Imagine Housing Bolster Efforts in Challenging Climate

Imagine Housing, advocating at the Bellevue City Council

Imagine Housing has established itself as one of the leading providers of affordable housing in East King County (EKC), providing nearly 1,100 economically vulnerable individuals with a place to call home.

Their efforts have earned them community trust and sincere acknowledgement in the affordable housing sector. While the Imagine office is located in Kirkland, their properties are spread throughout the Eastside, including Sammamish, Issaquah, Kirkland, Redmond, Bellevue, and Mercer Island.

Down the road from Imagine’s Kirkland office stand two attractive looking apartment complexes. These buildings appear so similar that you may not register a difference between them. They both seem new, well maintained, and possibly pricey.

However, one of these buildings is named Velocity, an Imagine-owned and operated affordable housing complex. It provides a comforting presentation of what affordable housing can look like with enough dedication and resources.

“There’s a lot of dignity in having a beautiful place to live… when I first drove by I couldn’t tell the difference between the market rate building next door [and velocity]” says Erica Jurmann, Resident Support Specialist at Velocity.

The services offered at Velocity go beyond brick and mortar. Support services for residents include provisions of items not offered by local food banks like toiletries, in addition to a back to school program, help with signing up for resources, and an event structure aimed at community building.

This support structure is especially important when helping people transition from homelessness.

“We see a lot of stress for people coming out of homelessness [such as] handling your bills, handling notices from management even about mundane things,” says Jurmann

Two new developments are on the horizon, which would grow Imagine’s portfolio to 15 properties. Athene (Kirkland) is estimated to open in Jan 2018, and 30Bellevue (Bellevue) is in predevelopment phase and being constructed in partnership with Saint Luke’s Lutheran church.

“I think we’re good at partnerships, and we’re getting better, and we’re having to look more towards partnerships in this funding climate to make our work sustainable,” says Kathryn Jacoby, Operations Coordinator at Imagine Housing

Kitchen and Patio at Velocity

Uniquely positioned in an area that has both space and high demand, many East King County municipalities are experiencing metropolitan prices for housing in suburban environments. While several factors can be attributed to this saturation, an undeniable cause is the proliferation of the tech industry in the region.

This saturation manifests itself in two ways: engineers and developers for industry whales such as Amazon are generally provided with compensation that allows for home-buying. Tempted by a suburban environment and the size of homes available there, they buy property in a surrounding region. The ability of these buyers to climb above the suburban market rate gradually inflates that rate.

Another manifestation is that the tech companies themselves are tempted by what the Eastside has to offer. Microsoft has been in Redmond since the mid 80’s, and preclude this trend, but the Eastside has become home to many companies since then – and more continue to be added.

REI is in the process of moving to Bellevue, Tableau is constructing large scale buildings in Kirkland, and Google continues to expand their Kirkland campus since moving there in 2004. The expansion of these companies on the Eastside brings a strong concentration of high salaries into the region.

As the housing market rate balloons, affordable housing becomes much more necessary for those who do not receive tech-level compensation.

“The [tech companies] have a lot of employees who aren’t engineers and the people who work there rely on small businesses and retail employees and grocery store employees. Affordable housing helps the Eastside run without having to import labor, ” says Jacoby

Despite the challenges of serving a rapidly growing population that is being priced out of the region, Imagine is set to broaden their horizons. Currently, they primarily serve those who earn 60% AMI (area median income) and below. Imagine’s intention is to expand their services to incorporate higher earners of 60-80% AMI, who have a little more self-sustain, but (especially in the case of families) are still in need.

Imagine also aims to build upon their active engagement with surrounding communities and expand their engagement with low-income communities when it comes to the planning and design of buildings.

“We believe affordable housing is good for everyone in the community, whether they are low income or not… the Eastside is feeling the impact of not having affordable housing at all income levels. School districts are suffering because they cannot keep teachers and local businesses can’t hire employees and are experiencing excessive turnover, and people are commuting in from miles and miles away,” says Jacoby

Meanwhile, at properties such as Velocity, many individuals in tenuous economic positions are given shelter and care. Appearing as a mirror to the neighboring market-rate complex, Velocity provides a partial but important solution to these many challenges.

As Imagine have exhibited, collaborative and vested efforts are an important and effective way forward – But the road is long.

“Last year we developed a business plan and our goal for the next five years is to develop 500 new units on the Eastside, which would double our current portfolio, however it would not even get to half of our wait list,” says Jacoby