News

Pro-Environment, Pro-Density

The Housing & Climate Crises

Take Action for Washington Can’t Wait!

Density is a critical solution to our compounding housing and climate crises. Our region’s housing growth does not meet the scale of our growing population’s needs. To address this sustainably and equitably, we must grow housing options within our current neighborhoods to meet the needs of residents across King County and preserve our local environment. We have a window of opportunity with the Washington Can’t Wait Campaign to take bold action for affordability and the environmental justice.

Current estimates report a need of 244,000 additional, affordable homes in King County by 2040 to meet our community’s housing gap. Despite our region’s economic boom, those with the lowest incomes are being hit hardest. Households making less than 80% average median income are spending over 30% of their income on housing – which leaves very little for food, clothing, and medical expenses. Dense, affordable, and equitable transit-oriented communities are one of the most effective tools we have to address the affordability and climate crisis.

Conventional, large detached lots and dispersed housing developments are challenging to maintain and to protect air and water quality. Cities’ are challenged with financing and maintaining infrastructure for sprawled out communities including schools, utilities, and streets. Dispersed housing cannot support viable public transit, biking, or pedestrian options. The rules that remain unchanged will not address this shortage and could misuse valuable natural resources.

Source: Ashley Zhang, Missing Middle Housing

How do we build “denser”?

As Seattle’s Planning Commission explains, “In the absence of vacant land, new housing must be integrated into the existing fabric of our neighborhoods.” To build denser communities, we need to utilize zoning and land use tools. Zoning policy underlines the connections between housing, the environment, and social justice. Unfortunately, land use laws have remained the same while populations have grown significantly.

More inclusive zoning permits a larger variety of housing types within a specific area or “zone.” These are housing options that can house multiple families per building, such as apartments, townhomes, and duplexes. Such housing options are more affordable for moderate- and low-income renters. Communities like these are critical to ensuring everyone in each city can afford a safe and healthy home.

HDC Member Project: Bob & Marcia Almquist Place

This summer, Portland embraced this solution by passing the “Residential Infill Project,” which permits building new 1-4 homes on any residential lot in the city. As a bonus, if over half the homes are affordable, the limit increases to six per lot.

The Urbanist: Portland Passes Sweeping Zoning Reform

Denser communities will also significantly help King County’s carbon footprint. Building denser housing will help minimize sprawl, protecting and preserving the natural environment. Think: Building up, not out. Plus, less sprawl also leads to shorter commutes and decreased carbon emissions. Multi-family housing, like apartment buildings and -plexes, also reduce energy use as more people are living closer together and sharing amenities. Furthermore, dense communities share natural resources and municipal services, which helps reduce the city’s overall carbon impact.

Zoning and land use tools that can include more housing types will make for more sustainable neighborhoods with mixed incomes.

In Seattle, about 75% of residential land is exclusively zoned for single-family homes. Aside from ADU/DADUs, single-family zoning limits any type of new housing within these zones. This has hindered our climate goals. Lower density communities with single-use developments promote more traffic and longer commutes to jobs and shopping. In 2018, 64% of Seattle’s greenhouse gas emissions came from transportation.

Seattle Commuters During Rush Hour

Mixed-use building is another way we can grow our communities while preserving our local environment. When you see apartments above retail or other services, that is an example of a mixed-use building. It is great for mixed-income levels as well. This is a great solution to the housing and climate crises because it is expanding existing buildings to make the most of that space and facilities. It also produces housing extremely close to retail, reducing the need to drive or hop on a bus, thus residents’ carbon footprint.

HDC Member Mixed-Use Project: Marion West Building

Fixing up abandoned buildings or converting them to residential building can provide housing for lower-income folks while utilizing already-used land.

By advocating for more inclusive housing, we are advocating for more inclusive and greener living. We know that density is not the only thing that needs to be done to solve our climate and affordable housing crisis, but it’s a large component. We must be advocating for sustainable and green solutions in lock step with increase affordability and density.

Take Action

We cannot wait another ten years to tackle climate change, environmental justice, and the housing affordability crisis. This week, Futurewise is hosting a Week of Action for the Washington Can’t Wait Campaign to fight for big changes to the Growth Management Act in three decades. Your support is critical in this effort! Take action by emailing your legislators here and share this opportunity on social media.

