Designing relevant workforce housing options for Seattle’s major institutions.

FIX creates a design strategy for national developer Forest City to attract and house the middle-income wage earners of Seattle’s major institutions.

Solving the Missing Middle housing challenge
Seattle is leading the country in commute times and increasing cost of living which is increasing the importance of affordable workforce housing near employers, particularly major institutions who provide tens of thousands of lower and middle wage jobs.  The University of Washington alone employs 25,000 people.  And when polled, roughly two-thirds of both UW and nearby Children’s Hospital staff said they wished they could live within walking or bicycling distance to work.  But less than one-third actually lives close enough to do so.  Two factors prevent this from happening.  The first is the lack of affordable housing.  Average rent for a 2-bedroom in the U District is $2,400/month or nearly $30,000/year, which means the household must be making at least $90,000/year to avoid being rent-burdened.  Yet Seattle’s average HHI is $80,000, the nation’s third highest, largely due to the growth of high-wage jobs of the knowledge and tech sectors.  And while both institutions recognize the importance of affordable housing, neither actually provides housing, resulting in the population of the U District being two-thirds students.  And with the proportion of non-scholarship student enrollment increasing, the private sector continues to provide mostly market-rate housing options, further reducing affordability for workforce.

UW and Children’s recognizes that affordable, quality housing is crucial for the recruitment and retention of employees…it needs to make sure that attractive housing options are available within walking distance of campus.
– Children’s Hospital & UW Workforce Housing RFQ, April 2011

The second reason for such low representation of workforce near these major employers is simply desirability.  Staff polled at both UW and Children’s chose the U District as last on their list of most desirable of neighborhoods within walking or biking distance to campus.  They cited noise, safety, lack of relevant amenities and community as the core drivers.   And this was the opportunity national developer Forest City recognized when it proposed a 213-unit workforce housing project along 11th Avenue to the University and Children’s in 2011.  While the proposal was to help fulfill an obligation Children’s had to replace housing lost during its campus expansion in 2010, it was ultimately providing an important missing solution in the market’s overall housing health.  Forest City proposed to not only create affordability for local workforce, it aimed to introduce a project specifically designed to cultivate community not among students but among the administrators, nurses, and support staff that work nearby.

FIX’s Role
Forest City hired FIX to develop this design strategy and prove the project’s viability.  Using a combination of quantitative market analysis and user-based research techniques to interview prospective tenants, FIX identified a core target market, providing insights to support the belief that an appropriately designed housing project around shared values could attract and rebuild the workforce community within the University District.

Client Forest City
Size 213 units of workforce housing
Location NE 47th & 11th Ave, University District
Program Workforce housing
Role Market and user research
Project visioning & feasibility study
Project management
Impact Housing: Affordable workforce housing analysis and design for major institution employers