Invaluable experience outside the classroom

June 08, 2017

We continue our posts on the recent Bank of America Low Income Housing Challenge that a team of College of Built Environments students participated in last month.  This reflection is written by McKenzie Darr, MSRE/MUP Candidate 2017.

2017 was the fourth year that the University of Washington competed in the Bank of America Low-Income Housing Challenge. The challenge requires teams to select a site and submit a proposal for an affordable housing development. “The Bank seeks projects that will exemplify affordable-housing development in the current economic and fiscal climate while demonstrating excellence in design and sustainability” (BAML 26th Annual Low-Income Housing Challenge”). The competition has grown over time and included teams from California, Arizona, Washington, and Connecticut. As the Challenge grows, competition increases. The University of Washington has stepped up to the challenge each year, competing in the finals in San Francisco every year we have participated.
This year, an interdisciplinary team from the University of Washington submitted a proposal for a development adjacent to the planned Link Light Rail station in the Roosevelt neighborhood. Our team consisted of 7 members; including undergraduate Architecture students and graduate students in Urban Planning, Real Estate, and Public Policy; who worked for 5 months to develop a financially feasible transit-oriented development that provided family housing and met community needs. Our project site is a roughly 1-acre site currently owned by Sound Transit and is being used for construction staging as the light rail station is being constructed. Our team envisioned a mixed-use development consisting of 208 units, all of which are affordable at 60% or less of area median income, and commercial space, including a day care, small footprint grocer, restaurant/coffee shop, and a community center. The project was financed using nine sources, including both 4% low income housing tax credit (LIHTC) equity and 9%, King County TOD Bond Funds, City of Seattle Human Services Department funding, City of Seattle Office of Housing funding, a commercial loan, and a tax-exempt bond (permanent financing), among other sources. The design was a modern, industrial building designed to maximize public space and highlight Seattle’s past as a hub for the lumber and manufacturing industries. Throughout the course of the project, we received guidance and feedback from professionals at Bellwether Housing, Vitus, the Roosevelt Neighborhood Association, Sound Transit, the City of Seattle, Imagine Housing, Katerra, The Wolff Company, and Bank of America.

The experience to parlay classroom learning into the world through the competition was invaluable. Throughout the course of the competition, our team was challenged by the complexity of undertaking such a large affordable housing development. With the guidance of our faculty mentors and professional contacts, we learned much more than we could have through a classroom exercise, but we also learned how applicable and valuable our classroom education at the Runstad Center has been. We utilized skills and techniques learned in our Market Analysis, Appraisal, and Real Estate Finance courses, to name only a few. The challenge was an incredible learning opportunity and emphasized the Runstad Center’s commitment to interdisciplinary, applicable education.

I would strongly urge future students to take advantage of this competition and other similar challenges. The opportunity to take your education into the world, to connect with professionals, and to challenge yourself to expand your skill set is far too good of an opportunity to pass up. The experience was incredibly valuable, and our team had fun along the way!