Vision 2050 will cover the transportation and planning projections within the King, Kitsap, Pierce, and Snohomish counties, which will be a major game changer in the climate/housing conversation. HDC is hosting a Learn at Lunch to discuss Vision 2050 and Countywide Planning Policies (CPPs). Register here to attend.

HDC Highlight: Cedar Crossing

Congratulations to HDC members, Bellwether Housing and Mercy Housing Northwest, on the upcoming development Cedar Crossing, located in Seattle’s Roosevelt neighborhood. The joint project will feature 254 affordable homes, 91 of which are 2 and 3-bedroom apartments for larger families. There will be on-site resident services. It will also feature on-site affordable childcare and retail spaces on the ground-floor, making the project a mixed-use development.

The development will have housing dedicated to families with children with significant medical needs. This aspect of the development came to fruition through a partnership with Seattle Children’s Hospital  and Mary’s Place. Cedar Crossing will also be home to veterans and their families.

The location is another feature to be excited about – Cedar Crossing will be located next to the incoming Roosevelt Light Rail Station! Cedar Crossing includes limited parking and provides storage for at least one bicycle for every unit.

Transit-oriented development—when implemented equitably—can benefit and attract diverse, mixed-income, and environmentally conscious communities. Low-income families in market-rate housing spend on average 60% of their gross incomes on housing and transportation. Equitable transit-oriented development (eTOD) ensures that existing land uses and new development support transportation choices for everyone.

Bellwether and Mercy are working with HDC member, VIA Architects, as well as the Berger Partnership Landscape Architects to design the project with community-enhancing spaces.

The project is expected to open its doors as early as Spring 2022. Check out the virtual ground breaking of Cedar Crossing here.

 

HDC Member Highlight: Tiscareno Associates

A thoughtful approach to affordable and workforce housing architecture

We all know that designing affordable housing architecture is a constant balancing act: Owners need optimal space usage within a finite budget and site constraints, while tenants need places of comfort, shelter, and community.

New HDC member, Tiscareno Associates, works diligently to balance these needs and help steward project resources from the start to guide projects through the myriad of questions and tradeoffs of budget, schedule, zoning, and program goals.

The team carefully deliberates over each affordable housing challenge as they help project partners nail down the program, manipulate unit counts, and get everything to work within code and financial constraints.

Site plan for The Reserve at Portage Creek, Arlington, Washington

For example, an affordable housing project for seniors—The Reserve at Portage Creek—needed a residential look and feel that could also anchor to a nearby trail system and a future main street. Tiscareno Associates’ V-shaped design creates a ”village” of seven linked, individual structures that unite residents via communal courtyards and other amenities.

Community space and outside livability are evidenced in the mixed-use workforce housing of The Main Apartments + Lofts. This housing project preserves its locale’s small-town community feel by providing 1600 square feet of retail and 108 apartments in seven small-scale buildings, rather than a single podium-style structure. Interior common areas and an integrated woonerf street invite people to mingle indoors and out.

 

“I’m very much looking forward to getting more involved in the affordable housing community. I know HDC provides a great opportunity to connect with and learn from other architects and developers.”

Mark Stine, Assoc. Principal, Tiscareno Associates

Additionally, Tiscareno Associates’ Solera is a 550-unit mixed-income apartment complex planned for Renton which balances the city’s desire to have a mix of market-rate units and affordable units. The project brings new HDC member, DevCo’s family-oriented affordable housing vision, with a number of larger 4-bedroom units. Tiscareno Associates designed the two buildings, while not identical, to share tripartite facades and a dark neutral color palate, reinforcing the sense of unified community.

When it comes to designing affordable housing architecture for workforces, families, and seniors, Tiscareno Associates understands that a thoughtful approach to all the variables works best for balancing budget, zoning, schedule, maintenance, and tenant livability. To collaborate in the future, whether a yield study, professional opinion or other, email [email protected] for more information.

HDC is glad to have Tiscareno staff as part of our housing community!

Affordable Housing Week 2020 Recap

“COVID layered a housing emergency on top of a long-term housing crisis, making it even more important that we work with urgency to find housing solutions… It’s critical that we work together to find regional solutions to keep people in their homes now and to create more affordable homes into the future so that every family in King County has a safe, stable place to call home.”

– King County Councilmember Claudia Balducci

For the last five years, Affordable Housing Week has been a time for us to gather as a sector to reflect on equitable policy solutions that we, as a region, can implement to ensure all our neighbors have access to safe, healthy and affordable homes. This year was no exception – the same familiar events and spirit of AHW past… but entirely online.

