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Seattle’s High Point Redevelopment Project

 

Located adjacent to one of Seattle’s most sensitive natural resource areas, the redevelopment of the High Point Garden public housing project in West Seattle, Washington, is a model for innovative and inclusive sustainable community development. The redevelopment project highlights the importance of a community-driven planning process, the synergy between the principles of low-impact development and New Urbanism, and the benefits of innovative resource- and energy-efficient building design and construction. Initiated with a $35 million HOPE VI grant from HUD, High Point embodies the goals of this ambitious federal program: to transform the physical and social dimensions of the nation’s most distressed public housing developments. The Seattle Housing Authority (Housing Authority) managed the $550 million redevelopment, which includes approximately $285 million in private investment, to provide more than 1,600 mixed-income housing units and enhanced community services over a period of 10 years.

Project Context and History

Originally built during World War II under the Lanham Act, the High Point Garden Community was an ideal location to house the influx of defense workers supporting the war effort.1 West Seattle is located southwest of downtown Seattle on a peninsula defined by Puget Sound to the north and west and the Duwamish River to the east. The site sits approximately 500 feet above sea level on a slope that descends in a northeasterly direction and abuts Longfellow Creek to the east.2 The creek is home to salmon spawning grounds, and its protection was (and remains) a high priority for city officials, nonprofit organizations, and Seattle residents.

The 1950s marked a period of change for the sprawling 120-acre High Point site, as the 1,300 housing units in approximately 400 buildings were transitioned from defense housing to accommodate Seattle’s low-income population.3 In the years after the transfer, High Point experienced a period of decline and by the 1990s, 140 of the original buildings were demolished and only 716 housing units remained.4

Various factors led to the social and physical deterioration of High Point, including the site’s location and the planning principles applied to the development. Because the site abutted Longfellow Creek, High Point was inaccessible directly from the east, which isolated the development from the rest of the community. Its curvilinear streets and cul-de-sacs limited circulation within the site and discouraged through-access from the north and south.5 These design and geographic features contributed to an environment rife with crime, as it was isolated from the surrounding neighborhood and difficult for law enforcement to patrol.6 As the obsolete buildings fell into disrepair, the Housing Authority demolished rather than rehabilitated the structures; in its existing state the development was one that neighbors would consciously avoid.7

The residents who remained at High Point were some of the most impoverished and disadvantaged in the city, and they lived in an environment dominated by drugs, crime, and other illicit activities.8 Nearly 51 percent of High Point residents lacked a high school education, and according to administrative data from the Housing Authority, more than half of High Point residents were unemployed. Nearly all the residents living in the development earned less than 50 percent of the area median income. The neighborhood surrounding High Point was socioeconomically distinct from the larger West Seattle neighborhood and the city as a whole.9 According to 2000 census data, 31 percent of residents in the High Point census tract were living in poverty, compared with 11 percent in the city and approximately 5 percent in the neighborhoods to the west.10 High Point and the surrounding neighborhood was also home to a disproportionate number of minority residents; approximately 70 percent of residents in the census tract were minorities, compared with 30 percent in the city and approximately 15 percent in the adjacent neighborhoods to the west.11

As High Point declined, the Housing Authority examined the possibility of rehabilitating the existing housing units. However, given the scale of the necessary improvements and its limited capital budget, the agency deemed the rehabilitation project infeasible. The only real possibility of redeveloping the site would come from securing a HOPE VI grant from HUD, which would provide a portion of funding for the rehabilitation and serve as critical leverage in securing additional public financing and private investment.12 In June 2000, HUD awarded the Housing Authority a $35 million grant to redevelop the existing High Point Garden community into a mixed-income neighborhood.

Sustainable Planning and Design

The HOPE VI grant marked the beginning of what would become a 4-year planning process for the redevelopment of High Point. In managing its third HOPE VI project, Housing Authority officials were aware that the success of High Point hinged on engaging residents from both High Point and the larger West Seattle neighborhood in the planning process. To achieve this goal, the Housing Authority and its planning and design consultants hosted a series of community meetings to reach a range of stakeholders.13 Information sessions were held with High Point residents to discuss the HOPE VI relocation process that would precede the redevelopment. Forums targeted to broader audiences gathered feedback on preferred architectural styles and plans for parks and open space.14 These meetings served as an important form of “mutual education” between the community and the planning professionals, where issues, concerns, and proposed solutions were vetted through a collaborative process.15 Community engagement resulted in a planning framework with four core principles:

  • Reintegrate High Point into West Seattle;

  • Create a Vibrant Community at High Point;

  • Build Diverse and Safe Housing; and

  • Create a Community of Open Spaces.

