The Seattle City Council voted unanimously Monday to acquire a former University of Washington laundry next to the Mount Baker light rail station to develop affordable housing.
The transfer comes at no cost to the city, and the project will count toward the 450 units of affordable housing the university agreed to build when the council approved its 6 million-square-foot expansion plan two years ago.
The council vote was a formality: In its annual budget, the state had already directed the university to give the nearly four-acre property to the city to develop affordable housing. That idea has been in the works since 2018, when Rep. Frank Chopp, D-Seattle, suggested the university make the laundry available for public or nonprofit-owned housing.
The acquisition signals the laundry property’s transformation from a flashpoint of conflict over organized labor and living-wage jobs to what Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda called an “exciting opportunity for transit-oriented development.”
The university sparked months of protest when it announced in 2018 it would close the 30-year-old laundry and outsource the work of cleaning hospital linens to a non-unionized company.
Calling the Mount Baker facility a “vital public asset,” the union representing laundry workers and UW United Students Against Sweatshops mobilized a monthslong campaign asking the university to delay its decision on the laundry. A primary concern was the loss of living-wage jobs for the laundry’s close to 100 employees — nearly all of whom were immigrants and people of color, according to their union.
The university pledged to offer laundry workers jobs elsewhere on campus. The union was skeptical, but ultimately, the laundry workers were offered jobs with similar wages, like custodians, warehouse workers and truck drivers, said Rod Palmquist, the higher education coordinator for the Washington Federation of State Employees AFSCME Council 28, which represented workers at the laundry.
It won’t be clear what the affordable housing development on the site could look like until next year, when the Office of Housing asks developers to submit design proposals — but by state mandate, it will include child care and some supportive housing for chronically homeless people.
The rest of the units will be targeted to people making less than 80% of the area median income, or about $61,000 for a single person. City officials suggested at a briefing last week the site would include a mix of studios and multi-bedroom units.
In a June 15 briefing, city council members asked the Office of Housing to move quickly on the project.
Once the laundry is demolished, “it’s going to leave a huge hole in the neighborhood,” said Councilmember Tammy Morales, noting Franklin High School is nearby. “We need to be really thoughtful and really careful not to leave a giant hole at the gateway to the Rainier Valley.”
Information from The Seattle Times archives was used in this report.