In the midst of the most devastating public health challenges our community has ever faced, AHW was a time to refocused on addressing the housing needs within our community, which have only been exacerbated by the COVID-19 crisis and have disproportionately impacted Black, Indigenous and People of color (BIPOC) and low-income people.

Together, we shared stories, we listened, we learned. Over 1,500 participants joined for the week’s events.

In sum, AHW consisted of a total of 10 events hosted by 18 HDC members and partners. From elected officials to engaged advocates, this week was an opportunity for all King County residents to come together as part of the affordable housing movement.

Being stuck at home did not make thing easy, this was our first-ever entirely online AHW. So, we all had to get creative. Events consisted of virtual panels, tours, workshops, and trainings to the housing solutions that are within our reach when we collaborate as a movement! All the events were recorded and have been published. If you missed or would like to share an event, please do so – that is the best perk of online events!

King County’s growing need for affordable housing is a regional problem and impacts all municipalities. Together, as a movement, we gathered
16 proclamations from jurisdictions across King County (including King County itself) recognizing this important week.

Lastly, we created a zoning/land use themed “Know Your Zone” Community Scavenger Hunt, so folks could apply lessons learned during the week to housing in their own communities. Prompts included finding various housing types, locating amenities such as transit hubs and public spaces.

Thank you all who participated, whether it be by attending or hosting your own event. This week could not have been so successful without your hard work, dedication, and commitment to affordable homes in our region.

Member Highlight: Plymouth’s Bob & Marcia Almquist Place

Congratulations to Plymouth Housing in opening their newest development, the Bob and Marcia Almquist Place, this April. Located in the Chinatown-International District, Almquist Place is the first building of the recent PROOF campaign, which serves as proof that Seattle can end homelessness.

 

In prioritizing housing first, Plymouth’s permanent supportive housing breaks a cycle that many experiencing homelessness struggle to navigate. Their homes provide stability, privacy, and a sense of belonging. This approach works – 97% of Plymouth’s residents succeed in maintaining permanent home after leaving homelessness.

Bob and Marcia Almquist Place consists of 102 new studio units of permanent supportive housing, with an additional three units for live-in staff, intended to house adults transitioning out of homelessness. Supportive services include case managers to serve individual needs, on-site nursing and medical care, behavioral health treatment, counseling, and hospice care, among many others. In providing a permanent home, residents can stay within their home for as long as they need, until they are ready to move into a different permanent living situation. “Some residents live with us for the rest of their lives, and we’re lucky to have them as bedrock members of our community,” says Plymouth.

     

Being Plymouth’s first development in the Chinatown-International District, Almquist Place represents a plethora of community partnerships rooted in putting housing first. Both Asian Counseling and Referral Services (ARCS) and Friends of Little Saigon helped welcome the project to the neighborhood.

 

In a recent DJC interview, Tim Parham, Plymouth’s Director of Real Estate explained, “Our housing is needed now more than ever.” With skyrocketing unemployment—which is still on the rise—the impacts of COVID-19 are not fully known yet. Despite all the challenges the pandemic has introduced to our sector, Bob and Marcia Almquist Place is currently housing over a hundred individuals. In so many ways, Bob and Marcia Almquist Place represents hope and determination in putting housing first.

The building’s name comes from Plymouth founders, Bob and Marcia Almquist. Together, the couple helped create the Plymouth Housing Group in 1980. At that time, Seattle’s housing crisis was a major concern of the faith community and spurred involvement from the Almquist’s church. Their continued involvement, in both staff and board capacity, helped shaped Plymouth into the organization it is today. Bob and Marcia Almquist Place is the perfect encapsulation of their legacy and commitment to putting housing first.

Keep up the wonderful work, Plymouth!

Congratulations, LDSC 2020!

Congratulations to this year’s Leadership Development Survey Course (LDSC) cohort, which has successfully completed the 2020 program! Twenty participants committed to this 6-month, 65 hour program and adapted quickly and gracefully to a remote learning platform. HDC is so incredibly grateful for the cohort’s time and dedication to making the affordable housing sector better for all our County’s residents.

Over the last several months, the 2020 cohort gathered to learn from current leaders and outside experts. These sessions covered a variety of topics important to understanding our sector, like housing finance and housing policy/governance. Despite being shifted online, these sessions continued to build connections and networks between participants and experienced sector leaders.

