What’s Right With Tacoma: Out with the old, in with new housing and jobs
Gone is as good as it gets for Hillside Terrace, and gone begins this week for two worn-down blocks of public housing.
Tacoma Housing Authority is demolishing the 104 units between South Yakima Avenue and ‘G’ Street and South 25th and 27th streets. When they are good and gone and recycled, it will build 140 new units, plus 20 careers in construction.
The old buildings were bad from the start, built on the cheap as private-sector apartments in 1969. Tacoma Housing Authority bought them in 1976.
Rather than toss cash into the money pit they became, Tacoma Housing Authority has been trying to tear them down for a decade, said Executive Director Michael Mirra.
They have an awkward shotgun design with cascades of stairs that make them inaccessible to anyone with mobility problems. The layout of the grounds provides excellent cover for bad guys, plus a no-fun playground that relocated former residents called “the baby cage.”
THA recognizes that investing in shoddy buildings costs more than it saves over decades, and brings down the surrounding neighborhood. That is why it has been trying for 10 years to pull funding together to do better than those worn, depressing buildings.
“Our job is to build against the market in ways that embolden other people’s money,” Mirra said. “Lovely and ugly are contagious.”
That has meant setting high construction standards in Salishan and on Hilltop, and seeing them pay off in private development nearby.
As Tacoma Housing Authority and Mercy Housing have redeveloped old complexes and built new ones, private investment has followed with trendy condos and a new private apartment building. Here is how you tell the private from the non-profit projects: The subsidized units have better handrails.
THA also has learned that subsidized housing is not enough, and should not be forever for most people.
“We try to help them prosper so their time with us is transforming and temporary,” Mirra said of residents.
THA connects residents to the tools including education, counseling and job training.
That is how those 20 living-wage careers fit into the redevelopment, compliments of WorkForce Central, Absher Construction and Section 3 of the Housing and Urban Development Act of 1968. Section 3 is a sensible provision that requires anyone building public housing to create jobs as well as homes by hiring low-income people who live in the area. The point is to give them the training they need to become independent and successful.
It starts with WorkForce Central recruiting applicants for 30 spots in Construction Academy, a free six-week pre-apprenticeship program covering the basics of the trade, said Jessica Neal-Smith, work force development manager.
Graduates will be eligible for 20 jobs with the contractors and subcontractors working on the Hillside Terrace Revitalization Project. Those new jobs will fold into the 178 family-wage jobs Absher estimates the project will generate during the year and a half it will take to finish the first phase.
Absher is an eager partner, said Small Business Program Manager Stephanie Caldwell and Superintendent John Amdal. The firm has built community housing projects since 1998, and recruited excellent workers through Section 3. It is good for the company, good for the community.
The new recruits will still be in training when Absher pulls out fixtures, water tanks, cabinets and the like to be recycled. Judged by weight, 98 percent of the old building will be recycled. Feel free to wave a cheery farewell to the debris as it is trucked away.
Expect the new buildings to have a longer, more efficient life.
“We are building something sustainable. LEED, low energy costs, the whole nine yards” Amdal said.
It is a good investment. Most of the $42 million price for two phases of the project will come from private investment. Low-income Housing Tax Credit equity will pay 56 percent of it, and Tacoma Housing Authority will pay back a bank loan for 15 percent of it, for a total of 71 percent. The City of Tacoma, Tacoma Housing Authority and Washington State Housing Trust Fund will pay the remaining 29 percent. The third phase on the 1800 block will come later.
Gone is good on that blighted hillside. What is coming is better.
How to get involved
• Contact Brandon Koenes at WorkForce Central at firstname.lastname@example.org or (253) 448-8292 discuss your eligibility. Eligible participants will meet low-income guidelines. They may also live in the Tacoma area, possibly at Hillside Terrace or another Tacoma Housing Authority development and have taken part in Department of Housing and Urban Development Youthbuild programs.
• If you are eligible, attend an orientation session. Sessions are 9-10:30 a.m. Feb. 14 and 19; 4-5:30 p.m. Feb. 20 and 2-3:30 p.m. Feb. 22 at WorkForce Central, 3650 S. Cedar St. in Tacoma.
• File an application and take an eligibility test. Applicants must have a high school diploma or general equivalency diploma, have transportation to and from work, be able to lift 30 pounds, pass a pre-employment drug screen, pass a reading and writing assessment and be able to work in the United States.
• If you are one of the 30 people chosen for Construction Academy, it will start with a one-week soft skills class from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. March 4-8 at WorkForce Central. The six-week Construction Academy training will follow.
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