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Seattle’s mission to close the affordable housing gap for at-risk populations

Vicki Grogan and her husband have been living at Cheryl Chow Court since 2015. With a history of homelessness, the couple was ready to call their new place home. 

Vicki Grogan knows all too well the feeling of sleeping on the cold, wet ground. She’s fully aware of the icy and judgmental stares that can make anyone feel invisible. She knows what it’s like to go to sleep with a growling belly and the many unknowns that tomorrow will bring.
She was once part of the 10,047 Seattle homeless count. Now, she’s one of the thousands of senior citizens who have a place to call home.
“It was like I was walking into a dream world,” said Grogan, resident of Cheryl Chow Court in Ballard. “I couldn’t ask for anything more.”
Grogan and her husband spent six months living on the streets of Seattle before moving to the Emergency Service Center, a local homeless shelter in downtown Seattle. They said they spent two years at the shelter before a caseworker referred them to Cheryl Chow Court. The couple has been living there since the apartment was first constructed by The Low income Housing Institute (LIHI) in 2015.  
“Seattle is viewed nationally as one of the leading examples on tackling the affordable housing issue, said Todd Burley, communications director for the City of Seattle’s Office of Housing.
“We basically act like a bank. We directly fund organizations, primarily nonprofits that own, build, and manage affordable housing.”
The Low income Housing Institute is an example. Founded in 1991, the organization has become a pioneer in affordable housing, owning over 1,700 apartments throughout the Puget Sound region. Several of its units also depend on Seattle Housing Levy funds, including Cheryl Chow Court and the upcoming University Commons in U-District.
In the last three decades, the Seattle Housing Levy has invested $388 million to build over 12,500 affordable apartments for low-income families, youth, seniors, and single adults – some of whom would otherwise be homeless.
“I think there is a huge gap for affordable housing for many people, including senior citizens,” said Arthur Warmoth, service and event coordinator at Cheryl Chow Court.
To help lessen the gap in affordable housing for low-income seniors, LIHI built Cheryl Chow Court in early 2015. To proceed with construction, LIHI was given $2.7 million in housing levy dollars, $7 million in U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) grants, and other funding sources. A total of $13.5 million was spent on the construction of this building.
The 50-unit apartment complex houses both low-income seniors and ones with a history of homelessness. To be eligible to apply, annual income cannot exceed $30,900 for a one-person household or $35,300 for a two-person household. Qualified tenants are expected to pay 30 percent of their monthly income for rent. HUD pays the difference.
“They helped us get back on our feet and put a roof over our heads,” said Grogan. I can’t thank them enough.”
To help make the transition into permanent housing smoother, Cheryl Court also makes sure all residents have access to financial-literacy training and savings programs, healthcare education, and activities ranging from bingo to cooking classes and quarterly holiday meals.
“Vicki is an excellent member of the community and is a wonderful person,” said Warmoth. “She likes to participate in a lot of events that go on here and gets along with everyone.”
Although Grogan has a place to call home, there are thousands of at-risk or already homeless populations still waiting to find a place of their own.
Luckily, the City of Seattle has already invested $45 million to develop 809 low-income housing units this year.
Eight apartments will be built throughout the Seattle area, targeting homeless populations in Sandpoint, Westlake, South Seattle, International and University Districts. Construction is set to begin early this year and will be completed by late 2018. A majority of funding ($15 million) comes from current housing levy dollars.
“Affordable housing is desperately needed,” said Aaron Long, LIHI’s communications specialist. “We applaud the city for having declared a state of emergency on homelessness and we are hoping that they will propose a much larger housing levy.”
The current housing levy brought in $145 million over the last seven years. It’s set to expire at the end of this year.
The City of Seattle is hoping to replace it with a new seven-year ballot measure that would invest $290 million to preserve and produce affordable housing.
In the next 10 years, the city hopes to build an additional 20,000 affordable housing units, many of which will increase the number of senior citizens, people with disabilities, low-wage workers, and people experiencing homelessness. The levy will also provide funding for homelessness prevention to families who are at imminent risk of eviction and help first-time homebuyers with limited income find an affordable home.
“The city is doing a really good job for homeless people and taking people off the street,” said Grogan. “I count my blessings every day.”

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