Congratulations to all our LDSC 2020 participants!

  • Trina Baker
    YWCA
  • Nathan Bombardier
    SouthEast Effective Development (SEED)
  • Aisaya Corbray
    Low Income Housing Institute (LIHI)
  • Rachtha Danh
    SCIDpda
  • Emily Darling
    SMR Architects
  • Roxanne Glick
    Nakano Associates
  • Veronica Guenther
    Community Roots Housing
  • Bron Heintz
    atelierjones llc (formerly with GGLO)
  • Freya Johnson
    Environmental Works
  • Gladys Ly-Au Young
    SKL Architects
  • Daniel Marks
    Compass Construction
  • Fik Mulugeta
    Walsh Construction
  • Erin Nathan
    Parkview Services
  • Jeremy Oslund
    Catholic Housing Services
  • Katie Randall
    Plymouth Housing
  • Drew Scharnitzke
    Schemata Workshop
  • Chloe Tang
    Formerly Business Impact NW
  • Vanessa Thomas
    WA State Housing Finance Commission
  • Yvette Watkins
    Bellwether Housing
  • Rosey Zhou
    City of Seattle, Office of Housing

We look forward to seeing the cohort continue to advance in the sector. If your/your organization is interested in receiving updates about HDC’s 2021 program, please reach out to Loren.

A Message From Aselefech Evans, Our Equity and Program Manager, on the Recent Killings of Black Folx

Recently, I have found myself echoing and repeating the words #BlackLivesMatter more often than I would like to, not because I don’t believe those words, but because I need to remind myself of their truth and validity in a time where events say otherwise. I want to live in a just, equitable society where we don’t have to speak out so emphatically and often about black lives, in a society that values all lives equally. We are not there yet.

The killings of Tony McDade, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery have been in the news lately. There are many others who have died unnecessarily as a result of being black. The loss of far too many black lives to list has left our nation outraged at the moment. I would argue that the impact on black people is not one of shock at the news, but of a long-term grief and exhaustion and indeed a sense of familiarity with the “news” that yet another black person has died essentially for being black. Many of us black people are processing stages of grief and trauma associated with these killings. Our bodies and our minds are responding in flight or fight response because there is a heightened sense of fear and anxiety when we feel like we can’t trust the people who have been put in charge to keep us safe.

According to the research group Mapping Police Violence, more than 1,000 people are killed by police every year in America. Black people represent a disproportionate number of those killed. Despite being only 13% of the population, black people accounted for 24% of those killed. Those are devastating and heart wrenching numbers, and behind that data are black bodies—mothers, fathers, children, teens, friends, neighbors.

COVID-19 has further exacerbated this devastation. The Center for Disease Control tells us that, in New York City, death rates for black people due to COVID were 92 deaths per 100,000 people, compared to 45 per 100,000 for white people. Dr. Jeff Duchin, a health officer for Seattle and King County, said in The Seattle Times, “It’s been an ongoing national tragedy and shame that we have communities of color throughout our county suffering disproportionate adverse health impacts from a wide variety of health conditions.” We have seen that reality here in King County, especially among low-income and other vulnerable populations. COVID-19 has also brought to light the glaring disparities that historically have harmed black folx, including the systemic, entrenched racism in health care, education, banking, transportation, employment, and more. Two quick examples: According to The New York Times, for every $100 white families earn in income, black families earn $57. Black people with college degrees are twice as likely to be unemployed as all other graduates (The Atlantic).

In housing, black people looking are shown 18% fewer homes and 4% fewer rental units than white people (Demos). We know also that residential segregation, per the CDC, is linked with many adverse health outcomes and conditions exacerbated by COVID-19. Many black communities live in densely populated areas due to institutional racism; they often have a harder time accessing health services, practicing social distancing, and purchasing food and supplies for long times at home.

HDC is working to decrease these disparities by addressing institutional racism through our Race, Equity and Inclusion Initiatives. We ask our members to be in solidarity with black communities by supporting Black-Owned Businesses and  Black Lives Matter Seattle-King County.

