YWCA Tacoma ready to start construction on badly needed affordable housing project

YWCA Pierce County is expected to break ground next month on a long-awaited project that will help address a lack of affordable housing in Tacoma.

The $23 million construction project is set to serve victims of domestic violence on a lot owned by the YWCA across from its building at 405 Broadway.

The ceremonial groundbreaking is scheduled for 10 a.m., July 20, with construction to begin in mid-August. The building is set for completion late next year.

YWCA Pierce County CEO Miriam Barnett sees it as a much-needed completion to its Tacoma campus.

“I am very committed to finishing the vision,” she said.

That vision for her, Barnett said, started in 2008.

“At that point, I came to realize we had gaps in clients finding housing, so the best way was to build it ourselves,” she said.

According to an August 2016 needs assessment report from the city:

One in four children in Tacoma live in poverty, higher than other surrounding communities.

25 percent of homeless are younger than 18.

Domestic violence rates are higher in Tacoma than the state itself.

28 percent of homeless people also were victims of domestic violence.

The National Domestic Violence Hotline last year also saw a 36 percent increase in calls, online chats and texts compared with the previous year.

Amid rising housing costs, the lack of affordable housing in the city has become more acute, culminating in last year’s Affordable Housing Action Strategy for the city.

One of the recommendations was to “create a range of resources for households experiencing a housing crisis” and noted priorities can be created for the most vulnerable in the community, including domestic violence victims.

“Service providers who served survivors of domestic violence noted the importance of building mutual trust and a need to have housing available throughout the entire city,” according to the Action Strategy.

The YWCA project is listed in the report among several recent local investments to that end.

The apartment complex will include 55 units (one of them for on-site management) and includes:

10 studio apartments at an approximate average size of 300 square feet, renting between $392-$653 per month.

16 one-bedroom units at 450-500 square feet at $420-$700.

19 two-bedroom units averaging 750 square feet at $504-$840.

Nine three-bedroom units averaging 950 square feet renting at $582-$970.

There are 30 of the units tied to housing vouchers, according to project plans.

The project allocates 75 percent of the apartments to serve homeless families and 25 percent designated for low-income families with disabilities or other barriers to permanent housing.

Barnett told The News Tribune earlier this year that tenants can be accepted through the program even if they cannot pay the lowest rent amount.

“We can still give them a unit,” she said. “In that case they would work with one of our housing advocates to overcome barriers they may be facing to employment like job training, child care, etc. and then as they became gainfully employed, the rent would start.”

The project includes office space to expand its therapeutic counseling program.

“The additional space will allow us to grow from one full-time therapist to four,” according an email from Barnett earlier this year summarizing the project.

According to the project description: “Tenants of our housing will have access to legal services, support groups and therapeutic programs for children and teens.”

There will be four housing advocates on site to help tenants “stabilize and heal from the trauma they have experienced.”

Three new therapists will be from regional universities with master’s-level family counseling programs.

“They will spend 22 months doing their practicum placements with us. This provides a completely sustainable model that will allow us to serve more clients without an impact to our budget for salaries and benefits,” according to the YWCA.

All of the programs will be free.

Barnett noted the sweeping views from the upper-level apartments and from a planned rooftop garden, including Mount Rainier and the water.

“It looks like the other (apartments) around us, so it won’t look different from the high-market rate ones,” she said. “We want to blend in.”

Five years ago when organizers started serious talks, Barnett recalled that the idea of three-bedroom units was challenged by at least one committee member. At that time, the going prices of small homes were a better deal than what could be built at three-bedroom apartment rate.

“We said sometimes our families have large families and don’t have a choice. He got it immediately,” she said.

Given the market now, organizers opted out of building any units at market rate.

“It didn’t feel right. You build a building to meet your mission, and we are completely mission-focused,” Barnett said.

The organization says it anticipates the average stay for families “may run two to five years.”

“That turnover could mean as many as 200 to 300 families (approximately 800 to 1,500 people) being helped by these 55 units over the next 10 years,” according to the project’s plans.

YWCA will also continue to manage an additional 23 units in its current partnership with Pierce County Housing Authority.

The long-planned project has been working to gather funds for years, through low-income housing tax credits, the city, state and county, Federal Home Loan Bank, private grants and individual donations.

Another challenge was resolving a property boundary dispute with a neighboring building owner at 424 Broadway.

Some of the neighboring site’s parking spaces off Court C behind the 424 Broadway building overlapped with the YWCA’s land.

Amid looming project deadlines, the parties signed off on the final details of a settlement this week. As a result, the neighboring property retains its parking spaces and the YWCA is adjusting its site plans.

“We couldn’t risk any more time,” Barnett said. “This project is bigger than that and more important than that, and we have to do what we have to do to keep this on track.”

YWCA is still raising funds for the project’s final $1 million. To learn more, go to https://www.homeatlastywca.org/

Need help?

YWCA Pierce County 24-hour crisis hotline: 253-383-2593

National Domestic Violence Hotline: 800-799-7233