Good Shepherd House and Seattle’s Affordable Housing on Religious Organization Property Ordinance

Low Income Housing Institute’s recently completed Good Shepherd House is the first affordable housing project built under the City of Seattle’s Affordable Housing on Religious Organization Property (AHROP) Ordinance. AHROP allows properties owned or controlled by religious organizations to increase zoning height and density to create new affordable housing.  Located on property owned by the Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd at the corner of Union Street and 22nd Ave in the Central District, this was also the site of the Low Income Housing Institute’s (LIHI) first Tiny House Village back in 2016.

Applying the density increase allowed by AHROP was not a simple task. The site straddles two underlying zones – NC2P-55’ and LR1. When applying the additional density permitted by AHROP to sites with split zones, if at least 65% of the property is in the higher density zone that zone may be considered the basis for the density increase across the entire site. This allowed the project to use NC2P-55’ as the base zoning, generating an increase in height to 75’ and a max FAR of 5.75. While the project strove to capitalize on this higher density, there was also significant consideration to provide setbacks and modify the massing to better respond to the adjacent neighborhood residential (RSL) zoning north and west of the site.  Additionally, budget constraints limited the building to six stories of Type IIIA Wood framing over one level of Type IA construction, so maxing out the height allowance had diminishing return.

Designed during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, the project was exempt from Design Review as it would create new affordable housing. To engage with the neighborhood, the project team studied several variations and worked with the local Land Use Review Committee (LURC) to assess the massing and balance the need for increased housing with developing a site-appropriate design response. These studies resulted in double the required setback from adjacent properties, as well as upper-level setbacks to address the zone transition. The added height and density also facilitated preservation of an Exceptional Tree on the property.

As a result of these efforts, the project reached an FAR of 3.1, far below the allowed FAR of 5.75, but it generated 21 additional housing units than would have been feasible prior to adoption of AHROP in July of 2021. The building is comprised primarily of studio apartments for formerly homeless people with several units reserved for veterans, asylum seekers, and people transitioning out of tiny houses.  The building also includes a 3-bedroom apartment for the Church’s use.

The building celebrated its Grand Opening on May 29, 2024. Congratulations to LIHI, the Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd, WALSH Construction, and the entire project team!