Seattle, Washington: Mixed-Use Development Provides Affordable Housing at Plaza Roberto Maestas
Affordability and gentrification are major concerns in Seattle, where more than 45 percent of the city’s renter households are cost burdened, spending 30 percent or more of their income on rent. The neighborhood plan for North Beacon Hill near downtown Seattle identifies the community’s need to add more affordable housing, as well as mixed-use development and public gathering places, while also preserving the area’s economic and racial diversity. Plaza Roberto Maestas responds to these needs. The mixed-use development, which opened in 2016 after nearly eight years of planning that included significant community input, was created by El Centro de la Raza, a Seattle-based provider of services for children, adults, and families. Beacon Development Group, an affordable housing consulting firm, served as the development consultant. Constructed over 18 months, Plaza Roberto Maestas includes 112 affordable apartments, nonresidential uses, and a plaza and other spaces for community events. The development has received a number of national awards recognizing the diverse needs that it serves, including the 2017 American Institute of Architects/HUD Secretary’s Award for Creating Community Connection, which praised the site’s design, the function of plazas in Latino culture, and the development’s promotion of community interaction.
El Centro de la Raza, with a 45-year history in Seattle, owned the property where Plaza Roberto Maestas would be constructed. The site included a historic elementary school and a parking lot that functioned as a construction staging area when the Seattle region’s transit operator, Sound Transit, built the Beacon Hill light rail station across the street. “We knew we had an opportunity” to foster equitable transit-oriented development, explains Miguel Maestas, the organization’s housing and economic development director. Plaza Roberto Maestas consists of two 6-story buildings that contain housing, retail, and community space. At the heart of the development is a new plaza located between the buildings and leading from the historic school to the Beacon Hill station. Together, the buildings, with their different uses, and the plaza create a multicultural town center — which the neighborhood had lacked — within walking distance of a public library, a supermarket, restaurants, an elementary school, and a family medical clinic.
The affordable housing component of Plaza Roberto Maestas contributes to the development’s role as a neighborhood center by ensuring that households earning a range of incomes can remain in the community even as the new transit station makes the neighborhood more attractive to higher-income households. The upper floors of the two buildings framing the plaza accommodate approximately 290 residents in 35 one-bedroom, 55 two-bedroom, and 22 three-bedroom apartments. Eligible households earn up to 30, 50, and 60 percent of the area median income ($24,390, $40,650, and $48,780 for a family of three, respectively). Among the apartments’ energy-efficient features are light-emitting diode (LED) lighting, solar panels, and ENERGY STAR® appliances. Paint with low levels of volatile organic compounds and hard-surface flooring maintain good interior air quality. Each apartment also has specially insulated walls and windows to reduce noise from the plaza. To conserve water, the development has a rain garden, and the units have low-flow plumbing. El Centro de la Raza also promotes transit ridership by offering eligible residents discounted fare cards at its onsite office.
The residential portions of both buildings are designed to promote interaction among residents. Each building contains recreation spaces: a courtyard with playground equipment and a gazebo above a first-floor extension of one building, and a roof deck on the other building with views of the Cascade Range, downtown Seattle, and Lake Washington. A common room is adjacent to each building’s outdoor space. Additional rooms are provided on nearly every residential floor, some of which are fitted as study areas for children who need a quiet space to do homework.
Fostering Community Connections
In response to the neighborhood plan and community members’ comments, El Centro de la Raza and Beacon Development Group have developed a culturally sensitive project that contributes to North Beacon Hill’s revitalization. The equitable transit-oriented development includes affordable housing and several other features that promote its integration with the surrounding community. For example, murals on the buildings’ façades connect with the neighborhood’s diverse population; 50 mosaics represent Latino, Native American, Asian-American, and African-American visual traditions. The 12,900-square-foot plaza, named after Roberto Maestas, a local civil rights leader and founder of El Centro de la Raza, was designed to be a civic gathering space with the flexibility to accommodate festivals, outdoor movies, and other community events. The Centilia Cultural Center, which can seat up to 250 people in 6,000 square feet, is used regularly for family celebrations, public events, conferences, and pop-up shopping markets; service providers have also used the center for community outreach.
Plaza Roberto Maestas also includes a number of elements that offer residents of Plaza Roberto Maestas and North Beacon Hill places to socialize and meet daily needs. The development enabled the José Martí Early Childhood Center, the state’s only Spanish/English dual-language education center accredited by the National Association of Education for Young Children, to expand from 4 classrooms to 11; the center, managed by El Centro de la Raza, currently accommodates approximately 215 children as young as 18 months old. The Business Opportunity Center, also managed by El Centro de la Raza, offers training and space for people who want to open their own businesses. In the center’s first year, 66 people received business development training, and 14 small businesses currently operate out of the center. These entrepreneurs can sell their goods at pop-up markets in the Centilia Cultural Center or, for those who are food vendors, from carts in the plaza. Locally owned businesses, including the Seattle Credit Union, a coffee shop, and a restaurant, occupy 3,200 square feet of retail space. Beacon Development Group also has an office located above the Centilia Cultural Center.
