Ten years in the making, a vibrant development combines two of Seattle’s urgent needs—a high-quality early learning center for low-income families and affordable workforce housing—on the site of a former fire station in the Lake City neighborhood.
Community stakeholder input was critical to the development process, leading to the ultimate uses for the remaindered fire station site, which was transferred from the city to developer Low Income Housing Institute (LIHI) at zero cost.
“The Lake City community has really welcomed increased density and growth, they just like it to be thoughtfully done,” says Robin Amadon, housing development director at LIHI.
The Tony Lee—named in honor of the Seattle civil rights activist and champion for low-income families, people of color, refugees, and immigrants—includes 70 studio, one-, two-, and three-bedroom units for households earning 30%, 50%, and 60% of the area median income and a four-classroom preschool operated by the Refugee Women’s Alliance for 80 children from the neighborhood.
“Seattle has experienced increasing rents and a lot of new construction, but those developments are opening at pretty high rent levels in the market-rate niche,” adds Amadon.“There’s also a lot of energy stimulated by Enterprise Community Partners and city, state, and county governments about co-locating preschools and affordable housing. The goal is to disperse affordable housing and quality preschools throughout the city.”
Designed by Runberg Architecture Group, The Tony Lee is a cheerful building with pops of blue, green, and red, as well as a continuous dancing yellow ribbon peeling away at the building skin as an expression of play and to break down the overall scale. An 90-by-11-foot salmon mural conveys important themes in the community, such as the Duwamish tribe being the original settlers of Seattle, the many cultures represented in the city, what humans do to the water where the salmon travel, and an homage to the neighborhood’s auto history. In addition, the building is Evergreen Sustainable Development Standard certified, with a green roof and photovoltaic array, and built with acoustics and interior sound comfort in mind being adjacent to a new fire station.
The $22.2 million development, which was completed in August 2018, utilized a condominium structure to separate the uses and the funding. Critical to the preschool construction was $1.85 million from the city’s Department of Education and Early Learning, which administered the funds from a taxpayer-supported 2014 preschool levy. The Tony Lee also received 4% low-income housing tax credits and tax-exempt construction bonds issued by the Washington State Housing Finance Commission. Boston Capital provided the tax credit equity, and Umpqua Bank purchased the bonds and provided the tax-exempt permanent loan.