FIX Impact Development - celebrating 10 years!

FIX Impact Development has turned 10 years old!

Here’s to the owners, clients, and partners who have helped us create a decade of impact development.

Celebrating 10 years
10 years ago, in the thick of the housing crisis, we started FIX Impact Development (formerly Form In Context) to create positive change through real estate.  In the decade since, we’ve been lucky enough to help private developers, non-profits, cities and high-net worth individuals achieve positive impact throughout the west coast.  Today, we create solutions across all cycles of development that improve communities, sustainability, and returns.  We work with clients and investors to guide strategy, launch businesses and develop projects.  Our office is a small interdisciplinary team based on design-thinking, integrating traditional development capabilities with in-house design and market research to generate breakthrough solutions with a systems approach.  If you have a place-based concern or would like to learn how we can help you have a positive impact on your community through real estate, we want to hear from you.

A new model of family-friendly housing in Seattle

35-units of family-friendly housing, developed by families for families

A deliberative development disrupts the multifamily housing market with an alternative model of family living in Seattle.

Seattle has a family housing problem
Over 81% of units constructed in Seattle since 2012 are one-bedroom or smaller.  Just over 1% of new units have three bedrooms or more.  In that same period, New York built 30% more family-sized units than Seattle; San Francisco built twice as many.  Considering Seattle just set a record for median home prices and more than 40% of homes sold today are over $1,000,000, suffices to say that Seattle is no longer feasible for most families.  This partly explains why we are leading the country in number of mega-commuters, (>90 minutes, each way), as more families head for the suburbs to find affordable housing.  But suburban living in the Seattle Metropolitan area is among the costliest in the country, barely more affordable than urban living over a 30-year period.  So not only are families falling behind financially but longer commutes and work hours mean that families are not spending family time together.  And here’s why that’s a problem: decrease in meaningful parental connection is directly correlated with child health and wellness, leading to poor school performance, substance abuse, teen pregnancy and other problematic emotional or physical behaviors.

There is a groundswell of young families and empty-nesters searching for alternative housing options, creating an opportunity to design and develop better ways of living together within city limits.

One collection of friends and families is creating a new model of family-oriented housing called the Shared Roof Project at the corner of 70th & Greenwood in Seattle’s Phinney Ridge neighborhood.  Ten households have pooled their resources and are developing a communal apartment building.  From afar, the Shared Roof Project appears to be like any other institutional, mixed-use residential development, but it’s distinct in two very specific ways.  First, it will provide a majority of family-sized units, including two-, three-, and even four-bedroom units.  Second, the people developing it will also live in it as long-term renters.  Of the 35 units, 10 will be tenanted by the owners and their families, living collaboratively in a custom designed multi-family apartment building.  The rest of the units will be open to the market, including some dedicated for affordable housing.  And since the owners plan to raise their families there, they’re willing to invest in higher quality materials, more advanced sustainability features, and a whole strategy around sharing resources that fosters community among neighbors in ways that typical institutional developers don’t care to manage.

FIX’s Role
The owners hired FIX to project manage development from initial visioning through to construction and project delivery, including facilitation of design and amenity strategies, securing a contract rezone with voluntary affordable housing, and overall project management.  Johnston Architects is the architect; Site Workshop landscape design; Anderson Construction is the general contractor.  The project is scheduled to begin construction in the spring of 2018.

ClientThe Shared Roof Project
Size21,000 SF of land
35 residential units
10,000 SF retail courtyard
Location70th & Greenwood, Seattle
Program4 floors of residential over retail
RoleVisioning & design strategy
Project management
Construction management
Capitalization support
ImpactHousing: 25% of units reserved for tenants earning 60-80% AMI

Byrd Barr Place addresses equitable growth nationally

Byrd Barr Place creates national model for African American land trusts.

Building on our work with Africatown, Byrd Barr (formerly Centerstone) has hired FIX to create a portable tool kit to help communities of color create long-term land ownership nationally.

