Homeowners will have rainwater barrels to capture water from the roof for their own planting needs. A filtration system at the back of the development is designed to relieve stress on the system by collecting and filtering additional runoff into massive underground tanks.

The homes are outfitted with solar panels, and even the foundations are insulated to prevent heat from escaping and to make the units as efficient as possible. LED bulbs provide indoor lighting, the plumbing is low flow and the carpets are made out of recycled content.

Willowcrest provides a model for future development in King County, said Executive Dow Constantine.

“We’re really focused on a number of policies: getting people housed, providing people homeownership opportunities and also reducing our climate impact,” Constantine said. “This project brings all of those priorities together and shows they can all work in harmony. This can be done.”

One important aspect of the development’s sustainability is that the units will stay affordable. 

Eli Kaufman owns a single-family home in Burien purchased through Homestead in 2016. He and his family had been considering a move away from family, friends and their jobs before they moved out of their Seattle apartment into their new home. The profit-driven real-estate sector isn’t aligned with the notion that all people need and deserve affordable housing, said Kaufman, who is now a Homestead board member.

“I think we like the idea that we can benefit from owning a home and that whoever we sell this to will enjoy the same benefit in that all people into the future would, based on this same housing model because it’s based on perpetual affordability in homeownership, not just for the first buyer,” Kaufman said.

Homestead anticipates that it will start the application process for the townhomes as early as next week. 

Three of the homes are reserved for people who are low-income and in an insecure housing situation, which can be because they’re in an unsustainable unit or potentially fleeing domestic violence. Another three units have four bedrooms each and will go to people with larger families, and then the remaining six will be sold.

King County Executive Dow Constantine, at left in UW mask, helps paint a design on the sidewalk at Willowcrest.
Credit Ashley Archibald / KNKX