Tacoma Urbanist

Mar. 31, 2008 at 12:12am

Rhodes Building Converting into Low Income Housing?

It has been known for some time that the Tacoma Housing Authority was considering buying the Rhodes Building to relocate its headquarters and to collect rents according to the TNT:

There’s also a potential for mixed-use residential and commercial development, Mirra said. The purchase would include not only the old Rhodes department store building, but also the building up the hill on Market Street and the 530-space Rhodes parking garage. The garage in particular is viewed as potential mixed-use space, Mirra said.

The Rhodes Building was initially a retail store and then served as the law school until the mid 1990s after which it was purchased by the State of Washington. 

One concern from the beginning was whether once the Tacoma Housing Authority would convert the office spaces to low income public housing.  Executive director Michael Mirra had earlier indicated that would not occur:

The Housing Authority could eventually move its administrative offices downtown, too, but would not do so immediately, Mirra said. Mirra does not envision using part of the property for public housing.

News Tribune January 25, 2008.

However, the "vision" for the Rhodes Building has now apparently changed and the building is now being considered to be used, at least in part, for low income housing for the THA:

The resolution (11732) which will be before the Tacoma City Council on April 15, 2008 states in part:

The Rhodes Building will not only accommodate THA's administrative space needs, but also provide a cash flow from the leasing of commercial space and the possible use of a portion of the building for workforce housing.

In order to carry out the acquisition of the Rhodes Center Building, THA needs authority granted to it by the City of Tacoma to exercise certain corporation powers identified in the Resolution.
The resolution refers to "workforce housing" which is substantively the same as low income housing/affordable housing.


The City of Tacoma should be straightforward with their intended use of the Rhodes Building on way or another  Better to ask the tough questions now than be "surprised" when a bad result result is produced.

Regardless of the current intentions, the Tacoma Housing Authority may later feel compelled to use the building for low income housing to generate funds to make needed repairs, make payments on the building or to fund other endeavors.

Perhaps they will assert later than commercial and/or retail uses did not "pencil" and that they have no use but to use the building for low income housing.  There are many possibilities.

The 900 block of Broadway is one of the few semi functioning retail blocks in the downtown.  We need to be careful we don't have yet another dead area downtown, especially in light of the fact of the non-functioning Woolworth's building across the street. (Yet, the Woolworth's tale is another story).  The retail space in adjacent brick building on Market and the nearby Rust Building is also vacant.

If Tacoma is going to be maintain retail on Broadway, the city is going to have to be vigilant on the issue, 

Once low income housing units start being placed in the building, the remaining commercial and/or retail tenants may start leaving.

Given that there is only one entrance and all of the potential low income housing tenants would share the same internal space, it is not a safe design for low income housing.

Possible Solution

If the city wishes to keep retail and commercial space in the building and in the area, it seems reasons for the Tacoma City Council to place some conditions on the sale of the Rhodes building requiring it to lease primarily to retail and commercial spaces.  

Without some conditions on the purchase, downtown Tacoma risks losing a significant amount of commercial space from a single city council resolution.

This is a significant policy decision for of Broadway, right next to LeRoy's Jeweler.  There are only a few functioning blocks of retail in downtown Tacoma and a shortage of office space.

comments [7]  |  posted under tacoma


by CA on 3/31/2008 @ 1:28pm
Wait a minute. Arent we told constantly that there is an office space shortage in downtown?

by Erik on 3/31/2008 @ 3:26pm
Wait a minute. Arent we told constantly that there is an office space shortage in downtown?

I don't know what the grade of office space at the Rhode Buildings is. However, I think the number quoted was 0.2 percent vacancy for Class A office space in downtown Tacoma since the purported goal of the city was to increase office space.

The "market" can add or subtract it based on demand. However, having the city or city entity deliberately reduce it is another matter.

by Brotha E. on 3/31/2008 @ 5:19pm
I believe workforce housing is just what it says it is, and is not low imcome housing. Dosen't that mean they have different criteria? (Like have a job) Yes you can't make over a certain amount to qualify but that in no way means you are an undesirable type and don't belong in a certain part of town. Cmon, typical Tacoma comment. Kinda sounds like you only want people that make over 50k ea living in downtown. Well we all know that ain't gonna happen.

by Erik on 3/31/2008 @ 5:35pm
Whatever the city decides to do with the Rhodes Building whether it is office space, retail or housing of some typed, they should be straightforward about it now.

The (admirable) mission of the THA is to create housing to "help low-income persons and families..." That's why many have expected the Rhodes Building to be eventually converted to low income housing should the THA acquire it.

However, the Rhodes Building has held retail and office space since the law school was sold. So this would be a major change of use for the building and a significant reduction in the amount of office space available in downtown Tacoma.

There are certainly going to be different opinions as to whether the building should continue to be used for commercial space and retail or converted to low income/affordable/workforce housing.

I believe workforce housing is just what it says it is, and is not low income housing.

According to Wikipedia:

Workforce housing is a relatively new term that is increasingly popular among planners, government administrators and housing activists, and is gaining cachet with home builders, developers and lenders. "Workforce housing" can refer to almost any housing, but always refers to "affordable housing".


by Jake on 3/31/2008 @ 10:18pm
I wonder how the residents of THA properties feel about THA buying a nice expensive office building downtown? This subsidized office building thing seems to be catching on downtown....

by Brotha E. on 4/1/2008 @ 1:48pm
That's what im sayin, affordable housing is not low income housing unless you consider people who make up to 35k (- a little child support or health insurance or both for that matter) low income and undesirable. Let me put it another way, even a single nondisabled hard working person can qualify for affordable rental housing as long as their income doesn't exceed the agency's guidelines. I think they really are talking about workforce housing not subsidized housing.

by NineInchNachos on 4/1/2008 @ 2:35pm