August 15, 2009 in City

New living option for poor

Madison apartments get help from county fund
By The Spokesman-Review
Dan Pelle photo

Roxanne Smith, 27, takes in the view of the railroad tracks from her new room at the Madison on Friday. “This is my dream apartment,” she said. Spokane Partners property manager Mike Dennis stands in the doorway.
(Full-size photo)

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Roxanne Smith is ecstatic as she tours the apartment she’ll soon move into. It’s a clean, well-lighted, two-bedroom unit inside the Madison, the newly remodeled downtown Spokane building converted into 68 handsome apartments.

Examining her new room, Smith, 27, called it “my dream apartment.”

Now that the Madison is finally ready and accepting tenants, Smith hopes to move in within a week.

Built in 1906, the five-story Madison, at 1039 W. First Ave., originally was a hotel. It became a low-income apartment building in the 1980s.

Two years ago, tenants were displaced in preparation for its redevelopment, sparking discussions in the city about the need for low-income housing downtown.

Today the building is a mixed-use development with several main-floor retail spaces ready for occupants.

Its transformation, in large part, came about thanks to a state affordable-housing law that sets aside some of the fees people pay when recording documents such as marriage license applications. Starting in 2004, Spokane County has used nearly $4.5 million from those records fees for affordable housing.

That money funded about two dozen projects, including new construction and renovation or maintenance of buildings.

The money for the Madison was approved in 2007 when Monroe Madison Management, the developer, received $225,000 for the building conversion. The money came as a $100,000 grant and a $125,000 10-year loan.

“That money from Spokane County helped us greatly,” said Steve Elliott, one of the Madison’s developers. Beyond covering the cost of converting the 20 units, the loan increased the developers’ equity in the project and helped Elliott line up a bank loan of nearly $5 million to finish the project, whose total cost approached $8 million.

The $225,000 comes from the county’s “2060” funds, named for the House bill that created the program in 2002.

The law’s purpose is to add or replace affordable housing in areas it’s needed.

In this case, the Madison’s owners guaranteed that 20 of the 68 apartments would remain affordable for low-income tenants for at least 10 years. Rents range from about $300 to about $500 for those units.

“We think it’s important that this building serve that population. We will continue that commitment beyond 10 years because there’s a need for this in the area,” Elliott said.

The Madison is not the largest project funded through the county’s affordable housing fund, said Christine Barada, director of community services, housing and community development for Spokane County. “But it is the best downtown example of the use of these funds,” she said.

The poor economy hasn’t hurt recording-fee revenues, according to the county auditor’s office. “The recording fees coming in have remained pretty much the same the past two years,” Barada said. She estimates the county’s 2060 housing fund will have $1 million for the next round of applications in the spring.

The largest chunk of 2060 money spent in Spokane County was $400,000, set aside in 2006 to rebuild the 30-unit Lloyd Apartments in north Spokane, damaged by a fire, said Barada.

After touring the Madison this week, Barada felt some satisfaction.

“What’s great is that so little public funds were used to create a large number of affordable units,” she said.

In many public-private housing endeavors, government dollars far exceed the private money invested, she noted.

“This case was the flip side of that,” Barada said. “It’s a great thing to see if we can support more projects like this.”

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