Plymouth Housing CEO Paul Lambros discusses the project and the nonprofit developer's PROOF campaign ahead of the groundbreaking.
Plymouth Housing CEO Paul Lambros discusses the project and the nonprofit developer's PROOF campaign ahead of the groundbreaking.

The sun came out for Plymouth Housing’s groundbreaking ceremony in Uptown, where it will spend the next 18 months constructing more than 90 affordable housing units above a nonprofit community arts space. The cold, however, underscored the need for more affordable housing stock in order to bring those experiencing homelessness inside.

“We are here with warm hearts for what we’re going to do here today,” said Plymouth Housing board president Jane Zalutsky, who is also executive director of the Seattle Center Foundation.

Located on the southwest corner of Second Avenue North and Mercer Street, the 11,000-square-foot “K” site was gifted to Seattle Center by the Kreielsheimer Foundation while the rest of the 43,000-square-foot block was donated to the Seattle Opera, which sold its land to Washington Holdings in 2016.

The City of Seattle and PlymouthHousing last November announced plans to redevelop the “K” site for affordable housing and in partnership with Path with Art, a nonprofit that uses art to improve the lives of people experiencing homelessness and addiction. The Office of Housing provided $6.9 million in funding for the project at that time, and the Seattle CityCouncil approved a 99-year ground lease with Plymouth in September, charging just $1 per year.

“This outcome was one of my favorite during my time with the city,” said former Office of Housing director Steve Walker, who recently returned to work at the Washington State Housing Finance Commission as its executive director.

The commission carried out the sale of $21 million in low income tax credits (LITC), which is the main source of financing for the affordable housing development.

Walker thanked U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell for championing a temporary expansion of the LITC program in 2018.

“Without that, today’s celebration would have been significantly delayed,” he said.

Cantwell and U.S. Rep. Suzan DelBene are working on expanding the program again with bipartisan legislation, Walker said.

Ninety-one studio apartments at Second and Mercer will be income-restricted units, with 19 dedicated to people who had formerly experienced homelessness, and 72 for Plymouth Housing clients exiting supportive housing. Two units will be for site managers.

“Without a doubt, homelessness is one of the central challenges facing our city and region,” said Office of Housing director Emily Alvarado, adding permanent supportive housing is the proven solution. “This saves lives, and it saves public resources.”

Alvarado thanked the Uptown Arts & Culture Coalition and other community stakeholders for supporting plans for affordable housing and pushing for it to anchor arts and cultural spaces in the neighborhood, which allowed the Office of Housing to include both in its request for proposal.

“Art heals people and community,” said Path with Art executive director Holly Jacobson, who thanked Plymouth and the city for recognizing how art promotes connectivity and creativity.

Path with Art has a $50,000 grant from the Seattle Office of Arts and Culture it will use to build out its ground-floor art, education and office space.

Alvarado also highlighted the project for its piloting of a Community Workforce Agreement that will mean constructing the affordable housing development with local workers from economically disadvantaged neighborhoods, including women and people of color.

Plymouth Housing hopes to have its certificate of occupancy by June 2021.

“It’s our hope that this project inspires everyone in Seattle,” said Plymouth Housing CEO Paul Lambros.

Plymouth has carried out many complicated projects — this will be its 16th affordable housing development — but never with so many people, Lambros said. After seeing the request for proposal, he said, Path with Art was considered the best partner for the project.

“I could not be more proud to welcome new neighbors to my community,” said District 7 Seattle City Councilmember Andrew Lewis.

Lewis lives near a Seattle Housing Authority apartment building in Uptown and a DESC shelter, he said, and will be chairing the Select Committee on Homelessness and Housing Authority. Lewis said he’s committed to pushing for more permanent supportive housing, and more groundbreakings in District 7.

The Second and Mercer development is part of Plymouth’s PROOF campaign to build eight new buildings with 800 apartments, and has raised $53 million toward that goal, Lambros said, with about $21 million to go. The nonprofit housing developer plans to break ground on two more housing projects by the end of the year; one in First Hill and another in the International District.