Affordable Housing on Religious Organization Property

What's Happening Now?

To address displacement and support community resilience, we are developing land use policies to support faith communities creating affordable housing. With these policies, religious organizations would have more flexibility to redevelop their land with long-term, income-restricted affordable housing. Read our one-page overview for more detail.

These policies respond to Substitute House Bill 1377 adopted by the Washington State Legislature in 2019 requiring cities to allow additional density for affordable housing developed on property owned or controlled by a religious organization. The affordable housing must be reserved for low-income households with incomes under 80 percent of area median income (AMI) for at least 50 years.

Project Benefits

Displacement of Seattle residents, especially within Black, Indigenous, and communities of color, is an ongoing challenge. In neighborhoods like the Central Area, for example, the Black population has decreased from more than 70 percent in the 1970s to less than one-fifth of the neighborhood's population today. Many faith organizations have advocated for City policies that support affordable housing development on their property as a strategy to address displacement, strengthen community ties, and maintain community ownership in their neighborhood.

Allowing additional density for long-term, income-restricted affordable housing on religious property helps us address Seattle's affordability crisis and supports the many faith-based organizations eager to use their land to create homes for their low-income neighbors. When paired with the support of public funds and tools like community preference, these land use policies help address historic and ongoing inequities in housing access by supporting community-driven and community-owned development.

Get Involved

Through summer and fall 2020, we are engaging with stakeholders, including faith-based organizations and nonprofit affordable housing developers, to inform a proposal for development standards that support this type of development. We anticipate sharing our draft and environmental analysis later this fall.

Interested in how faith-based organizations can support affordability and address displacement? Are you involved in or know of a religious group interested in community development? We would love to hear from you. Please email Nick Welch (nicolas.welch@seattle.gov) and Stephanie Velasco (stephanie.velasco@seattle.gov) to connect with us.

Timeline

Religious Lands Timeline
Click on image to enlarge.

Background

In 2019, the Washington State Legislature adopted Substitute House Bill 1377, directing cities and counties to grant additional density, consistent with local needs, for any affordable housing development on property owned or controlled by a religious organization. The affordable housing must be reserved for low-income households with incomes under 80 percent of area median income for at least 50 years.

Faith-based organizations in Seattle own property throughout the city. Based on our analysis of data from the King County Assessor, religious organizations own about a little more than 300 acres of land. Some organizations may be interested in redeveloping their entire property, while others may have underutilized land, like a surface parking lot, that they want to use to create affordable housing. The case studies below are examples of affordable housing built on land owned or previously owned by faith-based organizations.

Case Studies

  • Gethsemane Lutheran Church/Compass Dekko Place (Compass Housing Alliance): As the oldest Lutheran congregation in Seattle, Gethsemane Lutheran Church has a longstanding commitment to serving community needs in its Denny Triangle neighborhood and throughout Seattle. In 2012, the church completed a renovation and expansion of its original 1950s facility at 9th and Stewart into a mix of affordable housing, social services, a homeless shelter, and church spaces. The lower floors house a chapel and sanctuary, with five stories comprising 50 units of permanently affordable housing above. The ground floor is home to the Hope Center, which hosts Mary's Place Day Center and continues the community service programs the church has long provided.
    Gethsemane Lutheran Church
    Photo Credit: William Wright Photography and SMR Architects.

  • Arbora Court (Bellwether Housing): Arbora Court serves low-income families and individuals in the University District and includes forty apartments designated for families transitioning out of homelessness. The 133-unit affordable housing development was built on land that previously served as a church parking lot. Prior to merging with Lake City Christian Church to form Journey Christian Church, University Christian Church (UCC) sold the land to Bellwether Housing at below market value. The development, which was completed in 2018, includes on-site supportive services, a community room, courtyard, and playground for residents and their families.
    Arbora Court

  • Compass Broadview (Compass Housing Alliance): Compass Broadview provides 58 permanent affordable homes to low-income families and individuals, families exiting homelessness, and households with a member who has a disability. Compass Housing Alliance provides residents with on-site case management, tutoring, and other services. The building opened in 2019 and is located on a parcel of land in Seattle's Broadview neighborhood purchased at below market value from Luther Memorial Evangelical Lutheran Church (LMC). LMC wanted to use this land, which at the time was partially used as a surface parking lot, to further its mission of serving individuals and families experiencing homelessness. LMC maintains ownership of an adjacent site, where the church is located.
    Compass Broadview
    Photo Credit: William Wright Photography and SMR Architects.