In 1939, the King County Commissioners create the Housing Authority of the County of King. The Authority's mission is to provide "decent, safe and sanitary housing for those families unable to obtain such housing elsewhere."
KCHA builds its first community in Black Diamond, where poor coal miners live in dirty shacks. In 1942, the Housing Authority finishes 50 small but sturdy homes built with electricity and running water. It's one of the first rural, affordable housing projects in the nation.
War Workers Housing
Manufacturing of warplanes at Boeing and warships at local shipyards jumps when the United States enters World War II. People flood into the Puget Sound Area to work. KCHA builds ten communities from 1942 to 1945. Most are designed to be temporary. Together they provide more than 3,000 units of housing for war workers. The housing is concentrated in three places: Kirkland, White Center, and Auburn. When the war ends, all of the Kirkland homes are torn down or sold. The other housing sites remain to serve low-income working families.
Expansion After 1949
KCHA expands after the federal government passes the Housing Act of 1949. The act declares that every American deserves "a decent home in a suitable living environment." The government pledges to build 810,000 new units of public housing across the country.
In 1952, KCHA builds 60 units of family public housing — called Green River Homes — in Auburn. The housing sits on a site formerly used for war worker housing. In 1958, 60 more units — Green River Homes II — are also built on the site.
In 1963, Harold Y. Hopkins becomes Executive Director. Known as "Hoppy," Hopkins counts Washington's powerful senators Warren G. Magnuson and Henry M. "Scoop" Jackson among his personal friends. When federal funding for housing grows, he makes sure KCHA gets its share.
The Housing Authority undertakes one of its biggest projects the next year, razing the temporary World War II-era Lakewood Park community. KCHA replaces it with 569 units of new and permanent family housing. White Center Heights is renamed Park Lake Homes Site I. The new community is called Park Lake Site II.
Creating Housing for Seniors
Promoted by President Lyndon Johnson, the Housing Act of 1968 provides major funding for low-income housing. There is a surge of construction across the country from 1968 to 1971.
In 1968, KCHA builds Wayland Arms in Auburn. It's the first community reserved for elderly renters. A controversial idea at first, elderly housing quickly becomes politically appealing. From 1969 to 1973, 15 senior high-rises spring up around the county. KCHA also builds one large-scale family community in 1969: Ballinger Homes in Shoreline.
Jim Wiley takes over as Executive Director in 1973. He leads KCHA for 23 years, helping it become nationally known as a leader in the maintenance and management of public housing.
Section 8 Emerges
A new form of subsidized housing appears in the 1970s. Section 8 of the Housing and Community Development Act of 1974 provides support to low-income renters living in private housing.
KCHA has another surge of housing construction from 1980 to 1983, building nearly 20 developments of 30 units or less. These communities are located in new areas, including Bellevue, Redmond, Kirkland, and Federal Way.
Funding for the construction of public housing starts to dry up in the 1980s. In response, KCHA looks for new ways to address the still dire need for inexpensive homes.
Bonds and Tax Credits Make More Affordable Housing Possible
In 1983, the Housing Authority begins planning Vantage Glen, a mobile home park in Renton for low-income seniors. It soon discovers a new source of funding: tax-exempt bonds. KCHA issues $2.36 million worth of bonds for the project.
In the early 1990s, KCHA issues bonds to acquire and restore several run-down apartment complexes on the Eastside. The properties remain privately managed, but many units are set aside for people who earn less than the area median income. In the mid-'90s, the Housing Authority also begins using tax credits. The tax credit program provides incentives for low-income housing investors. KCHA does not own the properties, but acts as the managing general partner in the ownership group.
A Place for Innovation
Executive Director Stephen Norman takes the reins in 1997. Under his lead, KCHA continues to excel at managing and maintaining its subsidized housing, repeatedly earning "high performer" status. The Housing Authority also continues to add to its stock of low-income housing, extend the life of buildings it already owns, and increase the energy efficiency of its properties.
In 2002, KCHA celebrates the completion of the Village at Overlake Station. Located in Bellevue, the 308-unit complex includes a transit station out front and a day care center on-site. It's an innovative, one-of-a-kind project.
In 2005, KCHA starts to transform White Center's Park Lake Homes I into Greenbridge. It mixes new low-income rentals and market-rate for-sale houses. The award-winning community also features supportive services, a community center, parks, and public art. The Housing Authority starts similar work on nearby Park Lake Homes II in 2010, which it redevelops as Seola Gardens. More than $250 million in public and private funding makes both projects possible.
Also in 2010, KCHA finishes its $55 million transformation of the Springwood Apartments in Kent's East Hill. The new, vibrant, energy-efficient community becomes known as Birch Creek. At the same time, KCHA looks toward more affluent areas that let families live close to job centers and high-performing schools. As part of that effort, the agency buys half a dozen properties in Mercer Island, Kirkland, Shoreline, and Bothell.
KCHA continues to find innovative ways to help more people with less funding. The Housing Authority now serves more than 18,000 low-income households throughout King County.