Based on these guiding principles, project goals were established to realign the High Point street network with that of the rest of West Seattle, ensure that housing units throughout the development would be mixed-income and serve all ages, provide a network of pedestrian-friendly infrastructure tied to parks and open spaces, and create high-quality community services. Protecting natural resources was another top priority; the development incorporated an innovative natural drainage system to minimize stormwater runoff and protect the salmon habitat of Longfellow Creek.

With the community goals in place, the Housing Authority and design team developed a 34-block master plan for High Point grounded in New Urbanist principles. New Urbanism is a framework for community planning that promotes inclusive, livable neighborhoods through mixed land use, diverse transportation infrastructure, and human-scale design principles. These design principles reinforce the community’s goals in several ways; the linear street network facilitates circulation within the site and strengthens connections to the larger West Seattle neighborhood, while a diversity of housing types and architectural styles complement the existing residential development in West Seattle to better integrate the development with the surrounding neighborhoods. The available housing types, which include single-family attached and detached homes, duplexes, and multifamily units, offer residents a range of housing options to meet their individual needs. Breaking up the massing of the buildings and conservative height restrictions allow for a significant increase in the number of housing units on the site (16–25 units per acre) without compromising the goal of creating a neighborhood-scaled, pedestrian-friendly community.16

High Point also incorporates New Urbanist principles to foster community interactions. Minimal setback and frontage requirements allow homes to be built close together and near the street. These design features define the sidewalks and create an attractive and expansive pedestrian network throughout the development. A hierarchy of open spaces, including pocket parks, community gardens, and a 3-acre “commons,” provides more than 20 acres of open space connected through a network of trails. This combination of passive and active amenities offers High Point residents many recreational options.17

Low-impact development strategies—which minimize the disturbance of natural landscape features and maximizes permeable surfaces to manage stormwater in a manner that promotes its natural flow through the watershed— were used at all scales of the development to implement the innovative natural drainage system. At the neighborhood level, the 20 acres of open space provide permeable surfaces to allow infiltration and reduce stormwater runoff. The 15,000 linear feet of vegetative bioswales constructed throughout the development absorb and filter rainwater before it enters the city’s storm drains.18 The bioswales direct storm runoff to an engineered pond that slowly releases the naturally filtered water into the Longfellow Creek watershed. In addition, rain gardens and native plantings throughout the development absorb stormwater. Permeable hardscaping, such as porous pavers, promotes groundwater infiltration.19 Each of the new building lots, created through the realignment of the street network and subdivision of the site, was subject to a drainage covenant that dictated an allowable amount of stormwater to flow from each site.20 To build the natural drainage system, the Housing Authority collaborated with the Seattle Public Utilities Commission, which developed the stormwater management plan and helped finance the additional costs of the system. 21

To implement these New Urbanist design principles and the natural drainage system, the project’s developers created detailed design guidelines and technical standards. The High Point Design Book provides High Point builders with detailed guidance on meeting the Housing Authority’s development standards, including architectural standards and allowable housing types, site planning, use regulations, and standards for landscape plantings in public right-of-ways. Building regulations and allowable architectural styles vary by lot and by block, a consideration informed by community members who did not want the housing to look institutional.22

Drainage technical standards helped private contractors meet the requirements set in High Point’s drainage covenant. The covenant provides unique drainage requirements for each building lot based on individual site conditions and controls for impervious surface cover, drainage discharge locations, and drainage from roofs. The technical standards also provide contractors with best practices, including using permeable hardscape materials, locating gutter downspouts, and planting recommendations for rain gardens.23

Financing and Phasing

High Point garnered more than $550 million in financing over more than 10 years, of which $285 million came from the private sector. Of the remaining financing, $35 million came from the initial HOPE VI grant, $106 million came from other public funding sources, $68 million came from tax-exempt borrowing, and $56 million came in tax credit equity.

The High Point project was developed in two phases, with construction of Phase I beginning in 2004 and Phase II beginning in 2006. As the master developer of the project, the Housing Authority removed the existing public housing on the site, financed the infrastructure, and was responsible for the creation of 600 affordable housing units.

