The Vancouver, B.C.-based developer Burrard Group said Wednesday it will partner with the nonprofit Low Income Housing Institute to build 41 tiny homes — one for each story of its soon-to-be-completed luxury condominium tower, Nexus, in South Lake Union.
The Low Income Housing Institute is the financial manager of Seattle’s nine tiny house villages, part of the city’s front line in the fight against homelessness. The villages of small individual dwellings, advocates say, get residents off the street while they’re waiting for spots in affordable housing.
“It takes years to build permanent supportive housing,” said Sharon Lee, executive director of the Low Income Housing Institute. “Rather than sleeping on streets, sleeping in cars, being protected by a tiny house is a warm, safe, dignified way to live.”
The Burrard Group will donate $250,000 to the housing nonprofit to fund materials and utilities hookups for the new village, which will be in either South Lake Union, the Central District or both, depending on city approvals, Lee said.
From its Minor Avenue perch, Nexus residents have views of the Olympics, the Space Needle, Lake Union and Mount Rainier. The building is 93% pre-sold, with units priced from $350,000 for a studio to $2.75 million for a three-bedroom.
“On behalf of the homeowners of this building, we’re proud and excited to establish this partnership,” said Burrard Group CEO Christian Chan in an interview.
Close to 70% of residents in some of the institute’s tiny house villages have transitioned to affordable or permanent supportive housing, making the tiny houses a crucial link between sleeping on the streets and finding a permanent home, Lee said. And, she said, the interests of housing advocates, the business community and the city can align to support tiny homes.
“If you look at all the people living in tents close to downtown that are having an impact on the tourism or hospitality industry,” she said, “we are able to set up two or three housing villages, and improve the streetscape, improve the downtown environment.”
The Burrard Group will build the homes and hire artists to paint the exteriors, Chan said.
“We strongly believe in the power of arts and culture to feed the soul — that should extend beyond people who live in buildings like Nexus,” Chan said. In January, the Chan family foundation donated $40 million to build a new public art museum in Vancouver.
In April, the Burrard Group bought the Low Income Housing Institute’s Belltown headquarters for $8.75 million. Burrard plans to site a 120-unit apartment building there, the Puget Sound Business Journal reported in April. The institute will relocate to the ground floor of its affordable multifamily development at 1253 South Jackson in March; for now, it leases the Belltown space from Burrard.
The Low Income Housing Institute has been embroiled in a months-long dispute with some tenants in three of its tiny home communities, in Georgetown, Othello and Northlake. The activist group Nickelsville, which formerly managed the communities, said tenants shouldn’t be required to meet regularly with case managers, as the institute mandates.
The institute first began partnering with the Burrard Group when the developer sought easement rights from the Low Income Housing Institue’s Arion Court project, 37 units of housing for formerly homeless veterans, next door to the Nexus development site, Lee said. Since then, the developer has twice sponsored the nonprofit’s annual fundraising gala.
Lee said the developer’s history of community engagement attracted her to the partnership. She was also impressed, she said, by the relative affordability of condominium units in Nexus.
“Units starting at $350,000 means that some units were more affordable,” she said, compared to other centrally located condominium developments, including First Light and The Emerald, that have priced studios closer to $500,000. “Very few other market-rate developers are making a major contribution back to the community.”
This post has been updated to correct that the activist group Nickelsville no longer manages some of Seattle’s tiny house villages. Its contract ended in April.