Employer-sponsored housing is rare in Seattle, although the university previously partnered with Seattle Children’s on a similar project.

Share story

The University of Washington plans to build some affordable housing for its faculty and staff in a bid to help employees avoid getting priced out of Seattle’s roaring housing market.

The university said Tuesday it will partner with the Seattle Housing Authority to build at least 150 subsidized apartments in the University District, with rents far below the market rate.

Many of the details have yet to be worked out — including a financing plan — and the units won’t open for at least another four years. But the university already owns the property needed for the project.

UW said it wanted to build housing because many of its 28,900 employees cannot afford to live near campus. Rents in the U District average about $1,750 per month, while the median house in Northeast Seattle costs about $825,000.

“It is something we’re hearing about from our employees,” said Aaron Hoard, deputy director of UW’s Office of Regional & Community Relations. “It’s a struggle to find housing that’s affordable these days. Oftentimes the alternative is to move further out, and that increases commute time and everything that comes with it.”

Officials expect to offer the apartments to people making up to 60 percent of the area median income. Right now, that’s $57,600 for a family of four. Rents for a one-bedroom would be capped at $1,080, in today’s dollars.

The units would be open first to UW employees. If there are any left over, the general public would be able to sign up. But given the size of the university’s staff and the demand for affordable housing, that seems unlikely.

Employer housing projects in the region are rare, said Kerry Coughlin, a Seattle Housing Authority spokeswoman. The vast majority of affordable housing is built by nonprofits for the general public, often with public funds. But earlier this decade UW and Seattle Children’s built a housing project aimed at their employees, with both market-rate and affordable units.

The UW also wants the project to include some kind of program to help young homeless adults, although details are still being ironed out.

The complex would go up just west of campus, at a university-owned property at Roosevelt Way Northeast and Northeast 42nd Street. The 22,400-square-foot lot currently houses a small office building, a parking lot and a hacker house, where techies crowd into a shared living space and rooms are rentable by the night. The city recently changed the zoning in the area to allow for taller buildings.

Officials hope to begin the process of finding a developer later this year, with the goal of opening the housing in 2021. That coincides with the opening of a planned light-rail station just blocks away.

Finding land is often the most difficult part of building affordable housing projects in Seattle. But even with its property in place, UW faces a lot of challenges.

For starters, it needs to find a financing plan to make below-market rate rentals pencil out. It will likely use tax credits to help with that, Hoard said.

The university also needs to find a long-term operator. The Seattle Housing Authority, which administers thousands of affordable housing units around the city, is helping with the development of the project but won’t stay on board to manage the building once it’s complete, Coughlin said.