Phase I included the development of 700 housing units, a new public library, and neighborhood medical and dental clinics. Of the housing, 344 units were developed for very low-income residents, with primary financing coming from $27 million in tax credit equity, $14 million from the sale of land to private developers, and $8.5 from the HOPE VI grant.24 The 350 privately constructed units are a combination of market-rate rentals and owner-occupied housing built by four developers. The new library, built on the western side of the High Point development, further integrates High Point with the larger West Seattle neighborhood.25

Phase II of the redevelopment included 900 mixed-income housing units and a neighborhood services center. Of the housing units, 266 serve low-income renters, and an additional 75 units accommodate very low-income seniors. The low-income housing units were financed with approximately $29 million in low-income housing tax credit equity, and the senior housing project received a HUD Section 202 grant.26 The High Point Center was completed in 2009 and offers a range of programs and activities for High Point and West Seattle residents. The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Gold–certified building includes the largest solar array built to date in the state of Washington and serves as the social nexus of the community.27

Sustainable Construction

Sustainability at High Point goes beyond incorporating low-impact development strategies and New Urbanist principles. The development’s construction embodies sustainability through resource conservation, energy-efficiency strategies, and innovative techniques developed to support improved health in children.

All of the housing units at High Point are built according to King County’s Built Green 3-star standard, a regional building and neighborhood certification program established by the governments of King and Snohomish counties in partnership with the Master Builders Association. The program certifies buildings and entire neighborhoods based on sustainable design, construction, and operations with respect to site development, energy efficiency, indoor air quality, and construction materials. Similar to LEED, Built Green certification is earned through points awarded to a project for meeting established criteria.

The sustainable features of High Point’s homes include Energy Star-rated appliances, closed-loop hydronic heating, tankless hot-water heating systems, energy-efficient windows, and dual-flush toilets. Building materials and practices such as airtight drywall and advanced framing techniques minimize air transfer between the interior and exterior of the building.28 Although the city of Seattle does not require Built Green certification, the Housing Authority required the certification for all High Point buildings as part of its approval process for private developers.29

In addition to the Built Green standards, the development team at High Point also pioneered the construction of 60 Breathe Easy homes to reduce the risk and severity of asthma in children. This is especially important because research shows low-income and minority children are disproportionately exposed to allergens and irritants associated with poor air quality in substandard housing conditions.30 The Housing Authority partnered with Neighborhood House, the University of Washington, King County public health officials, and other nonprofit organizations to get a Healthy Homes grant from HUD and additional funding from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) and Enterprise Community Partners (Enterprise) to implement the program.

Breathe Easy homes reduce the risk factors that contribute to childhood asthma through advanced ventilation systems, low off-gassing home construction materials, and the elimination of materials such as carpets and curtains that capture indoor air quality irritants.31 The HUD, NIEHS, and Enterprise grants funded the Breathe Easy interventions, as well as resources devoted to research and evaluation.

Experience Gained

The transformation of High Point from a severely distressed public housing site to a model of sustainable community development has earned the project numerous awards and honors, including the 2006 HUD Secretary’s Award for Community Informed Design and the Urban Land Institute’s 2007 Global Award for Excellence. And although these accolades underscore the process, innovation, and quality of the design and construction at High Point, the measureable benefits in terms of energy savings and improved health outcomes further highlight the project’s success.

Following the completion of the affordable housing units at High Point, Enterprise Community Partners commissioned a study to evaluate the development’s resource conservation and energy efficiency efforts. The study examined High Point’s energy and water consumption compared with that of a recently upgraded public housing development (Yesler Terrace) and the Housing Authority’s first HOPE VI project, New Holly. By comparing utility bills, researchers found that residents of High Point consumed approximately 37 percent less energy for space and water heating compared with residents of New Holly and used less water than residents of both New Holly and Yesler Terrace.32 When comparing the all-electric units across the three developments, the savings at High Point were most substantial compared with Yesler Terrace, but were still significant compared with New Holly (see table 1). The savings generated at High Point has allowed the Housing Authority to recalculate its utility allowances based on actual consumption, representing a total savings of approximately $500,000 annually.33

 

Table 1. Electricity Consumption Comparison: High Point, New Holly, and Yesler Terrace

Development

Heat Source

Bedrooms

Average Square Feet

Average Annual Usage Per Square Foot (KwH)

Annual Cost

Average Annual Cost per Square Foot

Yesler Terrace

Electric

1

516

13.3

$399.00

$0.77

New Holly

Electric

1

627

10.5

$368.40

$0.59

High Point

Electric

1

655

9.1

$324.60

$0.50

* The housing units used for the comparison across all three developments are only those with electric space and water heating.
** Table Source: Enterprise Community Partners. 2009. “Sharing the Benefits of Building Green: A Study of the High Point Community," www.cedarrivergroup.com/projects/high_pt_bldg_green_rpt01-21-09.pdf, accessed 18 March 2012.