 

Here are a few additional ways to engage in our work:

  1. Black Staff can attend HDC’s Black Caucus: Community Building and Healing, a convening facilitated by me on Monday, June 8
  2. Members can apply for our Housing Development Internship Program, designed to recruit, train, and retain racially and socio-economically diverse students so they are prepared to enter leadership positions in the housing industry.
  3. Join our Recruiting Diversity Task Force. HDC is looking for Chair and Co-Chair.
  4. Check out our COVID-19 Advocacy Efforts

 

Recommended Readings by Black Authors:

  • Race For Profit: How Banks and the Real Estate Industry Undermined Black Home Ownership by Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor
  • Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome: America’s Legacy of Enduring Injury and Healing by Dr. Joy DeGruy
  • How To Be An Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi
  • Stamped From the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America by Ibram X. Kendi
  • Emergent Strategies: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds by Adrienne Maree Brown
  • On the Other Side of Freedom: The Case for Hope by DeRay Mckesson
  • Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson
  • So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo
  • The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander
  • Race Rebels: Culture, Politics, and the Black Working Class by Robin D. Kelly
  • Born a Crime by Trevor Noah

 

For non-black folx who are wondering how this time might be for black co-workers, here is an insight from Maintaining Professionalism in the Age of Black Death is…A Lot:

Your black employees are exhausted.

Your black employees are scared.

Your black employees are crying in between meetings.

Your black employees have mentally checked out.

Your black employees are putting on a performance.

Forgive us if our work isn’t up to par, we just saw a lynching. Pardon us if we’re quiet in the Zoom meetings, we’re wondering if we’ll be the next hashtag.

 

For my black brothers and sisters, please read Radical Gratitude by Adrienne Maree Brown, because you are a miracle walking, and your ancestors’ wildest dream.

On a personal note, I have participated in several Zoom sessions with other professional black colleagues in the housing and with black friends, and we are united in a sense of grief, exhaustion, fear, and, only occasionally, hope.

I’d ask everyone to show grace to themselves and to others. While I understand there are a range of responses to and views about recent events, I can’t imagine that anyone has missed the fact that the U.S.’s historic, entrenched systemic and institutional racism has finally risen to a high level of awareness across this country. I can assure you that black people have been more than aware of the realities: we live them every day. My most optimistic take is that, as a society, we have an opportunity to bring about change. I’ve suggested some readings above (and there are many more); reading is great for better education, and it can’t be the only effort expended. Black-owned businesses need support. Black-led organizations need white allies who do not center themselves but who listen and learn from black leaders. White people need to learn to recognize that racism is more than overt and ugly slurs; it’s part of implicit bias and institutional oppression that sustains racist policies. Our work must be rooted in anti-racism if we are genuinely going to bring about change. It has taken 400 years to bring us to this point. Our history of slavery, segregation, redlining, discrimination (overt and covert), and inter-generational trauma will take time to eradicate, yet there is still urgency in action. I hope you will join me in this hard and necessary work.

 

In solidarity,

 

Aselefech

April Member Highlight: Rebuilding Together Seattle

HDC’s membership represents the housing continuum with several organizations and causes carving out their own specific approach to ensuring everyone in King County having an affordable, healthy, and safe home. Rebuilding Together Seattle (RTS) is no exception and has their own unique approach to tackling our region’s housing crisis.

Rebuilding Together works to eliminate substandard, unsafe, and unhealthy housing conditions, while strengthening neighborhoods and communities. RTS does so through home repair, home rehab, accessibility modifications, and other improvements at entirely no cost to the homeowner or the nonprofit facility they are assisting. RTS has also begun to work with other organizations on neighborhood-level community revitalization projects that can impact community health and safety.

RTS programs primarily serve low-income homeowners – a forgotten middle of our housing spectrum and affordable homeownership population. These are often your neighbors who have lived in their home from twenty to fifty plus years. They are low-income seniors, persons with disabilities, veterans, families with children, and other community members with a high risk of displacement, injury or illness, and other adverse outcomes that can lead to housing instability, despite owning their home.

“For our neighbors in need of a little extra support, that physical affirmation that we value them as part of the community fabric and as individual people with dignity and grace is almost as much a reassurance as it is knowing they will be able to age safely in the home and community they love.”

In the midst of the COVID-19 outbreak, RTS has suspended their programs and postponed National Rebuilding Month. Executive Director, Caleb Marshall explains, “I think many of us have learned over the last few weeks a little about what that feels like and, even when we have access to resources and a safe living environment, how debilitating that isolation can be.” Many of our low-income neighbors are in incredibly dangerous situations, in which they have exhausted their financial resources and social networks and are really quite isolated. RTS touches on these personal struggles our neighbors are experiencing in their most recent newsletter.

