An affordable housing development funded largely by Microsoft co-founder Paul G. Allen broke ground in Seattle.

Under development by Mercy Housing Northwest, the Mount Baker Family Housing & Resource Center will provide 95 housing units for low-income families. The nonprofit will operate the complex along with partners Mary’s Place and the Refugee Women’s Alliance.

Designed by Runberg Architecture Group, the eight-story Mount Baker Family Housing & Resource Center will bring 95 affordable apartments to Seattle.
Runberg Architecture Group Designed by Runberg Architecture Group, the eight-story Mount Baker Family Housing & Resource Center will bring 95 affordable apartments to Seattle.

The residential component of the project will cost about $39 million. The Family Resource Center capital budget is $7 million and is expected to serve about 2,300 people per year.

In 2017, Allen announced a $30 million contribution to fund the development. The Seattle Office of Housing provided $5 million and another $10.7 million came from 4% low-income housing tax credits (LIHTCs) through investor U.S. Bancorp Community Development Corp. Bank of America Merrill Lynch is a lender in the project.

“It is definitely a unique and great experience for me and for Mercy Housing Northwest to have a philanthropy contact us and make such a substantial gift for an individual project,” said Bill Rumpf, president of Mercy Housing Northwest, which will own the center.

Allen, who has made several other sizable grants in the $500,000 to $1 million range to help end homelessness, instructed his organization to research how he could have a big impact on a specific project, which led to the new development, according to Rumpf.

Rumpf has been at Mercy Housing for over eight years and was deputy director of the Seattle Office of Housing for about 10 years. During this time, he’s kept an eye on philanthropic efforts in the field. “I don’t know of any donation to an individual housing or homeless service project that comes close to this one,” he says.

This is an area that’s seeing significant contributions coming from its business leaders turned philanthropists. Earlier this month, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos announced a $2 billion pledge to fund existing nonprofits that help families experiencing homelessness. The fund will also focus on creating a network of preschools in low-income communities. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has also been active in affordable housing.

With Allen’s philanthropic contribution, the Mount Baker Family Housing & Resource Center is expected to open in early 2020. The development is being built at a time when homelessness is on the rise in Seattle and King County. The 2018 point-in-time count found 12,112 individuals experiencing homelessness in the area, a 4% jump from the year before.

“Paul Allen challenged us to come up with a project that would push for new approaches, while meeting an urgent need in our community,” said Bill Hilf, CEO of Vulcan, Inc., the umbrella company for Allen’s different enterprises. “By providing both housing and services on site, the center is designed to give families the opportunity to thrive. We hope this partnership becomes a model for other solutions, here and in other communities struggling with this crisis.”

The resource center will focus on increasing access to services shown to be highly effective, like diversion. Diversion helps families triage options, address barriers, and move into housing. The 8,000-square-foot hub will be open to the community and will feature lead service providers:

· Mary’s Place: a leading voice for homeless women, children, and families in King County;

· Child Care Resources: a statewide connector of 20,000 families each year to quality child care;

· Refugee Women’s Alliance: a holistic provider of services to refugee and immigrant women and families; and

· Mercy Housing Northwest: the largest nonprofit provider of affordable family housing in Seattle.