The first affordable high-rise in Seattle in 50 years. Plymouth’s Blake House will have 112 studio apartments for seniors and veterans who have experienced chronic homelessness, and Bellwether’s The Rise on Madison will offer 250 affordable homes for people living between 30% and 50% area median income.

First affordable high-rise in more than 50 years opens in Seattle


For the first time in more than 50 years, people seeking affordable housing in Seattle can look up. Bellwether Housing and Plymouth Housing partnered to build the first new affordable high-rise apartment building in Seattle in decades, which is nearly complete.

Plymouth’s Blake House will have 112 studio apartments for seniors and veterans who have experienced chronic homelessness, and Bellwether’s The Rise on Madison will offer 250 affordable homes for people living between 30% and 50% area median income (AMI).

Commerce’s Housing Trust Fund supported the project with an $8 million grant. The project totals about $129 million. The 17-story building is on land donated from Sound Transit and is situated by leading regional health care centers and mass transit in downtown Seattle’s First Hill neighborhood.

“We are extremely proud to be a partner in this milestone moment in Seattle,” said Washington State Commerce Director Mike Fong. “Providing the dignity and stability of safe, affordable housing is the first step to changing lives. Communities all over the state are struggling with how to meet this growing need. Blake House is a testament to the commitment and collaboration of numerous public and private partners, and it will have a meaningful impact on many lives for years to come.”

“It’s an exciting step on many levels, said Karen Lee, chief executive officer at Plymouth Housing. “First of all, it’s a beautiful building, and we’ve been able to be innovative and put the most current up-to-date thinking about how we serve our population in this building.”

The building will serve multiple purposes for families.

The Blake House is the permanent supportive housing side of the building. It has community spaces, a laundry room, a children’s play area, a computer and business room, and private offices for health care providers.

“You’re doing laundry, and you have your kids with you while you’re sitting there,” Karen said. “Or your kid can either be playing out in the play area and then you could be working on a resume or following up with an employer.”

The children’s playground is right outside from a laundry room, computer area and community room.

This compassionate, detail-oriented planning was seven years in the making. It’s not every day two nonprofit organizations work together to build a high rise for affordable housing, and the Housing Trust Fund was a significant part of the effort.

“We would not be able to build or develop any projects without that partnership,” Karen said of the relationships with Bellwether and Commerce. “The state Housing Trust Fund is the largest investor in this project. When I think about (HTF), it was born in the late ’80s. It’s one of the most durable funding sources for development of low-income housing. I just don’t think there’s anything else that’s close.”

A welcome home banner hangs across the hallway of the Plymouth Bake House
A welcome home banner inside the main entryway for Plymouth’s Blake House.

Since 1986, the state’s Housing Trust Fund has invested more than $1 billion in capital funding and helped build or preserve more than 50,000 units of affordable housing statewide.

Sound Transit donated the land, which is surrounded by amenities. That means residents can be close to daily necessities.

“It’s a pretty high-value site being zoned for 17 stories and being right there on First Hill,” said Susan Boyd, chief executive officer at Bellwether Housing. “It’s in the middle of all kinds of amenities, transit, the hospital, Seattle University, (and) Seattle Central College. It’s just right up the hill from the heart of the downtown business district.”

State Representative Frank Chopp, D-Seattle, was a leader in this effort and others that prioritized housing. He helped create the “80–80–80” policy, which requires Sound Transit to use 80% of its surplus land for housing, and ensure 80% of that housing is affordable to people earning 80% or less of the area median income (AMI).

A set dining table in a studio apartment inside Plymouth’s Blake’s House overlooking the Seattle First Baptist Church.

Unexpected obstacles

Although the site donation was a huge help, there were other obstacles as the construction phase got underway. There were COVID-19 supply chain issues and rising inflation costs, and complexities and materials issues — and a concrete strike that delayed the project six months.

However, there was also incredible support for the affordable and permanent supportive housing project from the community.

“It is not every neighborhood that is going to stand up and come to a Sound Transit meeting or write letters and say ‘We want as much density and as much affordability in our backyard as possible,’” Susan said. “I think that says a lot for the work we did, but also for the community there. The surrounding neighborhood understood the need and other major challenges.”

A community space inside Plymouth’s Blake House.

More projects like this needed in the future

According to a 2021 analysis by the Legislative Committee on Economic Development and International Relations (LCEDIR), Washington has the fewest number of housing units per household of any state in the country. And the state ranks as the sixth highest for construction prices across the nation. About 44% of Washington renter households are cost burdened, which means they spend more than 30% of their income on housing — and 22% of renters spend more than 50% of their income on housing.

People at the state’s minimum wage of $14.49 an hour would have to work 72 hours a week to afford a modest one-bedroom rental home at Fair Market Rent (FMR), according to a study by the National Low Income Housing Coalition.

“Seattle is known for many things, and unfortunately, the level of housing insecurity, homelessness, income inequality, those three things are unfortunately also a part of living here in Western Washington,” Karen, from Plymouth Housing, said. “The success that we’ve had societally with attracting jobs that are related to the software industry, related to tech, related to aerospace, all of those high paying jobs mean that it’s that much more difficult for lower income individuals to find a place to live.”

Even the King County regional homelessness authority is projecting people experiencing homelessness will grow from more than 53,000 today to a projected 62,000 people by 2028, if there is not a significant change to the community response.

The new high rise is part of that change.

“So this project is huge because of its size, because of its scope, because we are taking a 100-unit chunk out of that 3,000 deficit,” Karen said.

King County Executive Dow Constantine, Representative Frank Chopp, Karen Lee Plymouth Housing CEO, Susan Boyd Bellwether Housing CEO, and Katherine Mitchell from the Housing Trust Fund, cut the ribbon marking the grand opening of Blake House and The Rise on Madison.



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