Seattle—After a natural disaster made its oldest building uninhabitable, a Seattle nonprofit that serves the homeless found a way not only to restore the historic structure, but also to provide a new type of housing for the population formerly served by its shelter.
The foray into permanent housing was a first for the Compass Center, which has been providing shelter for the homeless since its founding in 1920 by a Lutheran pastor and his wife.
The move came after the 2001 Nisqually earthquake—at a 6.8 magnitude, Seattle’s worst in more than half a century—cracked walls and sunk a stairway at the Compass Center’s five-story building in the city’s heavily touristed Pioneer Square section of downtown.
“The building couldn’t be torn down,” said Cindy Jackson, the center’s development director. “It had to be renovated because it was a historic building in a historic neighborhood, so we were able to take that space and make studio apartments.” The $6.2 million rehabilitation was financed with a combination of government loans, private donations, and federal subsidies. As part of the building rehab, the hygiene center, where hundreds of homeless individuals each month use laundyy services and take showers in a health club-style locker room, was renovated, as a was the Compass Center Bank.
The award-winning bank is one of the few in the nation created specifically to serve low-income and homeless customers. The facility not only offers a safe place for the homeless to keep their money, with 700 savings accounts, but also pays bills such as rent and utilities for 175 “protected payees” who have been deemed unable to take care of their own finances by the Social Security Administration.
As part of the renovation, the Compass Center built a second structure on a cramped lot next door.
That building, which offers 78 units of transitional housing along with counseling and other services, was financed separately from the renovation of the building now known as The Karlstrom Apartments, but was designed to be an integral part of the continuum of care provided by the center. It houses 77 Compass Center’s administrative offices as well as offices for visiting professionals, has a communal kitchen for residents, and provides three floors of housing which homeless men can occupy for up to a year.
Residents in the renovated building, which reopened last year with 23 studio apartments of 389 square feet each, are typically graduates of the transitional housing program next door who are referred by case managers.
The units, which have new kitchens, fixtures, and electrical systems, are all targeted at residents with very low incomes, except for the manager’s unit, which rents for $648 and is slated for a resident earning up to 60 percent of the area median income (AMI). Of the remaining apartments, 17 are targeted to residents earning up to 30 percent of AMI and rent for $381 a month, and five are slated for tenants with incomes up to 40 percent of AMI and have rents of $517.
Residents are mostly single men dealing with challenges ranging from substance abuse to mental illness. The center provides drug and alcohol counseling, as well as employment and life-skills training.
The renovation was financed in large part by $2.5 million in equity from 9 percent low-income housing tax credits and $1.1 million in equity from historic tax credits, with the Washington Mutual Affordable Housing Fund, LP, as investor and Enterprise Community Investment, Inc., as the syndicator. The city contributed about $1.4 million through its Office of Housing and a federal Community Development Block Grant.