The work of RTS draws communities together in extraordinarily unique and touching ways. “The best feedback from our work is what a transformational, restorative, and hopeful spark that our projects bring into our community members’ lives. I think part of the magic has to do with neighbors connecting to neighbors – we’re bringing together volunteers, whether someone comes as an individual or with one of our business or civic partners, that live, work, and enjoy the neighborhoods and communities that the people they are supporting have contributed to making so special.”

At this time, RTS has reevaluated their year ahead, but their goals remain high. For the time being, they have had to suspend their programs and are canceling their May fundraiser breakfast. They are working to reschedule National Rebuilding Day, a month-long call to service in which nearly 40,000 volunteers complete 1,600 Rebuilding Together affiliate-led projects across the country. Caleb says they remain hopeful that RTS will be able to still meet their goals in full, which means reaching more than 200 households in 2020 for their sixth straight year!

The vast majority of RTS’ work is done by volunteers. With just three staff and three AmeriCorps members, they recruit volunteers with all types of skills, including folks that can help diversify the talent and experience on the RTS Board, people with construction expertise, people with specialized skills such as marketing/graphic design, IT, etc. that can help with committee-type work, and other general volunteers of all walks that are ready to advance their mission. Furthermore, you can reach out to Rebuilding Together Seattle if you assist low-income homeowners, or are a nonprofit that could use help yourselves.

Over 98% of RTS funding comes from individual donations, businesses, and civic groups with less than 2% drawing from public funding sources that are so important to many other important causes. “We’ve always been proud of that fact, but in times like this, when we don’t have companies and organizations funding and joining our projects, and when we have to cancel fundraising events, we especially need those supporters who can to step up and back under-funded organizations like ours,” explained Caleb.

To best stay connected to Rebuilding Together Seattle’s efforts, sign up for their newsletter and  hold Friday, October 2nd on your calendar for RTS’s Beer & Wine Tasting. RTS welcomes, “We would love to have a max capacity turnout, regardless of your past involvement or individual giving capacity.”

While we cannot gather in person to traditionally show up for one another right now, Rebuilding Together Seattle demonstrates how collective efforts can have a lasting impact on our communities for years to come. Thank you for all you do, Rebuilding Together Seattle!

Seattle Foundation’s COVID-19 Response Fund

The Seattle Foundation’s COVID-19 Response Fund deployed $10+ million in grants to 128 community-based organizations who are delivering emergency assistance—such as rent support, food security, healthcare, and childcare—to workers and families who have been affected first and hardest by the coronavirus crisis. Asian Counseling and Referral Services, Byrd Barr Place, Casa Latina, Chief Seattle Club, Eastside Refugee & Immigrant Coalition, Seattle Indian Health Board, and White Center CDA are just a few of the local organizations receiving funds to bolster front-line responses to the pandemic.

As a member of the Pandemic Community Advisory Group, HDC continues to elevate the essential work of our members and allies for funding consideration. Among the grantees are the following HDC members. We want to take a moment to acknowledge their hard work and dedication to assisting others in this difficult time:

250k

Byrd Barr Place

Chief Seattle Club

SeaMar

Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle

100k

El Centro de La Raza

Interim CDA

ReWA

SCIDpda

50k

Catholic Community Services

Hopelink

Multi-Service Center

Neighborhood house

The Sophia Way

Wellspring Family Services

Plymouth Housing

YouthCare

DESC

Solid Ground

25k

Lifewire

View the full list of grantees. 

HDC Member Highlight: Valerie Thiel – SAGE Architectural Alliance

Valerie Thiel is an architect, advocate, innovator, and leader in the affordable housing sector. She is the founding principal of SAGE Architectural Alliance, which specializes in design for seniors, veterans, under-served populations, multifamily residences, and affordable housing for all populations. SAGE’s mission is to shape spaces for social connection and wellness.

Valerie’s dual background in architecture and structural engineering, has been her secret weapon during her 30+ years of architectural experience, 20 of which has been focused on senior and special needs housing. In an industry that is otherwise disproportionately controlled by men, Valerie’s leadership in cutting-edge innovations for senior lifestyles and passionate advocacy for affordable senior housing reflects her unwavering commitment to social and technological change. Her inclusive leadership and advocacy efforts reflect her desire to pave the way for cultural change for future generations.

