Opportunity and Policy Intersect to Create Affordable Housing

In 2019, when Habitat for Humanity Seattle-King County began talking with a local property owner about constructing new homes on a site in Burien, the City was at the same time developing a demonstration program to incentivize the construction of affordable housing. It was the perfect intersection of opportunity, policymaking, and resources bringing new affordable, owner-occupied housing to Burien.

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In 2019, when Habitat for Humanity Seattle-King County began talking with a local property owner about constructing new homes on a site in Burien, the City was at the same time developing a demonstration program to incentivize the construction of affordable housing. It was the perfect intersection of opportunity, policymaking, and resources bringing new affordable, owner-occupied housing to Burien.

“It was pretty exciting,” said Patrick Sullivan, chief operations officer for Habitat for Humanity SKC. “We could go to City Council as they were reviewing the demonstration program and show that we had already identified something that, should they pass the ordinance, we would go in with an application to work with it. We were the first organization to come in.”

In 2020, the City Council approved Habitat for Humanity SKC’s application to be included in the new Affordable Housing Demonstration Program. Soon after, the Habitat for Humanity SKC team got to work designing a new neighborhood of 40 affordable townhomes that will be offered for sale through their Buy Habitat program.

The development will feature a green space, community center, and playground. There will be parking spots for each townhome, with a total of 55 for the entire development. The buildings will be constructed using environmentally sustainable methods. A 100-foot buffer along the southern edge of the property protects Miller Creek and a similar buffer runs along the western side. Several exceptional trees will be preserved on-site.

Architectural rendering of housing development.
The development will feature green space, a community center, and a playground. Credit: Habitat for Humanity Seattle-King County.

The program allowed Habitat for Humanity SKC to double the number of homes they were building.

“We were able to create a project that otherwise wouldn’t have had the number of units [needed] to fund the project itself through our various revenue sources,” said Sullivan. “But it also made it a more impactful project. If we only built six units, those six units are great, but 40 units has a more sizable impact on the community.”

Community members from across the region, including Burien, can apply to be eligible for a home through the buyhabitat.org website. If accepted into the program, they will be required to take classes on homeownership, give 250 hours of “sweat equity” labor to the building of their new home, and receive assistance and guidance with securing financing for the purchase of the home. To be eligible, community members must meet certain income requirements and have lived in King County for at least one year.

Volunteers also help build the homes, helping with tasks like framing and painting. Subcontractors take on the more specialized tasks, such as electrical and plumbing.

The development is part of a permanent land trust, and if a homeowner chooses to sell the home, they must make a commitment to keeping the price affordable for the next homeowner. They will also be required to participate in a homeowner’s association (HOA) administered by Habitat for Humanity.

According to data collected for the South King County Sub-Regional Housing Action Plan Framework, Burien has the second-highest home prices in South King County. Over the past few years, the average price of rent for a two-bedroom has increased by 45 percent and median home prices have increased by 101 percent.

“Burien is experiencing an affordability crisis along with the entire region.  We need homes that are affordable to all types of households, so this is an exciting project. Habitat for Humanity is providing affordable home-ownership opportunities for families who will live in Burien,” said Susan McLain, director of Burien community development.

Habitat for Humanity Seattle-King County has similar projects in development in neighboring communities including Renton, Lake City, and South Park. The people who live in the Habitat communities reflect our region’s diverse communities. They work as bus drivers, nurses, teachers, and firefighters. Many maintain two or more jobs and have big families.  

“You’ll find that Habitat communities are close-knit,” said Amy Farrier, chief development officer for Habitat for Humanity SKC. “A lot of that comes from working sweat equity together. Even before they move in, they are familiar with their new neighborhood and know their neighbors.”

In other Habitat communities, they have found that people are often buying into a community where they already rent. With homeownership, families can stay in the community and children are able to stay in the same school.

Construction is slated to begin in summer, with a groundbreaking ceremony. A grand opening dedication celebration will invite the community and the new homeowners to celebrate the first families moving into their new homes.

“Our dedication ceremonies are always the most exciting part, because that’s when our Habitat families are crossing the threshold into homeownership,” said Farrier.

About the Affordable Housing Demonstration Program

Burien’s Affordable Housing Demonstration Program provides incentives and flexibility for the development of affordable housing, providing the City with an opportunity to evaluate potential barriers to the construction of affordable housing and make recommendations on changes to development regulations. The new program allows up to five affordable housing demonstration development projects to be developed in Burien. The Planning Commission and Burien City Council are both involved in evaluating the projects and assessing if they are compatible in the neighborhood. There are currently two projects that have been accepted into the program.

About Habitat for Humanity King County

Founded in 1986 as an independent affiliate of Habitat for Humanity International, Habitat for Humanity Seattle – King County has served more than 2,000 families in King County through affordable home construction and preservation, beginning with their very first building on the Issaquah Highlands.

Since then, Habitat SKC has brought together thousands of community members each year to become part of the solution to the region’s affordable housing need. Habitat SKC is dedicated to eliminating substandard housing locally and worldwide through constructing, renovating, and preserving homes, advocating for fair and just housing policies, and providing training and access to resources to help individuals and families improve their shelter conditions.

Community members, organizations, or businesses are invited to volunteer on this project. Learn more at the Habitat for Humanity Seattle-King County website.

Emily Inlow-Hood
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