Building multifamily housing in Prosser dependent on city permits

By Kristi Pihl, Tri-City HeraldJanuary 19, 2014 

Construction may begin in late summer on Genesis Housing Services' first affordable multifamily housing project in Prosser.

But breaking ground is dependent on city permits and whether Genesis, a sister company to Catholic Charities Housing Services, Diocese of Yakima, receives tax credits from the state.

John Probst, development manager, said the application for the Washington State Finance Commission's Low-Income Housing Tax Credit program was submitted last week. Genesis may hear in February if the application is successful.

Genesis is "guardedly" confident the $10.2 million project, which is meant to house agricultural and other working families in Prosser, will receive funding this year, Probst said. It was the first alternate project on the state's list last year, and the application is more competitive this year.

At the same time, Catholic Charities, through its New Life Homes program, is building eight single-family homes for first-time homebuyers in Prosser. That project will fill in vacant lots in an existing neighborhood called Village Park, Probst said.

Prosser has a shortage of affordable housing, with a significant amount of overcrowding where more than one households share the same home, Probst said.

There are about 940 affordable multifamily housing units within a 20-mile radius of Prosser, he said. The vacancy rate is less is than 2 percent, which real estate experts classify as a tight market.

Prospective residents are already inquiring about the Genesis multifamily housing, even though the company hasn't started marketing the project yet, Probst said.

The multifamily project, at 480 N. River Road, will include 48 two-story townhomes and three single-story units that will be accessible for individuals with disabilities, for a total of 51 units, Probst said. They will be built in multiplexes.

There will be 17 two-bedroom units and 34 three-bedroom units, he said. Some of the upper stories of the buildings may have a view of the Yakima River.

"They will be very nice units," he said.

The project, once complete, will meet the state's Evergreen Sustainable Development, Energy Star, Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Gold and Green Communities standards, Probst said.

A family who lives in the complex should use about half the water and half the electricity of an average single-family home, representing utility cost savings, he said.

Long-lifecycle materials in the buildings will help with future upkeep and maintenance, he said.

Construction may take about 12 months, Probst said. He hopes Genesis can begin renting units in early summer 2015 as buildings are finished.

Steve Zetz, Prosser city planner, said the location has been zoned for residential high density and is within the city limits. Genesis will still need to submit a site plan for review, he said.

The proposal was met with vocal opposition by some Prosser residents when Catholic Charities sought a comprehensive plan amendment to allow the zoning change. Those residents feared the development would flood city services. However, Catholic Charities officials said at the time that most of the residents of the complex likely are already living in Prosser.

Zetz has stayed in touch with many of the project's opponents, he said. Many still have questions about the number of units and what it will look like.

Genesis intends to meet with the neighbors of the multifamily project to share information and hear concerns once the site plan is approved and the company knows the project will move forward, Probst said.

The company will need to install water and sewer and make improvements along River Road, Probst said.

Meanwhile, Catholic Charities hopes to have all of the Village Park homes started by the end of 2014, Probst said. Families already have been chosen for all eight homes.

The homes are being built using U.S. Department of Agriculture programs that require families who will own the homes to provide sweat equity. With one of the programs, Probst said families have to provide up to half of the work on their home.

Each family will receive a mortgage, and the cost of the home will be lower because of the federal program and the sweat equity, according to USDA.

Owning a home allows families to stabilize their housing situation, and hopefully, their finances, Probst said.

"It affords people literally the ability to begin to accumulate wealth," he said.

Catholic Charities Housing Services of Yakima has built about 80 single-family homes in the lower Yakima Valley during the last five or six years, Probst said. That includes homes in Granger, Grandview, Sunnyside and Mabton.

"We are always on the lookout for land opportunities elsewhere in the valley," he said.

To date, none of the 80 homes have been foreclosed on, Probst said. It's a testament to the investment families have in their homes through sweat equity programs.

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-- Kristi Pihl: 582-1512;

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