Fostering long-term equitable growth strategies nationally
Byrd Barr Place (formerly Centerstone) is a non-profit organization that creates a more equitable Seattle through programs and advocacy that enable people to live healthier, prosperous lives.  In 2017, they collaborated with Africatown in the Central Area neighborhood, in creating a community land trust to acquire property and generate long-term land ownership within the African American community.  That model is proving successful in burgeoning projects at Midtown Center and Liberty Bank.  To grow the influence on equitable development nationally, Byrd Barr Place, along with community partners, is building a tool kit for replicating the model with the intention of distributing it, open source, to communities of color throughout the country.  The organization has hired FIX to guide the team in developing the project which is due to be completed by the end of 2018.

Impact Development -- place as a platform for positive outcomes

Impact Development — using place as a platform for positive outcomes

Impact Development uses place-based solutions to equitably grow communities and improve quality of life with the intelligent use of resources.

Impact Development — A Primer
FIX defines Impact Development as the use of place to equitably grow communities and improve quality of life with the intelligent expense of resources.  It is the intersection of real estate and impact capital or socially responsible investing, formally referred to as Sustainable Responsible and Impact Investing (SRI or simply, impact investing).  SRI uses capital to support organizations that have a positive impact on social and environmental concerns while generating a financial return.  The outcome is a triple-bottom-line return, with consideration for people, planet and profit.

There is growing expectation for triple bottom line outcomes among investors.  SRI Investing is up 33%, now representing 22% of all professionally managed assets in the US.

In 2016, impact capital in the United States grew to $8.72 trillion which is up 33% from the two years prior, representing 22% of all assets under professional management in the US.  While real estate is not typically a class of impact investing, FIX Impact Development believes it is one of the strongest platforms for creating positive outcomes.  Real estate represents 15% of our country’s GDP, providing a massive opportunity for impact.

The Three Petals of Impact Development
FIX believes Impact Development to be an extension of the triple bottom line philosophy, providing for people, profit and planet with every project.  At the intersection of each is a different opportunity for impact, creating three petals of Impact Development.  Here is how we see the opportunities:

Equitable growth

  • Housing affordability – providing diverse housing options across the spectrum, including more inclusive ownership structures
  • Commercial affordability – creating supportive markets for burgeoning small local businesses to innovate and thrive
  • Access to opportunity – increasing access to diverse types of education and creating employment opportunity

Quality of life

  • Ease of mobility – enabling more people to move more easily locally and across the region
  • Access to nature – nurturing a connection to and appreciation for nature for all people across all neighborhoods
  • Thriving arts & culture – supporting the spiritual growth of that comes with the creation and enjoyment of expression

Resource intelligence

  • Smart design – designing with best practices, including traditional and advanced techniques, for smart buildings and urbanism
  • Economical project delivery – improving our methods of construction and assembly to reduce all forms of waste
  • Efficient building operations – evolving behaviors to be more efficient with long-term operation and management of places

See our related post for the top five reasons why place is such a strong platform for impact.

The FIX Impact Development Fund

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Form in Context, Inc. is now FIX Impact Development

Form In Context,
formerly known as FIX,
is now formally renamed,
FIX Impact Development.

We’ve updated our name to match our mission.  We’ve also changed our address.  Have a place-based concern, come by and visit.

A name to match the mission and a new address.
Form In Context, Inc., founded in 2008, is now officially FIX Impact Development, Inc.  You can still call us FIX for short, but do note our new email and new physical address.  FIX creates positive impact through place-based solutions.  Learn more about how we do that and how we might help you here.

UW Runstad Real Estate Center Fellowship

2017 UW Runstad Fellowship travels to Australia to study equitable development.

Exploring issues of affordability, livability, and racial-social inclusion to inform Seattle’s best practices for the next 100 years.

Real estate that empowers
Seattle’s growth has created the third highest median income in the country, increased the supply of housing by 12,000 units per year for the last four years, and attracted diverse companies and their talent to the region faster and longer than any other period in history.  The growth has also brought unintended negative consequences to our neighborhoods, creating displacement, cultural diaspora and significant barriers to new development, reducing affordability.  As a result, our growth is neither equitable nor sustainable.  Without new models of development, we run the risk of outpacing San Francisco, Manhattan and other cities which struggle with limited supply of housing, skyrocketing costs of living, lack of socio-economic diversity, and inequity.

If density is a requisite for sustainable growth, and we know that socio-economic diversity increases health, creativity and productivity for everyone, then we must find more equitable and inclusive development models. 

