Villas at Lakewood: Marysville, Wash.

Local developers overcome high land costs to build a quality affordable rental community

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Villas at Lakewood

Location Marysville, Wash.
Developers CKS Communities, Bellingham, Wash.; AVS Communities, Newport Beach, Calif.
Architect Charles Morgan & Associates, Everett, Wash.
General Contractor Exxel Pacific, Bellingham
Photography Alex Hart/360 Media 
Plans Charles Morgan & Associates

High land costs in metropolitan areas such as Seattle make it difficult for developers to offer affordable housing for the poor and working class. So, as incomes have stalled and demand has grown in recent years, municipalities have begun offering greater financial incentives for quality workforce housing.

What constitutes quality in this niche can be gauged by looking at the Villas at Lakewood in Marysville, a Seattle suburb. Comprised of 17 two- and three-story buildings for renters earning from 50% to 60% of the area median income, the project accomplished its goals with exemplary empathy and style.

Given the Villas’ location across the street from a major shopping complex, the developer won a 25% increase in allowable density in exchange for specifying higher-quality exterior materials, plumbing fixtures, and appliances. The 240 units, with their Northwest styling and jaunty gables, are clad in vibrant colors of fiber-cement siding that break down the buildings’ scale. Taut metal balconies face green spaces.

Deal Maker

High development fees have depressed construction activity in Marysville over the past decade, says Christopher Santoro, president of AVS Communities, a co-developer of the Villas with CKS Communities. Part of what made the $22.6 million project financially feasible was the land deal, a work-out with another builder trying to unload it. 'We spent $8,000 per door for the land, whereas development fees were almost $15,000 per door," Santoro says. Equity partner WNC provided $9.5 million in low-income housing tax credit equity. "Based on the number of units at 60% of median income or less, we have a little over $10 million in tax credits over a 10-year period," Santoro says. Rental income ranges from $750 to $1,120 per unit.

“It’s a reverse-entry type of unit where the entrance and bedrooms are on the parking side, and the living spaces and balcony have nice views,” architect Charles Morgan says. “We tried to create as much recreational and open area as we could.”

The development’s 8.1 acres include many amenities that reduce the need for car trips, such as a pool and spa, car wash, fitness center, Internet café, storage lockers, walking trails and gardens, and bike racks.

“As soon as we delivered them, they were gone,” says co-developer Christopher Santoro. “The first units were ready in March, and by the end of the year, we were 100% leased up.”