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caption: The apartment building next to the Garber house is nearly completed and ready for residents on Wednesday, September 22, 2021.
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The apartment building next to the Garber house is nearly completed and ready for residents on Wednesday, September 22, 2021.
Credit: KUOW Photo/ Casey Martin

Three low-income housing apartments to open on Capitol Hill

The city of Seattle announced this week it has bought three apartment buildings on Capitol Hill to help house people experiencing homelessness. Some neighbors say they're receptive to more affordable housing nearby, but have questions for what's next.

The three new apartment buildings are all within a few blocks of each other, close to the main intersection of Broadway and John. On a recent Wednesday afternoon, all three sites were busy with construction crews wrapping up work.

And it's not just the construction noise that sets them apart: these apartments are modern, sleek developments. At seven or nine stories tall, they kind of stick out on the block. When construction started on these buildings two years ago they were intended to be market rate, studio apartments.

RELATED: Seattle buys 3 new apartment buildings to help house people experiencing homelessness

"But because of the real estate downturn in Covid-19, it provided the unique opportunity for us to purchase those and provide immediate housing," said Mayor Jenny Durkan on Monday outside one of the buildings, announcing the purchase.

These apartments were originally planned for, say, highly paid tech workers. Instead they’ll go to formerly homeless veterans, people with Section 8 vouchers, and young adults at risk of homelessness.

caption: When completed, this apartment building will be operated by YouthCare to serve young adults at risk of homelessness.
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When completed, this apartment building will be operated by YouthCare to serve young adults at risk of homelessness.
Credit: KUOW Photo/ Casey Martin

Durkan said the city secured these apartments in record time. It was just in June when the City Council approved about half the money needed, and Washington state matched that before the buildings were even done.

The city gave the apartments to the Low Income Housing Institute (LIHI), which will operate two of the three buildings.

"It takes too long," said Sharon Lee, Executive Director of LIHI. "If I started from scratch it would take me three years to find a piece of land, get permits, find the financing and oversee construction. So this is actually the quickest way."

But some people in the neighborhood feel a little left out of this process.

Like Steve Garber and his wife, who have lived on Capitol Hill for over 30 years. Garber is retired and loves to garden. On Wednesday, as construction crews were grinding concrete and cutting steal, Garber was on his knees digging in the dirt in front of the only house around. Turns out the Garber house is the only single family building on the block.

The nearly completed apartment building going up is right next door to the Garbers, "11 feet from our house," Garber says, taking a break from the garden beds.

The construction isn't new, that's been going on for a couple of years. But Garber says he and his wife hadn't heard the building had been sold for low-income housing. He says they found out when they read it in the paper.

"Well it was on the front page wasn't it? It was our breakfast surprise," Garber said.

Not an unpleasant surprise, he says, but still a surprise for the people who will be living the closest. Garber says he and his wife love the neighborhood and acknowledge that rapid change is part of living there.

Soon they will have 72 new neighbors next door and Garber says he does look forward to meeting them, pointing to the large, sprawling gardens in front of his house.

caption: Steve Garber says he put a lot of work into his 1910 home, including ripping out the old '70s wallpaper. Wednesday, September 22, 2021.
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Steve Garber says he put a lot of work into his 1910 home, including ripping out the old '70s wallpaper. Wednesday, September 22, 2021.
Credit: KUOW Photo/ Casey Martin

"We could've built a wall here 30 years ago," he said. "We decided to build a low fence that people could see through. We didn't want to wall ourselves off, and we still don't. But this is not going to be a building full of Amazon workers. It's gonna be different than that. And we'll see how that works out."

Asked what concerns he has for his new neighbors, Garber said, "we didn’t want to be NIMBYs. We were looking for some reassurance that, ‘yeah you can live next to low income housing and it can work out.’ We’re optimistic, but sure, we’re concerned.”

So far Garber says he has only talked to construction crews on site, but he wants to talk with case managers when they show up next door.

The three buildings will house about 160 people who will move in this fall. That's of the estimated 12,000 people in Seattle and King County without stable housing.