Development costs for Plaza Roberto Maestas totaled $45.4 million (table 1). Nearly half of the financing came from 9 percent low-income housing tax credit equity through the U.S. Bancorp Community Development Corporation. The city provided almost $8 million from its 2009 Housing Levy and other capital funds. Other funding sources were the Washington State Housing Trust Fund and the Washington Community Reinvestment Association. A capital campaign, the largest in El Centro de la Raza’s history, raised 8 percent of the total costs. Enterprise Community Partners and Impact Capital provided predevelopment funding.
|Low-income housing tax credits||$22,300,000|
|Seattle Housing Levy and other funds||5,900,000|
|Seattle HOME funds||2,000,000|
|Federal historic tax credits||1,600,000|
|El Centro de la Raza capital campaign||3,500,000|
Bringing Together Experts and Developing Organizational Knowledge
The mixed-use development included El Centro de la Raza’s largest affordable housing project. According to Maestas, El Centro de la Raza sought out partners and experts with knowledge and experience to ensure the project’s success. The development team included Beacon Development Group, a leader in affordable housing development, and SMR Architects, which has completed other mixed-use and affordable housing developments in Seattle. At the same time, El Centro de la Raza expanded its own capacity. A grant from Enterprise Community Partners enabled the organization to enhance its asset management capability. The organization has also learned how to operate the Centilia Cultural Center, stage events in the plaza, and oversee the retail space, which, through rentals, provides a revenue stream for El Centro de la Raza.
Seattle Office of Planning and Community Development. 2016. “Seattle 2035 Growth and Equity: Analyzing Impacts on Displacement and Opportunity Related to Seattle’s Growth Strategy.” Accessed 18 January 2018; U.S. Census Bureau. American Factfinder . 2016. “Seattle city, Washington: DP04: Selected Housing Characteristics, 2016 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimate.” Accessed 17 January 2018; Document supplied by Miguel Maestas, housing and economic development director, El Centro de la Raza; Seattle Office of Planning and Community Development. 2010. “North Beacon Hill Neighborhood Plan Update: Recommendations to City Council.” Accessed 17 January 2018; Interview with Miguel Maestas, 18 December 2017; American Institute of Architects. 2017. “ 2017 AIA/HUD Secretary’s Awards: Plaza Roberto Maestas, Beloved Community.” Accessed 17 January 2018.×
Interview with Miguel Maestas, 18 December 2017; Correspondence from Miguel Maestas, 16 January 2018; Seattle Office of Planning and Community Development. 2010. “North Beacon Hill Neighborhood Plan Update.” Accessed 17 January 2018; Document supplied by Miguel Maestas.×
Interview with Miguel Maestas, 18 December 2017; Document supplied by Miguel Maestas; Paul Percell. 2016. “Affordable Housing 101,” presentation at Housing Washington 2016 conference, 5 October. Accessed 17 January 2018; Correspondence from Miguel Maestas, 16 January 2018.×
Document supplied by Miguel Maestas.×
Interview with Miguel Maestas, 18 December 2017; Document supplied by Miguel Maestas.×
Interview with Miguel Maestas, 18 December 2017; Docmunent supplied by Miguel Maestas; Correspondence from Miguel Maestas, 20 January 2018.×
Novogradac & Company. 2015. “Low-Income Housing Tax Credit News Briefs: Dealmakers,” Novogradac Journal of Tax Credits 6:6, 1 June. Accessed 17 January 2018; El Centro de la Raza. 2013. “Plaza Roberto Maestas Receives $7.9 Million towards Building the 'Beloved Community,’” press release, 11 December. Accessed 17 January 2018; Seattle Office of Housing. 2013. "2009 Housing Levy: Report of Accomplishments,” 7. Accessed 31 January 2018; Beacon Development Group. n.d. “Featured Projects: Plaza Roberto Maestas.” Accessed 17 January 2018; Correspondence from Miguel Maestas, 12 January 2018; Document supplied by Miguel Maestas; Beacon Development Group. 2016. “Plaza Roberto Maestas Grand Opening,” press release, 25 October. Accessed 17 January 2018.×
Correspondence from Miguel Maestas, 12 January 2018; SMR Architects. n.d. “Plaza Roberto Maestas.” Accessed 17 January 2018.×