South Seattle apartment building secures funds to stay affordable

A South Seattle apartment building will remain affordable for decades to come after a successful community fundraising effort. 

The nonprofit working to buy the Arches Apartments on Rainier Avenue South says it has secured the funds needed to keep rents below market rates. Among the donations: a $2 million grant from Amazon.

The Arches Apartments hit the market for sale this spring after the building’s longtime owner died. Residents who relied on the apartments’ below-market rents feared a new owner would hike prices, forcing them out of their neighborhood. A local nonprofit raced to cobble together funds to buy the building. The Southeast Seattle Senior Foundation got a short-term loan for the purchase, but still needed to raise enough of a down payment to keep monthly loan payments low and avoid rent hikes.

Now, “the property is safe at the affordable rates,” executive director Curtis Brown said. 

The fundraising effort gathered nearly $400,000 in donations from members of the public, the Norcliffe Foundation, the Windermere Foundation, 1st Security Bank, two real estate agents who represented the Southeast Seattle Senior Foundation and others, Brown said.

Amazon learned of the effort from a Seattle Times article in May, a spokesperson said. The company’s $2 million donation is part of its $2 billion Housing Equity Fund, providing loans and grants for projects in the areas around Seattle, Washington, D.C. and Nashville. 

The grant “reflects our long-term commitment to help address the housing crisis in the Puget Sound region,” Catherine Buell, director of Amazon’s housing fund, said in a statement.

Throughout Amazon’s massive growth in Seattle, residents, activists and local elected officials have criticized the company for helping drive up housing costs with an influx of high-paying jobs and resistance to some city tax efforts. “This is the partnership our office hopes to see more of with Amazon,” Seattle City Councilmember Tammy Morales, who represents South Seattle, said in a statement.

The nonprofit’s agreement with Amazon requires that the units remain affordable for 99 years, some to people making 60% of area median income or less ($69,900 for a family of three) and some to those making 80% of area median income ($85,800 for a family of three). Rent increases will not exceed 3% per year, Brown said.

The group is now turning its attention to other plans in the neighborhood, including hopes for an affordable condo project to allow for homeownership. 

“This is not the end,” Brown said. “This is the beginning of a long project.”

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