July 12, 2023

Pierce County responds to housing crisis

Washington State lawmakers approved a slew of bills during the recent legislative session, including about a dozen that will increase housing density, speed up permitting, reduce construction backlogs, and address historical barriers to homeownership among people of color.

The Washington State Department of Commerce has already jumped into action. In late June, the DOC opened applications for projects seeking capital to develop affordable housing across the state. At more than $302 million, it marks the state’s largest single funding round to date. (Read more funding that aligns with the state’s 2023-25 housing investment strategy for affordable housing projects here.)

Historic investments like this are great news for everyone, including Pierce County employers who struggle to recruit and retain talent when workers can’t find appropriate or affordable housing.

“Because of state law, housing development isn’t a choice anymore for jurisdictions,” EDB President Bruce Kendall said. “It must be done.”

Tacoma addresses dire need

With rents and home values rising at twice the rate of income, a 6 percent vacancy rate and the projected need of nearly 45,000 new housing units by 2040, housing is a necessary focus, said Debbie Bingham, City of Tacoma Program Manager.

Guided by the Affordable Housing Action Strategy created in 2018, the City is working on 27 strategic actions. Three areas of focus to fill the city’s housing gap are to:

  • Create “missing middle” housing through the Home in Tacoma project which allows for more diverse housing types throughout the city.
  • Increase incentives for developers to create more workforce housing.
  • Implement the affordable housing sales tax (0.1%) to grow the affordable housing trust fund to see truly affordable units built at a much quicker pace.

The tactics are working.

  • Since 2019, the City has helped fund 459 completed affordable units in Tacoma. Another 239 are under construction.
  • Over the next three years, the City expects for-profit developers to bring 5,600 multifamily units on-line – including 490 that are rent-restricted.
  • The City made preliminary funding commitments to four multifamily residential developments. Together, they could bring 241 new affordable units into the development pipeline.

In downtown Tacoma alone, more than 4,900 housing developments are in the pipeline, including 600 units that are part of the Tacoma Town Center development at Jefferson and Tacoma Avenue South. The for-profit affordable housing developer Great Expectations recently announced plans for a 300-unit multifamily project in the Tacoma Dome District. The company is currently developing the 199-unit Cornus House in the same area.

“Affordable housing is a key component of a thriving city and community,” Bingham said. “By focusing on housing first, we can better support residents with their health, education, access to livable wage employment and so much more.”

Countywide response

The need for housing extends beyond Tacoma, and South Sound communities are taking action. Here’s a snapshot of housing units in the pipeline:

Midtown Residential in Bonney Lake: Housing = economic growth

Huge economic benefits come with diversity in housing. One case in point is the Midtown Residential project proposed by Tarragon. Located in the heart of Bonney Lake, the planned community would include 1,050 rental units, including single-family attached homes, stacked flats, townhomes and urban court apartments. Midtown Residential will not only help meet the need for more than 3,000 housing units in Bonney Lake between now and 2044, but recurring revenue from the project is expected to yield significant economic benefits over the next decade – through construction and beyond.

Tarragon isn’t new to the Bonney Lake housing scene. The company also developed and operates the 186-unit Renwood Apartment Homes built in 2014. It was the first multifamily project developed in the city in two decades.

Welcome home: Fife’s hotel-to-housing conversions

With demand for housing through the roof, the conversion of hotels to affordable living units offers a creative (and expedited) approach to provide attainable market-rate housing.

Fife is home to one of the South Sound’s first hotel-to-housing conversions. The 99-unit Pinnacle Apartments (formerly the Port of Tacoma Inn) opened its doors to tenants in late May. It’s one of three Pierce County hotels that Sage Investment Group is converting to apartments. Sage plans to begin a second conversion project at the Travelodge across the street from the Pinnacle development.

“These conversions are the direct result of a 2021 city ordinance that explicitly allows these conversions without having to meet current zoning requirements,” said Chris Larson, Interim Community Development Director for the City of Fife. “The projects simply need to meet building code requirements.”

The Fife projects are among several hotel-to-affordable-housing projects in the works in the county, including three in South Tacoma’s “motel row” totaling nearly 350 units.

Learn more about state and regional housing plans:


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