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

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.

King Street Station, pilot for affordable commercial

Transforming King Street Station into a thriving market hall for local small businesses

Seattle Office of Economic Development leads the Mayor’s Commercial Affordability initiative to create new opportunity for local small business in city-owned property.

Supporting affordability with city-owned assets
In 2016, the Seattle’s Office of Economic Development paved the way for the adaptive reuse of historic King Street Station into a market hall for local small businesses as part of the Mayor’s Commercial Affordability initiative.  The initiative was created to produce policy and innovation that would stimulate and bolster small businesses that have been suffering under the pressures of Seattle’s booming real estate market.  While the growth has provided opportunity for many it has also increased the challenge of starting and operating small businesses which represent nearly 94% of all  Seattle’s businesses (50 or fewer employees).  Seattle 2016 retail rents are up 28% since 2012 with retail vacancy rate less than 2%, forcing many out of long-time locations.  And with redevelopment replacing existing building stock, displacement is a growing challenge particularly as few new buildings offer spaces small enough for small businesses.  Less than 20% are providing spaces 1,000 square feet or smaller.

“Small businesses are essential to the economy of our city.  Many of Seattle’s greatest companies got their start in small, affordable storefronts, garages, food trucks or simple coffee shops.”  — Mayor Ed Murray, April 2016

A leading strategy of the Commercial Affordability initiative is to transition existing City owned real estate assets into viable commercial spaces for local small businesses.  King Street Station was historically renovated in 2010 but has largely sat incomplete and vacant other than its lower level which is an active regional rail stop.  The building sits at the intersection of the Stadium District, Pioneer Square, the International District, an ideal retail location in many ways for the bustling office market and event goers.  But the building is not an easy fit for a market hall given its configuration, historic classification, and associated technical challenges.

FIX’s Role
The city hired FIX to lead the feasibility study of the King Street Station market hall, including initial design, development pro forma, and operating business model.  SKL Architects and Rushing Mechanical provided design and engineering services.  The Office of Economic Development is planning to issue a RFP for a third-party operator the the spring of 2018.

Seattle's initiative for Commercial Affordability

Seattle launches Commercial Affordability program to stimulate local small businesses.

FIX facilitates the Mayor’s Advisory Committee for the OED.

The case for commercial affordability
90% of all businesses in the US have 20 or fewer employees and that proportion is growing according to payroll giant ADP.  Small businesses pay nearly half of all US payrolls.  In Seattle, nearly 95% of all businesses have 50 or fewer employees.  Small businesses drive innovation and small businesses are and have been how many immigrants find economic security, contributing back to our booming economy.  Ironically, as our economy grows, it is becoming more and more difficult to start and run a small business in Seattle as the cost and challenges of operating increases.  Commercial rents are at an all time high while vacancy is at record lows, particularly retail.  Long-time businesses are being displaced with new developments which often replace small-scale leaseable spaces with ever larger spaces on average.  It is difficult to start and operate a small business in Seattle.

Small businesses pay half of US payroll yet our economic growth makes it more difficult to access capital, find affordable leases, and avoid displacement.  Unless we address this disproportionate pressure, we may stymie innovation and a key means of upward mobility. 

In early 2016, Seattle launched the Commercial Affordability initiative to develop new policies and practices that would foster a more supportive climate for local small businesses.  The policies were put forward by the Commercial Affordability Advisory Committee (CAAC), a group of 16 economists, small business owners, developers, PDAs, and associations.  Supported by the OED and city agencies, the CAAC developed a series of recommendations for new entities, policies, and programs that would have a positive impact in the following ways:

  • strengthen existing small businesses and reduce displacement
  • activate ground level public realm of pedestrian oriented neighborhoods
  • enable space for small business incubation including light manufacturing
  • increase the overall economic and cultural vitality of our neighborhoods
  • stimulate growth of emerging businesses, artists and organizations

FIX’s Role
FIX was hired by the city to facilitate this initiative.  We designed a four-month engagement that aligned the CAAC on the core problem definition, created critical paths for small business success, and honed technically feasible solutions to recommend to the Mayor in collaboration with the OED, the planning departments (SDCI and OPCD) and other stakeholders.

Chophouse Row

Chophouse Row — a model for community-minded adaptive reuse and infill

Dunn & Hobbes’ adaptive reuse of an old auto row building on Capitol Hill is model for how to preserve and help existing communities thrive.

