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Peeking Inside the World of GreenHouse Apartments

Over the weekend, Columbia City's GreenHouse Apartments welcomed its first tenants to the building -- a particularly momentous occasion considering the building is the first market-rate apartment building the nabe has seen since 1969.

"We could tell that people want to live in Columbia City, but if your'e a renter, there wasn't necessarily the product type there," explains Martha Barkman, Director of Design and Construction for Harbor Urban. "Not everyone wants to live in a 40-year old apartment building or has a down payment they can put down for a house. The single family market is pretty active and strong and it just seemed like perhaps the option wasn't there for people who wanted to live there already."

And while the physical appearance of the shiny, new 124-unit building doesn't exactly blend in with the architectural landscape that exists in the Landmark District of Columbia City, the intent behind the design and the project itself fits in perfectly with the feel of this South Seattle neighborhood. The Harbor Urban-designed building blends their dedication to creating projects that are in close proximity to the Light Rail with Seattle's penchant for urban agriculture, while also creating an affordable rental option that caters to the economic and racial diversity of the 98118.

According to the numbers provided by Harbor Urban, 50 percent of the 20 percent of units allotted for "affordable housing" as stipulated under the Seattle Multi-Family Tax Exemption Program have already been leased. For those who aren't math majors, that comes out to about 12 units that have already been snagged up with about 12 left to go.

"The numbers [for "affordable housing" units] are a little stronger," says Barkman,"but people who have been coming through the door haven't necessarily been looking for the program. They just so happen to be in that salary range."

The project is attracting teachers, nurses, techies, and others in the work force of varying nationalities from areas north of Seattle with over 50 percent moving from as far south as Tacoma. While the units aren't particularly large -- the average square footage clocking in at 650 sq. ft. -- the trade off is that GreenHouse sports no shoebox studios and rents start from below $1,000/month.

"We were really sensitive to the fact that people who want to live in Columbia City don't want to pay Seattle rates, so we really tried a lot of things in the construction to keep the cost down," says Barkman.

As such, costs are kept down in the utilities arena by adhering to LEED Gold Standards and having installed Energy Star appliances and florescent or halogen light fixtures to ensure low energy rates. Also, the property features permeable sidewalks and an extensive irrigation system so that the groundwater can be recycled and reused to, say, water the rooftop garden plots each tenant is given (and can tend for if they feel so inclined).

"We didn't want a bunch of transplants just from, say, the Belltown area," Barkman states, "so the fact that we have a broad range of ages, a very broad range of incomes, and a broad range of nationalities has made this [project] into exactly what we had hoped for."

· Where Urban Living and Agriculture Collide: GreenHouse Apartments are Columbia City's First Since 1969 [Curbed Seattle]