43-unit apartment building in downtown Olympia will honor Billy Frank Jr.

A future four-story apartment building for the homeless in downtown Olympia has been named after the late civil rights icon Billy Frank Jr.

Local dignitaries gathered Friday for a groundbreaking ceremony at Billy Frank Jr. Place — formerly known as Olympia Commons — at the northwest corner of State Avenue and Adams Street.

The foundation has already been poured for the 43-unit building, which is slated for completion in April 2017. At least 16 units will be reserved for homeless veterans. The remaining apartments are intended for homeless young adults and the disabled.

Aside from providing permanent housing for the homeless, the site will offer social services and will include one full-time live-in staff member. Service providers such as the Veterans Administration, Community Youth Services and the state Department of Social and Health Services will help place tenants at the building.

The project is spearheaded by the Low Income Housing Institute of Seattle. In 2015, the institute bought the 0.33-acre downtown lot from the city of Olympia for $100,000, or about one-third the property’s market value.

Sharon Lee, executive director of the institute, said the land deal has made the project possible and should set an example for other cities in Washington that face a shortage of affordable housing. She also touted the building’s proximity to the Olympia Transit Center, parks and downtown businesses.

“This is a walkable and livable community,” Lee said.

The institute’s board of directors was given permission by Frank’s family to name the building after the Nisqually tribal leader, who died in 2014.

Willie Frank, son of Billy Frank Jr., told attendees at the groundbreaking ceremony that his father would have been humbled to see his name on a building in downtown Olympia — especially a site that will help a vulnerable segment of the population.

In fact, Friday’s groundbreaking paid tribute to a favorite friendly greeting that Billy Frank Jr. was known for: “Goddamn, good to see you.” When the shovels hit the dirt, nearly a dozen dignitaries said a cheerful “goddamn” in unison.

“I can see him now, smiling down on this,” Willie Frank said. “It’s just such an honor.”

Olympia Mayor Cheryl Selby noted that the future apartment building is part of an overall plan for economic revitalization downtown, which starts when “we house the most vulnerable in our community.”

“This is part of our downtown vision and goals,” Selby said.

Billy Frank Jr. Place will be the institute’s fourth subsidized property in Thurston County. Other properties include the Fleetwood Apartments, 119 Seventh Ave. SE, Olympia; Arbor Manor, 1322 Skyridge St. SE, Lacey; and Magnolia Villa, 1410 Magnolia St. SE, Lacey.

Pavilion Construction is building Billy Frank Jr. Place, at a total cost of about $13 million, according to the institute. The project is financed through Low Income Housing Tax Credits, the Washington State Housing Trust Fund, the Washington State Housing Finance Commission, the Housing Authority of Thurston County, Heritage Bank and Enterprise Community Investment.

Affordable housing is seen as one way to help reduce homelessness in the area. Rapid rehousing programs such as SideWalk have been whittling away at homelessness by connecting more than 500 people with housing since November 2012. The 2016 Thurston County homeless census counted 579 homeless people on Jan. 28, which was an increase from 2015’s 479 homeless people, but an overall decrease from the 2010 count of 976.




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