The keystone to the 12th Avenue Marketplace
Dunn & Hobbes has created magical small-scale development projects in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood for over a decade, using either new construction or adaptive reuse of existing buildings.  Their latest project, Chophouse Row, is their largest and most complex, combining both new construction with the adaptive reuse of an existing heavy timber structure into 45,000 square feet of office over a market hall of retail with three units of residential above.  The project bookends the 12th Avenue Marketplace, a half-block master plan Dunn & Hobbes founder, Liz Dunn, began in the late 1990’s while working with Leslie Bain (formerly of Weinstein AU).  Chophouse opened in 2015 and was named one of the top 25 projects in the world by ULI.  Ironically, the project was originally designed solely as a residential building of new construction, to entirely replace the existing structure.  But as development began to pick-up after the 2008 downtown, new institutional residential construction flooded Capitol Hill, creating the opportunity to instead build creative new office space for the growing small business market looking for alternatives to existing office inventory.

Chophouse is a good example of community-minded development, reusing an existing structure to create inherently affordable spaces for small business while giving back 15% of buildable area to the public as a commons.

Chophouse Row’s design and development strategies are remarkable and worth emulating as we continue to grow and choose how to approach existing buildings.  First is the simple environmental benefits of adaptive reuse.  By retaining the existing building, the project saved 450 metric tons of carbon.  Combining that with high performance building specs and well-designed passive systems like automated night-time thermal flushing has created a highly sustainable project.  Second is the value of its relatively small scale commercial spaces which range from 250-1,800 SF for retail spaces and 3,000-10,000 SF offices.  As neighborhoods grow, new and existing small businesses are often priced-out as new redevelopment typically favors large-scale spaces which are unaffordable to small businesses.  Chophouse Row is providing a rare scale of lease for small local businesses that are inherently affordable.  (See FIX’s work on Seattle’s Commercial Affordability Initiative).  Perhaps the most striking aspect of the project is its urban design which gives-up 15% of its zoned buildable area to the public in the form of a privately managed mews and courtyard.  In a zone where lot-line development is allowed and in an economic climate where most developers are maximizing net rentable area, Chophouse Row sets a precedent for how to create a profitable project while prioritizing the public experience, reinforcing that the private development sector can be a positive force in neighborhood creation.

FIX’s Role
FIX was retained by Dunn & Hobbes from 2012-2015 for several projects. FIX created the initial feasibility study for Chophouse Row, including program selection, massing studies, code analysis and pro forma modeling.  FIX went on to provide complete project management services, including management of design, construction and tenanting.  FIX helped develop the operating business model for anchor tenant, Cloud Room, a co-working center and amenity space.  See our post on the complexities of constructing Chophouse Row.

Congratulations to Dunn & Hobbes, SKL Architects, Graham Baba, MRJ Constructors, and the whole Chophouse Row team for being named a finalist in the 2016 ULI Design Excellence awards.  Other noteworthy awards include the 2016 AIA Seattle Honor Awards and the NAOIP 2015 Mixed-Use Development of the Year.  See also the ULI Case study on the project for more details.

ClientDunn & Hobbes
Size45,000 SF
Location11th & Pike Street, Seattle
ProgramOffice, Residential, Retail
RoleVisioning & feasibility analysis
Pro forma and financial modeling
Project & construction management
Tenanting strategy & positioning
ImpactCapacity: Enabling the mission of sustainable urban infill projects for small-scale developer.

The 5M Project -- Next gen office for innovation

The 5M Project – the next generation of urban office campus that increases innovation

Forest City redevelops the former San Francisco Chronicle printing facility in partnership with the Hearst Corporation to lure tech giants back from suburbia.

Bucking suburbia
In 2006, the 150-year old San Francisco Chronicle closed its printing capacity at its headquarters at 5th & Mission, creating 4-acres of downtown development opportunity zoned for nearly 2MM square feet of office.  The paper’s owner, the Hearst Corporation, partnered with Forest City Realty Trust to redevelop the property located in the heart of the city, just two-minutes to major transit and the central business district.  This was at the same time when Silicon Valley’s tech giants were doubling down on suburban corporate campuses.  In 2006, Apple had acquired 176 acres to build its $5 billion dollar campus expansion, including the “Infinite Loop” building.  Google acquired an additional 26 acres to expand the Mountain View Googleplex to 3.5MM square feet of office, dotted with two dozen cafeterias and a surface parking lot solar array large enough to generate 1.6 megawatts of energy.  Suffice it to say, few if any major companies were locating in urban centers.  So Forest City understood that it needed to design a project that would buck the suburban office park trend and attract a major anchor tenant and employer.

While tech giants were doubling down on their sprawling corporate campuses, Forest City was exploring how the next generation of office design would leverage the natural vibrancy of urban centers to help companies be more innovative without having to sequester themselves in suburbia.