Valerie remembers thinking about her life path at age eight and realizing that the careers expected for women would not make a significant impact on the world. At least not directly. She saw the roles for women at the time to be limited and supportive, compared to men’s careers and roles to truly impact the world around them, especially as leaders. Valerie remembers being very outspoken about the limited opportunities available to women. She recalls, “I think that was the beginning of wanting the world to change.”

Growing up in Bellingham, Washington, she fell in love with architecture at age 16 when visiting Western Washington University’s campus. She noticed the ways the building structure inconspicuously drew the community together. She was eager to become an architect as she entered her undergraduate career at the University of Washington. As the only woman in her Civil Engineering program, she felt she had to prove herself and proceeded to graduate at the top of her class in only three years. She continued on to Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) for her Masters in Architecture and a separate Masters in Structural Engineering.

After graduating MIT, one of her first jobs was at the Museum of Flight hanging a B-17 plane from the ceiling truss. In doing so, she detailed all the exterior glass and steel joints. At that point, she says it was nearly impossible for a woman to have a voice within a design firm. She saw a need for women to prove they were technically competent and were able leaders that could fill the need for more compassionate leadership. She expressed her frustration with the work dynamics and general sexism of the all-male firms. This lack of voice fueled her passion for grassroots organizing and community engagement within her practices.

In 1985, she became an activist with the Seattle Allied Arts and fought a freeway branch that was proposed to run east-west over South Lake Union. At the time, South Lake Union was mostly occupied by car dealerships, but the proposed overpass’ proximity to the water would have had detrimental effects on marine life and water pollution. Having her own idea for the Westlake Commons area, Valerie created a rendering of the area, which envisioned the central park surrounded by mixed-use extending from South Lake Union to Denny Way. Folks rallied behind Valerie’s innovative vision and she proceeded to meet with countless elected officials and government agencies to put this idea into fruition. In the subsequent years, Valerie moved abroad and her original idea transformed even more, but was unable to get the funding approval from voters.

After traveling around the world and working in New York, Valerie settled in Guam, which furthered her passion of helping marginalized communities through architecture. Her main 7-year effort was to help the only hospital in Guam reach accreditation standards. In doing so, she had a significant impact on improving the quality of healthcare and healthcare delivery. While raising her twin sons as a single parent, she also became the architect for a long-term care facility. In doing so, she found an unmet need in the quality of care for the elderly. Her experience in Guam completely reworked her vision for helping others. Not only was Guam a predominately matriarchal society, but it was a collaborative work environment where residents, staff, developers, etc. all had a seat at the table. End of life care became a primary focus for her work moving forward.

Returning to Seattle, Valerie found her voice as a leading expert in senior housing, and the very active non-profit organization, Leading Age. As a frequent speaker at state and national conferences, Valerie emphasizes the importance of social connection and community while providing end of life care. She remembers her own grandparent’s nursing homes as unwelcoming and dingy. She wanted to make a change for her mother’s generation by creating social connection through a warm, welcoming, and attractive environment that is a source of pride for the senior residents.

In 2011, Valerie brought these ideas to HDC membership as the co-chair of the Senior Housing Affinity Group. At the time, Valerie was a strong advocate for providing supportive services within the independent living section of senior housing as the means to best keep residents in their homes as they aged. At the time, this idea was relatively new for the many in the affordable housing sector. Over the last ten years, understanding has shifted, and the affordable housing sector now accepts that putting seniors in touch with these services is fundamental. As this progress has been made, Valerie has turned her energies towards anti-displacement work.

With more women and girls entering the building industry, we are seeing an increasing number of developer teams headed by women. As Valerie says, “Women developers are bringing innovation to affordable housing. I hope when developers choose their architects and contractors that they will begin to use more women-owned architectural firms for the richness of perspectives and innovation that can be gained. I would love to see the affordable housing sector include more women and minority-owned firms at the leadership table. I believe doing so would produce a double bottom line of new affordable housing plus broader leadership distribution and innovation across the communities served. “

Valerie is clear that the growth in the leadership of the affordable housing industry should include gender, racial and all diversities. As HDC grows as an association, Valerie hopes to lead in welcoming and actively recruiting new voices and backgrounds to the sector. She emphasizes that this will require a culture change, since the challenge is “about growing up in a world headed by white men and transitioning to a world headed by diverse leadership where all groups have a true voice.”

Thank you for all you do, Valerie!