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00000181-fa79-da89-a38d-fb7f2b600000Region of Boom is a reporting team at KUOW.We are tracking growth in metropolitan Seattle, which is being reshaped by the demands of a fast-growing technology sector led by Amazon. It’s a boom on a grand scale bestowing wealth and opportunity upon some and disruption and displacement upon others. Take a look at where development is happening now and make sure to tell us what is going on in your own neighborhood.Follow the ongoing discussion at #regionofboomThis project is edited by Carol Smith.

From an old church parking lot springs affordable housing

The newly constructed Arbora Court Apartments, with 133 units, is shown on Monday, April 23, 2018, in Seattle. Forty of the apartments have been set aside for families transitioning out of homelessness.
KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer
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The newly constructed Arbora Court Apartments, with 133 units, is shown on Monday, April 23, 2018, in Seattle.

A lot of churches in Seattle have more land than they need. With shrinking congregations, many no longer need their large parking lots. A growing number of congregations are asking: Could this land serve a higher purpose?

After saying goodbye to the University Christian Church sanctuary (which is currently for sale), congregant Marsha Tolon crossed the street to what used to be the church's old parking lot.

Tolon said her congregation may have shrunk, but those that remained never gave up on their mission. That's how they came to support the idea of building affordable housing.

“It’s still kind of awe-striking to me that it actually is real," said Tolon. "We dreamed about it for so long and saw so many artists’ renderings of it and talked about minute details.”

Read: A dying church looks for rejuvenation by selling historic sanctuary

It has six stories, with 133 affordable apartments for people making less than 60 percent of the average income in the region.

There’s even a playground on the roof.  “Do you want to go on the slide?" Ha-Yang Kim asked her daughter. 

Kim, a single mom, said she used to commute an hour and a half from Federal Way to her job teaching music at Cornish College of the Arts. She'd drop her kid off at daycare on the way. 

“Just to coordinate that was just grueling," Kim said. "It was so intense. And I just said – 'Okay, if I’m going to stay there, if we’re going to stay there, I have to be closer to work. Much closer.'”

[asset-images[{"caption": "Iska Kim McCoy, 2, plays on a playground on Tuesday, July 31, 2018, at Arbora Court Apartments in Seattle.", "fid": "146703", "style": "placed_wide", "uri": "public://201808/MF_UDistrictChurch06.jpg", "attribution": "Credit KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer"}]]Kim just moved in; she hasn't tried the new commute yet from the U-District. But she said it should be much, much easier.

Susan Boyd is the CEO of Bellwether, which developed this property. She said a nonprofit like hers has trouble finding land, so churches like this are the perfect partner.

“Churches are located in these dense urban neighborhoods and they have land that is not being fully utilized," Boyd said. "So an opportunity like this to develop on a parking lot" is really rare. 

And because this church, like most churches, are not profit-driven, “they were able to work with us to find a price that made these homes possible,” she said.

[asset-images[{"caption": "Across the street from Arbora Court apartments, the church whose parking lot used to be on this site. The housing will likely outlast the church, as the church itself is now for sale.", "fid": "146678", "style": "placed_wide", "uri": "public://201808/MF_UDistrictChurch05_0.jpg", "attribution": "Credit KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer"}]]Darel Grothaus was the director of community development for the city of Seattle, back during Jimmy Carter’s presidency. In his retirement he helps churches navigate their redevelopment. 

He said the problem is that many clergy members just don’t know how to start. “They didn’t go to seminary to learn how to be a real estate developer," he said. "They don’t know a deed of trust from a mortgage.”

Grothaus said churches could have a huge impact on the region’s affordable housing shortage, but the city isn’t taking it seriously.

“This clearly has not grabbed the attention of the new mayor and the City Council," he said. "So there needs to be a focused campaign to alert them to this potential.”

Grothaus said the city needs to do a survey of all church property. Then it needs to do aggressive outreach to churches and connect them with expertise.

While Mayor Jenny Durkan and Councilmember Rob Johnson were unavailable for immediate comment, a spokesperson for Seattle’s Office of Housing said a survey like that is due out this fall.

However, church officials, such as Michael Ramos, executive director of the Church Council of Greater Seattle, say that following a kickoff meeting in April, they’re still waiting to be contacted by the survey administrators. 

Meanwhile, churches will continue to wade through the hard decisions. Congregant Tolon said that a decade ago, when they were considering the decision, church members worried about giving up their parking spaces.

But they realized, she said, that maybe this parking lot had a higher calling. “We could use it as a way to fulfill our mission," she said.

Today, the church itself is for sale. But the housing that the church built will remain.