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Hundreds of affordable housing units coming to Tacoma’s West End after big land purchase

James Center North, looking south along South Mildred Street toward 19th Avenue West. The Tacoma Housing Authority has bought nearly seven acres for a future affordable housing development. Tacoma Community College is across the street.
James Center North, looking south along South Mildred Street toward 19th Avenue West. The Tacoma Housing Authority has bought nearly seven acres for a future affordable housing development. Tacoma Community College is across the street. Staff writer

The prediction of escalating housing prices has pushed the Tacoma Housing Authority to buy nearly seven acres in a first-of-its-kind purchase for the agency.

The authority paid nearly $6 million for an assemblage of buildings north of 19th Street West and South Mildred Street called James Center North.

One day, the agency hopes 300 to 500 housing units could be there.

It’s a prime location, authority director Michael Mirra said: Across Mildred from Tacoma Community College and near a major transit hub. In the distant future, it could be near the terminus of a light rail line.

In five or 10 years, Mirra predicted, the only affordable housing in that West End neighborhood will be whatever the authority builds.

It’s “a chance to build a mixed-use development that will include housing for a range of incomes, from market rate to subsidized — and a neighborhood that will need them,” Mirra said. “The Tacoma rental market is accelerating.”

Home building in the region is struggling to keep pace with population and job growth, which contributes to rising housing prices.

The authority has a partnership with TCC to furnish vouchers to homeless students. It started in 2014 with a pilot project of 25 students and attracted nearly 200 applications for the subsidies, Mirra said.

Of 47 students who received assistance during the first two years, 60 percent either received a degree or still were in school. Of those who applied for help but were rejected, 16 percent graduated or remained in class, he said.

The authority’s board voted recently to increase the number of vouchers to 150, Mirra said.

Once the James Center North project is built out, likely several years from now, the authority can help even more college students, he said.

“We like to design our housing for a range of incomes with an emphasis on children,” Mirra said.

City zoning allows for a wide range of uses there, from residential to commercial as well as a mixed-use development. Structures can be up to 60 feet high.

The city recently redeveloped Mildred Street in the area, adding dedicated bike lanes and improving the road surface.

Even after the development is built, the new units will be hardly a blip on Tacoma’s real estate landscape. The authority estimates the affordable housing need in the city will near 30,000 households by 2030.

Kate Martin: 253-597-8542, @KateReports

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