City debuts new housing that is attractive, affordable

October 7, 2008

By Jon Savelle

With balloons, cookies and pizza, the newly refurbished Johnson Hill Apartments were unveiled Oct. 1 by St. Andrew’s Housing Group.

he Johnson Hill Apartments, 280 S.W. Clark St., were unveiled at an open house with refreshments and festive decorations for the 38 affordable apartment units that are for households at 50 percent or less of median income. Photo by Jon Savelle.

he Johnson Hill Apartments, 280 S.W. Clark St., were unveiled at an open house with refreshments and festive decorations for the 38 affordable apartment units that are for households at 50 percent or less of median income. Photo by Jon Savelle.

Formerly called 280 Clark, for its location at 280 S.W. Clark St., the complex of 38 affordable units sparkles with fresh paint, new fixtures, new appliances, new carpets and one entirely new building. The rents will reflect tenants’ ability to pay, depending on what fraction of the region’s median income they earn. 

For example, a household earning 30 percent of median income would pay $508 per month for a two-bedroom unit. Those earning 50 percent of median would pay $822.

“The need is really huge,” said St. Andrew’s Executive Director Mike Nielsen. “Mortgage foreclosures are affecting people tremendously, especially working families. There has just been a staggering loss of homes and wealth across the country.”

In 2007, the need in Issaquah was for 1,845 affordable units, Nielsen said. He acknowledged that the Johnson Hill complex amounts to just a drop in the bucket, but said it is an important accomplishment in a very difficult real estate environment. 

Much credit goes to the city and to the former owner of the property, Lewis Johnson, according to Nielsen. The city has provided support for three such openings in the last two years — including the neighboring Mine Hill Apartments and Rose Crest in Talus — and Johnson worked hard to help St. Andrew’s meet its objectives. 

Johnson died in May. The apartments were renamed in his honor, said St. Andrew’s development associate Marchelle Mertens. 

At Johnson Hill, 32 of the original units have been refurbished. A decrepit duplex was demolished and a new building erected in its place; it contains six three-bedroom family units plus office space and a community room. The development cost was $9 million, Mertens said. 

All the buildings are a bright contrast to their previous, run-down condition.

“They are really nice,” Nielsen said during a quick tour. “We don’t want to build ‘projects.’ We really want to create nice housing in nice neighborhoods, so people don’t get stigmatized.”

Many of the original tenants still live in the apartments, having stayed through construction. But because the availability of units is limited to people in certain income categories, some previous tenants who had higher incomes have had to move. Nielsen said that is a difficult issue, but St. Andrew’s did provide two years’ notice and funds for relocation to those affected. 

Reach Reporter Jon Savelle at 392-6434, ext. 234, or jsavelle@isspress.com.

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