FIX founder, Shannon Loew is one of the two professional Affiliate Fellows selected annually by the UW Runstad Center for Real Estate.  Together with Martha Barkman (Mack Urban), Rosey Atkinson, Rachel Berney, and Gundula Proksch, the Fellowship team traveled to Sydney and Melbourne to study projects, policies and organizations worth emulating with the goal of developing specific recommendations on how we might inform Puget Sound’s regional growth.  While plans like the Seattle 2035 Comprehensive Plan focus on equitable city growth, it is limited Seattle and has a limited time-horizon.  The 2017 Fellowship focused on development strategies and regional solutions that consider the next 100 years of growth.  The team explored solutions across all aspects of the industry, including policy, project delivery methods, organizational and legal structures, financing mechanisms, and programmatic ideas.  Areas focus were:

  1. Affordability – cost of housing and everyday needs including food and services
  2. Livability – access to transportation, job opportunities, open space, factors of health and wellness
  3. Racial-Social inclusion – displacement and participation in long-term wealth creation

The 2017 Runstad Affiliate Fellows presented their findings at the HUB in Pioneer Square in September 2017, at the University of Washington in November.  They will also present at the 2018 NAOIP meeting in January.  Download the PDF here (large file).

Capitol Hill Housing & Africatown, solving equity

Capitol Hill Housing & Africatown — equitable development at Liberty Bank project.

Redlining left a legacy of racial exclusion which today’s growth patterns perpetuates.  Seattle non-profit, Africatown, has created a partnership with affordable housing leader, CHH, that bucks that trend, heals old wounds and establishes a model to emulate.

Africatown & Capitol Hill Housing partnership
The history of post-war redlining divested African Americans across the United States from home ownership and the opportunity for long-term wealth creation.  It also segregated them into the depressed neighborhoods, many of which are now experiencing gentrification as our economy grows and infill developers erect new projects.  The result is a modern-day redlining, displacing existing communities of color and driving a cultural diaspora of African Americans, perpetuating the cycle of divestment and instability.  One new African American led organization within the Central Area neighborhood, Africatown, is raising awareness of these impacts and working with public and private sector leaders to create alternatives models of more equitable development.

The Liberty Bank Building will provide an African American organization the option to own a significant real estate asset without contributing any equity.

One remarkable example is a partnership with affordable housing non-profit, Capitol Hill Housing (CHH) on the Liberty Bank Building, a 115-unit project of affordable housing and commercial space at the corner of 24th & Union.  The partnership defines a series of commitments that ensure a more inclusive development process, creates jobs for people of color, and offers Africatown the option to take ownership of the property in 15 years, once the equity partners have full vested the tax benefits.  All of this with Africatown providing no equity.  Because the project will have still hold both public debt from Seattle’s Office of Housing and private equity, a key challenge of this partnership was agreeing on the capacity Africatown will be required to have in order to exercise their ownership option.  And, toward ensuring success, the partners also required a clear strategy and implementation plan that would outline how the organization would go about obtaining that capacity being the newly formed entity that it is.

FIX’s role
Capitol Hill Housing and Africatown jointly hired FIX to align the partnership around a common definition of capacity and to build a corresponding 15-year implementation plan.  Through the work, the engagement produced a portable business plan and framework for vulnerable populations to self-generate the capacity to be leaders in real estate within their communities, starting with consulting services and evolving into acquisitions and asset management.

Leadership Tomorrow 2018 explores equitable growth

Leadership Tomorrow 2018 explores equitable growth with Amazon & Africatown

John Schoettler, Wyking Garrett, Doris Koo and Diane Sugimura discuss our history of inequity and the consequences of growth toward creating solutions for affordability and inclusion.

Amazon holds more office space in Seattle than the next 40 employers combined, employing more than 40,000 people in the city alone.  Because of their massive economic magnifier effect with every employee supporting an estimated five service workers, Seattle’s downtown brick and mortar retail sales are up 20% annually on average over the last five years.  Even department store sales are up — 224% compared to pre-recession performance.  And Seattle’s median income is growing faster than any other city in the country with unemployment at a near record low.  We are delighting in our growth.