The result is The 5M Project, a phased development strategy for a thriving district of art, technology and entrepreneurship which aims to use real estate as a tool to help tenants accelerate innovation.  Recognizing the need that Silicon Valley companies have for constant innovation in order to stay competitive, Forest City is building the next generation urban campus that leverages economic and behavioral research on how place drives an organization’s ability to be creative.  The core value of the 5M Project is to increase serendipity through interdisciplinary interactions across organizations.  The campus uses design, program and even its phasing to provide tenants the excuses and opportunities to learn, share ideas and find inspiration from co-tenants in ways that could never happen when sequestered in a suburban campus.  The first phase of the 5M Project was completed in 2010 with the adaptive reuse of the existing historic Chronicle structures.  That phase included a collection of artist organizations, makers, entrepreneurs and start-ups including Twitter, TechShop and the Impact Hub.  The second phase, beginning in 2018, will expand the campus vertically with four new 250 to 400-foot buildings, an acre of new open space, renovation of two historic structures, and nearly 700 apartments, including over 250 affordable units (below 50% AMI).

FIX’s Role
Forest City hired FIX in 2008 to help design the development strategy behind the 5M Project.  FIX began with a year-long research project, studying with some of the most innovative organizations in the world to better understanding how real estate drives innovation.  FIX then worked with Forest City and its consultant team, including Gensler Architects, to guide design over the phased development plan.  FIX provided project management and design services for Forest City on the 5M Project and a range of other projects throughout the West Coast over a four year period.   See our post on our work on Pier 70.

ClientForest City Realty Trust
Size1.8MM square feet of
development on 4-acres of land
Location5th & Mission, San Francisco
ProgramOffice, affordable housing, market-rate housing retail, cultural, institutional, and event space
RoleVisioning & development strategy
Market research & community engagement
Feasibility analysis
Project management
ImpactHousing: 250 affordable housing units below 50% AMI
Capacity: Supporting the productivity and innovation of dozens of local artists, makers and entrepreneurs

Pier 70 - redeveloping 28 acres of SF waterfront

Forest City redevelops Pier 70 San Francisco into an urban utopia of artists, makers and innovation.

Phase 1 redefined the community engagement process and created a national model of how to inclusively revitalize a derelict former industrial district.

In 2011, Forest City won the development rights to 28-acres of waterfront at Pier 70 through a public RFP process led by the San Francisco Port.  Pier 70 is a 69-acre historic shipbuilding district just south of the city.  It was the site of the first West Coast steel hull ship manufacturer and where much of the US World War II fleet was built.   The surrounding quiet neighborhoods are full of artists and inherently affordable housing, filling-in former warehouses and industrial buildings.  While the property is an extraordinary opportunity for redevelopment, it has several challenges.  It is outside of the core, far from transit, and the artists and lower-income residents have galvanized against development, fearing displacement.  Beyond that the site is enormous and has eight large historically significant buildings with extensive deferred maintenance, including 250′ wide Building 12.

The most fundamental question for any redevelopment strategy is how to create active and alluring place with such a large property to attract the number of employers and residents necessary to support new construction.  Build too little or slowly to mitigate risk and there wouldn’t be enough critical mass.  Build too much too quickly and it likely feels inauthentic and further amplifies the risk.  Forest City had just completed the first phase of a small but comparable development, the 5M Project, a 4-acre project in a then undesirable part of downtown.  The project overcame the challenge of its location by organically growing, beginning with small adaptive reuses for artists, makers and entrepreneurs along with a robust event program to stimulate broader interest and support the new tenants.  The prototype provided the dual benefit of testing-out ideas about how place can increase the creativity of its tenants, something Forest City ultimately used to attract larger tech tenants into the project.  And this would be the basis for its development strategy at Pier 70.

Forest City is creating a new model of community engagement through prototyping on site with small adaptive reuse and event programming, resulting in a more inclusive and organic process of redevelopment.

The first phase of Pier 70 began in 2015 with a series of open houses, concerts, TED-like workshops, art fairs, and other cultural events.  Each event builds a connection to the place and supports the local community of artists, increasing the districts sense of value to a broader and more diverse network of people.  They are also informing the urban and building design, demonstrating what works in the spaces, what program is successful, and where there are natural centers of gravity.  In short, Forest City has created a new, more earnest and productive mode of community engagement, where the use of a place informs design rather than over-simplified conversations over renderings on poster boards.  Earlier this year (2017), Forest City submitted its full development proposal which was approved unanimously by the city Board of Supervisors and Planning Commission.  The project will have 500,000 square feet of space for artists, light industrial, and retail; over 1,000,000 square feet of office; and more than 2,100 units of residential.  Construction is expected to begin in 2019.

FIX’s Role
FIX project managed the winning RFP submittal for Forest City, including helping to generate the Pier 70 development strategy. FIX continued to advise Forest City, assisting in developing the project’s subsequent first phase.

ClientForest City
LocationPier 70, San Francisco, CA
ProgramOffice, Arts, Cultural, Residential
RoleVisioning, strategic planning, feasibility, and project management through the RFP process
ImpactHousing: approx 645 units of affordable housing (30% of estimated 2,150 units).
Opportunity: affordable commercial space for small-medium businesses.