Nearly one year after its arrival in Aberdeen, The Moore Wright Group is working toward a plan to expand affordable housing availability that includes the purchase of a motel and construction of a major housing development.
Those two projects combined will add a total 120 units of long-term supportive and transitional housing for families and individuals experiencing homelessness, according to Tanikka Watford, executive director of The Moore Wright Group.
Watford hopes the units will be in service by 2025, although the motel project could be ready much sooner.
The Washington State Department of Commerce announced last week $50 million in grant awards to housing agencies across the state for “rapid acquisition” of affordable housing, including $7.9 million to The Moore Wright Group to provide for 30 units in Grays Harbor County.
Watford told The Daily World The Moore Wright Group (TMWG) will use the money to purchase and renovate the Oceanside Motel, located at 2424 Aberdeen Ave. in Hoquiam near the YMCA, into an affordable apartment complex.
According to Watford, the group received interim financing from the Washington state Housing Finance Commission and was waiting for the Commerce grant to come through before officially closing on the property in May.
In the coming months, TMWG will work with a contractor to convert the 27-unit motel into 25 studio apartments and a pair of two-bedroom apartments. Once completed, the former motel will provide housing — both transitional and long term, permanent supportive housing — for people who are currently homeless, at risk of homelessness or are very low-income, including families.
If everything goes to plan, the units will be tenant ready by the end of the year, Watford said.
“We are super excited that we are not only going to be able to purchase the hotel to be able to house more people, but to be able to bring something like this quicker,” Watford said.
Watford said she originally thought the group would have to wait for the city to rezone the property from commercial to residential before construction began, but discovered a state law allowing construction to start with the intent to change the code later.
Brian Shay, the city administrator for Hoquiam, said rezoning the property to residential makes sense because much of the surrounding property is already in a residential zone.
Shay said the city wrote a letter of support for TMWG to include with its grant proposal, and that the project aligned with the city’s mission statement, calling the planned renovation “phenomenal news for the city and for that neighborhood.”
Shay called the motel a “trouble spot,” citing the murder that took place there last year. He said the city has sent multiple fines and nuisance letters to the motel in past years, and has tried to convince the owners to convert it into housing.
Once the renovation is complete, each unit will feature a kitchenette and a full bathroom, and some will be ADA-tailored, Watford said. In addition, the motel’s office will become a working space for TMWG staff, who will provide support, including nutrition and hygiene classes, to residents.
“We want to be able to give people the skillsets and the tools to not just have a house to live in, but to be successful and make it a home,” Watford said.
Tenants will pay rent, but at “nowhere near market price,” and the apartments will be open to people in subsidized housing programs, Watford said.
Part of the $7.9 million TMWG received from Commerce will allow for improvements to three houses the group currently owns to make them suitable for low-income and homeless families.
Since the houses lie in a flood zone, Watford said, any improvements worth 50% or more of their value must be made in accordance with FEMA standards. That involves “lifting,” or building a frame under, existing houses.
Upon its arrival in Aberdeen, the group last year purchased 27 parcels of land that included 16 houses, plus a 44,000-square-foot warehouse — the old Swanson’s grocery store on Simpson Avenue — to serve as its headquarters, all for $3.85 million, The Daily World previously reported.
The group runs a Recovery Cafe out of the warehouse, and opened up a week-long warming shelter there during a February cold snap.
The group provides disaster relief resources in five states, with a mission to “break the cycle of poverty, abuse, and abandonment in our community by providing hope.” Previously it had West Coast headquarters in Tumwater. It also has a distribution center in Marengo County, Alabama.
“In the last three years our organization has experienced tremendous growth and in 2022 alone we were able to reach 1.8 million-plus people in Washington state alone,” Watford said in an email.
The group’s next plan on the Harbor is perhaps its most ambitious.
In the next few years, TMWG is looking to build a 90-unit affordable housing development on the property just southeast of its big blue warehouse.
“We’re trying to visualize it now,” Watford said. “We are about to start working on the schematics of what that looks like.”
While details of the development are still a work in progress, Watford said the goal would be to provide a similar model as the motel renovation — a mix of transitional and permanent supportive housing for people experiencing homelessness, and veterans, seniors, and survivors of abuse. She said the group will conduct needs assessments to find out what kind of housing would most effectively serve the community.
Similar to the renovated motel, Watford said the development would ideally include space for classes and other services, like mental health treatment.
“To be able to bring in community partners to help people in our building, I think, is necessary to help build support systems for people,” Watford said.
The building would go on a one-and-a-half-acre grassy block of land, accompanied by a parking lot, on the corner of Aberdeen Street and N Williams Street. Watford said next steps for the project include working with the Aberdeen School District, given the neighboring Hopkins Elementary, as well as with the city of Aberdeen.
Aberdeen Community Development Director Lisa Scott said the property lies in the city’s commercial zone, where housing is allowed as long as the first floor of a building is used for business purposes.
As the group looks to have the building up in a few years’ time, funding is still uncertain. Watford said initial cost estimates were pegged at $22 million, but that figure could rise due to increasing construction costs. Watford said the group will begin to apply for funds this fall, likely through the Washington state Housing Finance Commission, the Office of Rural Farmworker Housing, and others.
Watford said Studio C Architecture and the Corporation for Supportive Housing are also partners in their current development plan. In addition, the group recently hired a new housing program manager and will soon have a new property manager on its staff.
“We know it takes a village to support the community, and we are grateful for our village,” Watford said in a press release.
Contact reporter Clayton Franke at 406-552-3917 or firstname.lastname@example.org.