 

Evidence from High Point also suggests the positive health benefits for children living in Breathe Easy homes. As part of a longitudinal study funded by grants from HUD and NIEHS, researchers collected clinical data from children with asthma in 34 families before and after moving into Breathe Easy homes. Although the sample size is small, the outcomes from the study show significant health benefits in children as a result of living in a Breathe Easy Home. The clinical outcomes show increases in the number of asthma-free days experienced by children, significant reductions in the percentage of children needing urgent clinical care, and improvements in health quality. These significant health benefits were gained through investments of only $5,000 to $7,000 per housing unit.34

Beyond the measurable benefits, the greatest lesson from the High Point redevelopment is the importance of community involvement, strong local leadership, and public-private partnerships in facilitating successful community redevelopment. Many of the innovations at High Point are a direct result of close collaboration with the residents of High Point and the surrounding community, and were implemented through strong working relationships among the Housing Authority, city officials, private developers, and nonprofit organizations.

Development Team

Master Developer

Seattle Housing Authority

Community Group

Partnership for High Point’s Future

Architect (Master Plan, Site Design, Rental Housing Design)

Mithun Architects

Civil Engineering, Infrastructure and Natural Drainage System Design

SvR Design

Landscape Design

Nakano Associates

Financing

HOPE VI

$35 Million

Private Investment

$285 Million

Low-Income Housing Tax Credit Equity

$56 Million

Additional Public Funding

$106 Million

Tax-Exempt Borrowing

$68 Million

Table Source: Seattle Housing Authority. Redevelopment Plan. Seattle Housing Authority Website: http://www.seattlehousing.org/redevelopment/high-point/plan/.


  1. BOLA Architecture and Planning. 2010. “Landmark Preservation: Yesler Terrace.” Prepared for the City of Seattle Landmarks Preservation Board. http://www.seattle.gov/neighborhoods/preservation/documents/LPBCurrentNom_Yesler_Terrace_Text.pdf (website content has changed and this document is no longer available)

  2. Bruner Foundation. 2007. “High Point Redevelopment,” www.brunerfoundation.org/rba/index.php?page=2007/highpoint, accessed 18 March 2012.

  3. BOLA Architecture and Planning

  4. Seattle Housing Authority. 2002. “Final Environmental Impact Statement: High Point Revitalization,” www.seattlehousing.org/redevelopment/pdf/HP_FEIS.pdf, accessed 18 March 2012.

  5. Ibid.

  6. Tom Phillips and George Nemeth, Seattle Housing Authority, Email Correspondance 21 November 2011.

  7. Ibid.

  8. Ibid.

  9. Rachel Garschick Kleit and Jennifer Allison. 2002. “HOPE VI for High Point Baseline Report,” Daniel J. Evans School of Public Affairs, University of Washington.

  10. 2000 Census, Summary File 3. www.census.gov

  11. Kleit and Allison.

  12. Phillips and Nemeth correspondence.

  13. Seattle Housing Authority.

  14. Ibid.

  15. Bruner Foundation.

  16. Mithun Architects. 2006. “High Point in West Seattle: Design Book.”

  17. Ibid.

  18. Richard L. Johnson and Peg Staeheli. 2006. “City of Seattle- Stormwater Low Impact Development Practices.” http://www.seattle.gov/util/groups/public/@spu/@usm/documents/webcontent/spu02_020004.pdf

  19. Bruner Foundation.

  20. SVR Design Company. 2006. “High Point Community Site Drainage Technical Standards,” www.svrdesign.com/docs/High-Point-Technical-Drainage-Standards_LID_GSI_green-stormwater-infrastructure_web.pdf, accessed 18 March 2012.

  21. Enterprise Community Partners. 2009. “Sharing the Benefits of Building Green: A Study of the High Point Community,” www.cedarrivergroup.com/projects/high_pt_bldg_green_rpt01-21-09.pdf, accessed 18 March 2012

  22. Phillips and Nemeth correspondence.

  23. SVR Design Company.

  24. Bruner Foundation.

  25. Ibid.

  26. Phillips and Nemeth correspondence

  27. Environmental Works. 2010. “Neighborhood House High Point Center: Case Study,” www.eworks.org/highpoint.pdf, accessed 18 March 2012.

  28. “Sharing the Benefits of Building Green: A Study of the High Point Community” Enterprise Community Partners. January 2009.

  29. Mithun Architects.

  30. T.K. Takaro, J. Krieger, L. Song, D. Sharify, and N. Beaudet. 2011. “The Breathe-Easy Home: The Impact of Asthma-Friendly Home Construction on Clinical Outcomes and Trigger Exposure,” American Journal of Public Health 101(1), 55–62..

  31. Ibid.

  32. Enterprise Community Partners.

  33. Takaro et al.