Yet, with our growth, we have also seen housing prices skyrocket, setting new record highs for rents and sale prices.  Seattle’s median home price has doubled in five years and rents have increased 65% in less than seven.   The impacts of this growth have been economic and cultural.  In the Central Area neighborhood alone, the African American population has dwindled from 73% to 23% in a single generation, driven out in part by redevelopment, rising prices and a self-reinforcing diaspora.  Given the history of redlining and systematic racial bias in lending practices, the negative impacts of our current booming economy feel particularly problematic.

Negative consequences of growth is a choice.  As homeowners and renters we impart influence with our decisions on where and how we each choose to live, what retail stores we support.  And as leaders, we have a choice in how hard we work to surface the challenge of guiding our growth equitably.

Leadership Tomorrow, founded in 1982, drives servant leadership in the Puget Sound region through an annual training program focused on the core seven pillars of society and issues of race, racism and equity.  The opening day for the 2018 class, held at the Northwest African American Museum, focused on the opportunities to combat the negative consequences of urban growth.  The goal was to surface individual responsibility and systemic challenges in perpetuating inequity, toward identifying sustainable solutions across public and private sectors.  Amazon’s head of Global Real Estate, John Schoettler along with the former Director of Seattle’s Department of Planning and Development, Diane Sugimura, openly discussed the role of big business in city centers and what role policy must play in managing the negative impacts of that growth.  Community builders Doris Koo and Wyking Garrett challenged both, demonstrating the importance of activism and giving voice to marginalized communities.

FIX founder, Shannon Loew, is on the Leadership Tomorrow Curriculum Committee and with the Neighborhood & Communities subcommittee teammates Bill Block, Marlene Chen, and Frank Nam, created and facilitated the day’s program.

5 reasons why place is a strong platform for impact

Five reasons why place is a strong platform for positive impact

(And why we created FIX Impact Development.)

Why place-based solutions for impact
Overall, impact investing represents more than 20% of all professionally managed assets in the US, up 33% between 2014-2016.  Investments target diverse sectors and outcomes, including housing which is the fourth largest sector with roughly 12% share.  But real estate is essential to nearly every sector of impact and has the potential to have some of the broadest influence on social and environmental outcomes while creating positive financial gains.  Here are the specific reasons why FIX believes real estate and place are such strong platforms for impact.

  1. Increases innovation
    Real estate is like the processor of a computer, running in the background, core to its function.  Well-located and designed places can improve user efficiency, communication and productivity.  And its the driver of innovation.  The rate of innovation has been proven to correlate to the number of interactions we have with people outside of our usual circles or disciplines, also known as our “weak ties.”  These interactions form in physical spaces, rarely online and never in isolation.  Place accelerates serendipitous interactions and enables organizations across nearly every sector to improve how they function.
  1. Magnifies the multipliers
    The real estate sector alone represents 15% of the US GDP and directly generates millions of jobs.  But beyond that, real estate provides a secondary lift to local and regional economies by attracting employers which in turn attracts competing businesses, all of which buoys diverse strata of opportunity within services, retail, housing and other sectors.  For example, consider the impact of locating a large tech company, where every tech employee now generates five new jobs across the economic strata from doctors to service workers.
  1. Creates intergenerational impact
    Real estate and urban design typically have decade and often century-long lifespans, driving intergenerational impacts.  Poorly designed, located or programmed facilities can have lasting effects that perpetuate broken systems.  And the opposite is equally true where well-designed projects can have lasting positive outcomes, including through their adaptive reuse over time with new program.
  1. Ripe for disruption
    Buildings consume half of all the energy produced in the US and in their construction, produce more than 40% of our country’s annual 250 million tons of solid waste.  Any industry generating this much waste is ripe for disruption and even the smallest of improvement in efficiency will have massive positive impact.  Some of this innovation will come by way of advanced technology like new forms of carbon-sequestering concrete.  Others will come by way of remarkably low-hanging fruit like diverting beetle kill timber from forest fires and converting them into high-performing new building material using nothing more than glue.
  1. Readily-measured outcomes
    The impacts of real estate are readily measured, often longitudinally, simply given the static nature of place.  Buildings and their tenants are easy to find and track in both qualitative and quantitative analysis.  Building metrics, tenant and user behavior, effects on surrounding communities, and other measures to evaluate and shape projects against their intended outcomes.

See our other post on how we at FIX define impact and use place to create positive change.