By Mahlon Meyer
Northwest Asian Weekly
A developer will build an eight-story, 103,899 square-foot building at 701 South Jackson Street, in the Chinatown-International District (CID), with 202 residential units, according to the prospective purchaser consent decree. The site contains hazardous substances below ground, and the developer, “701 S. Jackson Partners, LLC,” has agreed to excavate the contaminated soil and monitor it in the future.
According to the website of the Washington State Department of Ecology, work has already begun.
The plot of land upon which construction will take place is appraised at $3,831,400.
Housing Diversity Corporation formed the limited liability company that has contracted with the Department of Ecology to clean up and develop the site. CEO Brad Padden describes the project as a way to bring “affordable housing” to the area.
“Rents for all units will be set at levels affordable at the 40%-80% [Area Median Income] (AMI) level according to United States Department of Housing and Urban Development income levels for the Seattle Metro Area,” states the consent decree. The AMI of the CID is $33,578, according to Niche.com.
According to the consent decree, the building will include 118 one-bedroom units averaging 395 square feet, 18 small efficiency dwelling units (SEDUs) averaging 285 square feet, and 66 congregate units averaging 224 square feet. A congregate unit does not have a full kitchen, according to Padden.
Rents for each unit will be approximately $1,400 to $1,600 for one-bedrooms, $1,200 to $1,400 for SEDUs, and $800 to $1,100 for the congregate units, said Padden.
Low rents in some units will be made possible by a tax exemption from the city.
“The project will participate in the Multi-Family Tax Exemption (MFTE) program to the maximum extent possible to include even more affordable options within the building,” according to the consent decree.
The MFTE program provides a tax exemption in exchange for income and rent-restricted units. It requires that 20% or 25% of the apartments in a participating building be less than market rate, providing a rent of “typically hundreds of dollars less per month,” according to Housing Seattle Now, a city initiative.
The MFTE program expires after a maximum of 12 years, meaning the tax exemption ends and developers can raise rents.
“From this perspective, you can see how these types of developments can relatively quickly transform from having one-third of units ‘affordable’ to mostly luxury apartments in about a decade,” said Matt Fowle, a doctoral student in the Evans School of Public Policy and Governance at the University of Washington, in an email.
In an interview, however, Padden said future residents could potentially find vouchers from religious organizations, for instance, to lower rents even further. He said he would also potentially work with housing providers in the CID to encourage them to develop vouchers.
But it was unclear what vouchers are specifically available, and as of press time, Padden had not responded to a follow-up question about them.
Fowle said such vouchers could conceivably come from nonprofit organizations.
Still, he said, “Many nonprofit organizations only have the resources to provide time-limited financial assistance, meaning the units would only be ‘affordable’ until the assistance runs out. Assuming the displaced residents could even afford to live in the new development with the vouchers, what will they do when they run out?”
Frank Irigon, who in 1972 led demands for low-income housing in the CID, said that transit-oriented development is one of the primary factors for the lack of low-income housing in the neighborhood.
From the 1930s to the 1970s, the site was used as a service station. Underground gasoline tanks contaminated the soil. For decades, the Department of Ecology knew of the contamination, which included petroleum hydrocarbons, naphthalene, and BTEX, and exceeded the state’s standards. The contamination of the soil also extends under the street, “a portion of the right-of-way at Seventh Avenue South and South Jackson Street.”
The site, called “the Seventh Avenue Service site,” is one of approximately 14,000 sites in the state that are contaminated.
The Department of Ecology enters into binding legal agreements with “potentially liable parties or persons” to clean up the sites. The Department of Ecology provides oversight.
“Not all liable persons or parties have funding or resources to clean up sites, so a site may await cleanup for a number of years until, as in this site’s case, a prospective purchaser comes forward with a proposal to clean up and redevelop it,” said Scarlet Tang, Communications Manager, Northwest Region, Washington State Department of Ecology. “The current status of the Seventh Avenue Service site does not allow for use as housing, so a cleanup is necessary before it can be redeveloped.”
In the last two decades, the site has largely been devoid of commercial activity, according to a briefing by the Department of Ecology, except for a storage room for a retail tea shop.
Padden said the procedure for cleaning up the site would involve excavating the contaminated soil and creating an underground wall against the contaminated soil remaining under the street. A filtration system would prevent further contamination.
“The reason this project has been looked at by potential buyers for 30-plus years but has never been redeveloped is, first and foremost, due to the fact that it is contaminated. In Washington state, the buyers of a contaminated site inherit the liabilities of the previous owners, which causes debt, equity, and insurance to become difficult if not impossible to obtain,” said Padden in a follow-up email. “We spent almost two years drilling and reporting on the subsurface conditions to get Ecology what they needed to provide them with a 360-degree view of the entirety of the subsurface conditions at the site.”
The cleanup is being performed in adherence to the Model Toxics Control Act, which is very strictly enforced in Washington state, added Padden.
“Throughout the cleanup we will be monitored by licensed third party geotechnical and environmental engineers who will provide additional compliance oversight. They, in turn, will be monitored every step of the way by the Washington Department of Ecology. The engineers will be taking soil samples as we go, testing those samples at state licensed laboratories, and will be providing daily guidance to the contractors to ensure a complete cleanup, including the installation of any protective measures, all in compliance with the Cleanup Action Plan (CAP),” he said.
This is Padden’s first cleanup, he said. Still, an outside expert said that given the many developments his company has undertaken, he would necessarily have extensive experience in confronting ecological and similar challenges.
According to the Department of Ecology, the CAP includes demolishing existing structures on the site, removing any contaminated soil within property boundaries—an estimated 6,000 cubic yards will be disposed of—and creating a covenant with the developer for long-term monitoring.
Monitoring of the site for hazardous issues will take place every five years after construction is completed.
“This is a standard compliance time period for ongoing monitoring for a site like this,” said Padden.
Later in 2022, the Department of Ecology is expected to finalize legal documents governing the project.
By sometime in the spring of 2023, 701 S. Jackson Partners, LLC is expected to complete its engineering design, secure permits, and go out for construction bids, and begin demolition and excavation.
Both are expected to be completed “within four months of start date,” according to the Department of Ecology.
Sometime later in 2023, construction is set to begin.
Comments may be submitted about the project to the Department of Ecology by emailing the site manager, Jing Song, at email@example.com.
Mahlon can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.