North Seattle College has put forward a plan to offer nearly 200 affordable housing units for community members on its campus. But first it must negotiate a highly specific leasing arrangement with developers and win the approval of its trustees and the state community and technical colleges board.

Though more than a dozen Washington state community and technical colleges offer some form of housing on or near campuses, North Seattle is not proposing dormitories. It’s pursuing a plan to offer affordable apartments and increase college enrollment amid a development boom in the city’s Northgate neighborhood. 

The neighborhood is changing fast, with the arrival of the Seattle Kraken pro hockey franchise and opening of the Northgate light-rail station and pedestrian-bicycle bridge over the I-5 freeway last fall. 

“We’re in a dynamic community right now, growing by leaps and bounds,” said North Seattle College President Chemene Crawford during a Tuesday afternoon meeting with the State Board for Community and Technical Colleges (SBCTC). 

“We’re no longer a sleepy, quiet little neighborhood. We can no longer be a sleepy, quiet little college,” she said. 

The college has proposed leasing a 2.26-acre parcel of land located on the southwest corner of campus for development by the Chief Seattle Club, a Native American-led housing and human services agency, and Bellwether Housing, an affordable housing nonprofit. The two agencies would be responsible for financing, developing and operating the housing project and 67 tenant parking spaces. The term of lease would be 87 years, including two years of construction. 


Though units would be open to all who qualify for affordable housing, the college hopes to serve members of the American Indian and Alaska Native communities. When the college first went to SBCTC in March 2021, the initial proposal included the construction of a free-standing 5,000-square-foot Coast Salish longhouse. But Crawford said Tuesday there wasn’t an agreement among community partners about who would run cultural programs in the longhouse. 

Reconfigured plans now feature an “Intellectual House,” described as “a multi-service/multi-cultural learning and gathering space.” It will be situated on the first floor of the complex with its own dedicated entrance on the north side of the facility, separate from the entrance to the housing portion of the building. The Intellectual House would be operated and maintained by North Seattle College.

SBCTC members raised questions about the extensive term and management of the lease, whether it was the best use of the land, terms of labor practices for the project and mitigation of environmental impact, but ultimately passed a resolution giving the college the green light to enter negotiations. The Seattle Colleges board of trustees — which oversees North Seattle College — will have to approve the terms of the lease before it returns to SBCTC for approval. 

Crawford said she believes this project is the best use for the land, which she said community members currently use as an unofficial dog park, and is aligned with the college’s mission and purpose of supporting students and community members. 

“If we sold that land, we could have a minimart next to us and have zero control of what happens here,” the college president said. She added that the college still has land that could be designated for campus expansion if needed. 

Terence Hsiao, vice chancellor for finance and operations, noted that the college has experienced an approximately 30% decline in enrollment and that the pandemic has also affected students’ preferences toward learning in-person. 


“We feel very comfortable that we’re not putting our growth and ability to serve our students 80-90 years from now at risk,” he said. 

Crawford said that affordable housing projects “are popping up” all over the area. Earlier this month, the city announced a $22 million investment toward establishing 267 rent- and income-restricted homes in the Northgate and South Park neighborhoods.

But she described the North Seattle College project as a harbinger for educational advancement. “This gives us the opportunity to … meet the students in our community where they are. This will help the college thrive, rebuild enrollment and move forward.”