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New affordable housing on East Sprague seen among catalysts for transformation

A block of affordable housing units has been built by Community Frameworks on East Sprague. (NICHOLAS DESHAIS/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
A block of affordable housing units has been built by Community Frameworks on East Sprague. (NICHOLAS DESHAIS/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

Dozens of new affordable housing units on East Sprague Avenue will open a month after the renovated street opens to traffic, a shift in fortunes for the beleaguered neighborhood largely brought about by intense focus from the city.

The 36 units, built by the nonprofit low-income housing advocacy group Community Frameworks, are spread throughout four buildings sitting on Madelia Street between Sprague and First avenues. Responding to concerns from neighborhood leaders, the nonprofit designed the plan to blend architecturally so it could fit in with both the urban look of Sprague and the residential feel of First.

The building facing Sprague looks more like a building you’d find downtown. The townhouses on First have a neighborhood feel.

“We chose the area because the city is focusing on that neighborhood,” said Tim Williams, a developer with the nonprofit. “The city was basically awarding us for locating in that neighborhood.”

The $4.8 million project was built with $300,000 in federal housing money available to cities partnering with local nonprofit groups, $1.2 million in Housing Trust Fund money through the state Department of Commerce and some incentives from Avista Corp. The vast majority of the project was funded through a low-income housing tax credit program, officially called the 9% Housing Credit Program.

The buildings will have a mix of three-, two- and one-bedroom units, ranging in size from 550 to 1,200 square feet. There will also be a 1,500-square-foot community space with a playground.

Each unit will have one parking space. The development will have parking for about 50 bicycles. Community Frameworks purchased both lots on which the buildings stand, 1 South Madelia and 51 South Madelia, in October for $525,000. It demolished a building on the site, which was occupied by a used car dealer.

ZBA Architecture PS, of Spokane, designed the project.

Williams said the nonprofit wanted to get more housing to a part of town already struggling with poverty and crime.

“We wanted to put more people in the neighborhood,” he said. “Make it a safer neighborhood with more eyes on the street.”

Rents for the units will vary depending on tenant income, which must be 60 percent or less of area median income. The one-bedroom units will go for as low as $300 a month, and the townhouses as high as $775. Williams said the city’s investment program and the neighborhood’s proximity to downtown make East Sprague ideal for low-wage earners.

“It’s really a great location,” said Williams, noting East Sprague’s regular transit service, a new Ben Burr trail connecting the neighborhood to the University District and the upcoming pedestrian and bicycle University District Gateway Bridge.

Four years ago, City Council President Ben Stuckart floated an idea to point numerous municipal funding streams at one part of town, jump-starting transformation in a struggling community. East Sprague topped his list. As his idea took shape and an advisory board was formed, it became clearer what the city wanted for the neighborhood: A new street, rehabilitated and new housing, new infrastructure, increased home ownership, more community events and crime prevention.

An initial goal was to build or rehabilitate 100 units of housing.

“This single project ends up meeting about a third of the goal,” said Melissa Owen, who works in the city’s business and developer services department.

Now, as the a revamped street nears its early September completion date, Williams hopes the new housing will be “a catalyst for the neighborhood.”

“I’m surprised more people haven’t started investing in the neighborhood,” he said.