Abandoned Naval Barracks in Seattle Converted Into Affordable Housing
In 1970, the United States Navy deactivated a 413-acre naval base in Seattle. A few years later, the Navy relinquished 196 acres of the land to the city for use as a large public park, which remains popular today. By 1995, the Navy had transferred the entire base to various entities, including the city and the University of Washington. A few decades later, developer Mercy Housing acquired the old Navy barracks known as Building 9 and converted the structure into 148 units of affordable housing. This complex, Mercy Magnuson Place, stands out as an affordable housing project that was born out of extensive rehabilitation and preservation of a dilapidated but historically protected structure.
From Barracks to Bedrooms
Initially given to the University of Washington, Building 9 sat vacant for several years and deteriorated significantly. At one point, vandals ripped out the building’s electrical and plumbing systems. The building became a hotspot for illicit activities, which created problems for the neighborhood. In the words of Alisa Luber, a senior project developer at Mercy Housing Northwest, “It was a fright… you would not go into this building alone.
State policymakers eventually decided to use Building 9 for a public purpose, and the state put out a request for proposals to determine how to repurpose these structures and who should use them. In 2016, after careful review, the state transferred the land to Mercy Housing to construct Mercy Magnuson Place.
The renovation process took approximately 2 years. The developer had to strip the building’s interior, leaving only the brick exterior and the concrete interior structure. This process alone took 4 months to complete and required 135 trucks to carry away the demolition waste. Because much of this waste was hazardous, an environmental biologist had to be onsite during the entire process to monitor the air quality. In addition, Mercy Housing had to replace all 850 windows as well as the missing electrical and plumbing systems.
These rehabilitation efforts were complicated further by the building’s historic designation. Because the building is listed in the National Register of Historic Places, the National Park Service (NPS) had to approve plans for the interior. NPS wanted Mercy Housing to preserve the building’s lighting, stairwells, windows, and doors. In addition, the property itself was in one of the city’s historic districts, the Sand Point Naval Air Station Landmark District, and therefore was subject to the covenant governing the area. To get approval for its plans, Mercy Housing needed to go before the Seattle Landmarks Preservation Board four times. Unlike NPS, the city was concerned with nearly every aspect of the building’s exterior. Today, the building closely resembles the way it looked more than 80 years ago.
Serving Residents and the Larger Community
Mercy Magnuson Place has 148 apartments spread across 2 four-story wings. Rents for these apartments start at less than half of the current average rent in Seattle. Twenty are reserved for those earning no more than 30 percent of the area median income (AMI), and 20 are reserved for those earning no more than 50 percent of AMI. The remainder are targeted to those earning no more than 60 percent of AMI. Mercy Magnuson Place prioritizes families; more than 50 percent of the units have two or three bedrooms. In addition, 20 percent of the units are reserved for residents with disabilities.
Centered between the two wings is a two-story square building that was not suitable for housing because its interior had no access to natural light. This structure houses an education center, a health clinic, and a large community room. The Denise Louie Education Center has six classrooms for children and infants. The center also has rooms set aside for social and gross motor development as well as an outdoor playground. Denise Louie offers affordable childcare for neighborhood residents. The onsite health clinic, operated by Neighborcare Health, serves people with addiction problems, behavioral health issues, and chronic health conditions. The staff also serve as social workers by helping residents obtain assistance with food, housing, or other needs. In addition, Mercy partnered with University District Food Bank to offer a weekly food pantry onsite. This pantry is even more vital considering that the immediate area has no grocery stores and public transit options are limited. Like the education center, the health clinic and food pantry serve the broader community.
Because Mercy Magnuson Place is in a large urban park, other communal spaces are within steps of the development. Magnuson Park offers numerous trails, sports fields, and playgrounds. Thanks to its location on Lake Washington, Mercy Magnuson Place residents can enjoy lakefront beaches. Mercy has even partnered with some of the park’s activity providers, such as the sailing and paddling club Sail Sandpoint, to offer programs at a discount to residents. The neighborhood is a resource-rich community with well-regarded schools.
Financing the Project
Due to the intensive rehabilitation and environmental remediation required for this project, capital costs alone exceeded $67 million. Although the project drew a mix of public, corporate, and philanthropic support, a significant portion of the construction funding for the residences came in the form of federal tax credit equity from Enterprise Community Partners. Nearly $20 million came from 4 percent and 9 percent low-income housing tax credit equity, and close to $11 million came from historic preservation tax credit equity. In addition, the city of Seattle and state of Washington both provided funding for the construction of the education center, and the state supported the development of the health clinic. Combined, these sources amounted to another $27 million in construction financing.
Leveraging Vacant Public Land for the Public Good
Despite the challenges presented by both significant structural deterioration and the requirement to preserve historic features, the state of Washington and city of Seattle successfully leveraged the availability of vacant land — a significant asset in a tight housing market — into 148 units of affordable housing. But beyond just housing, partnerships with local service providers give residents of both the building and wider neighborhood access to vital resources including food, childcare, education, and health services benefitting the entire community.
Washington Trust for Historic Preservation. n.d. “Sand Point Naval Air Station.” Accessed 27 September 2021; State of Washington. n.d. “Naval Station Puget Sound at Sand Point History.” Accessed 11 October 2021; University of Washington. n.d. “History Summary Sand Point Peninsula.” Accessed 27 September 2021; The Mountaineers. n.d. “Magnuson Park.” Accessed 27 September 2021; Patrick McRoberts. 1999. “Navy Bids Seattle's Sand Point Naval Base Farewell on September 28, 1995,” HistoryLink.org, 1 January. Accessed 7 October 2021; Affordable Housing Tax Credit Coalition. n.d. “Mercy Magnuson Place.” Accessed 27 September 2021; Capital One. 2020. “Mercy Magnuson Place: Repurposing a former Navy Barracks,” press release, 14 October. Accessed 5 October 2021. ×
Interview with Alisa Luber, senior project developer, Mercy Housing Northwest, 15 September 2021. ×
Interview with Alisa Luber, 15 September 2021; Mercy Housing. n.d. “Welcome to Mercy Magnuson Place.” Accessed 11 October 2021; RentCafé. n.d. “Seattle, WA Rental Market Trends.” Accessed 7 October 2021. ×
Interview with Alisa Luber, 15 September 2021; Denise Louie Education Center. n.d. “The Project.” Accessed 15 September 2021; Neighborcare Health. 2021. “Neighborcare Health at Magnuson.” Accessed 15 September 2021; University District Food Bank. n.d. “Magnuson Park Community Food Pantry.” Accessed 30 September 2021. ×
Email correspondence with Alisa Luber, 29 September 2021; Interview with Alisa Luber, 15 September 2021. ×
Interview with Alisa Luber, 15 September 2021; Andrew Dehan. 2021. “10 Most Expensive Cities in the US,” Rocket Mortgage, 23 September. Accessed 6 October 2021. ×