Carnation senior center to break ground on affordable senior apartments

A 15-unit apartment complex will be built next to the Sno-Valley Senior Center.

After working at the Sno-Valley Senior Center for over 20 years, Lisa Yeager gets to retire knowing she finally brought affordable senior housing to the lower Valley.

Earlier this year, she led a capital campaign that raised the funds need to break ground on an affordable senior housing complex — a first of its kind in the lower Snoqualmie Valley.

Senior center officials raised over $8.1 million to build the new apartment complex through a grassroots fundraising campaign, state and county allocations, and a federal loan. A Duvall resident even donated the sale of their house to the project.

Construction of the three-story apartment building will start this summer, anticipated to open its doors in a year. The apartments will be built adjacent to the senior center, on top of its parking lot, at the corner of Stephens Avenue and Commercial Street in Carnation.

When finished, the complex will house 15 one-bedroom units for low-income seniors ages 55 and older. Eight units will be for those who are extremely low income, and five will be held for income-eligible veterans.

“The city is thrilled to be gaining affordable housing for seniors,” said Ashlyn Farnworth, a city spokesperson, noting nearly half of the city’s population is either at or approaching retirement age.

“Our walkability and rural atmosphere makes Carnation a wonderful place for seniors to live,” she said

Over the years, Yeager said she has watched seniors, including many close friends, move out of the Valley when their houses became too costly or too large to manage. Now, the apartments will allow at least a few of those residents to stay in town, she said.

“Seniors can stay right here in the Snoqualmie Valley,” she said. “They no longer have to move away when they can’t afford their homes anymore.”

Yeager, who will retire June 2, served as the center’s executive director between 2001 to 2008, and again between 2016 and 2023.

She stepped into a part-time emeritus role in January to see the apartment project through, having worked on housing projects for the center as an employee or board member since 2005.

Efforts on the current project began in 2018. During the center’s annual January membership meeting, there was an overwhelming request from residents for senior-only housing.

“Everyone said we don’t wanna move out of the Valley when we can no longer afford our home,” Yeager said. “We were seeing more and more people moving far away either to Eastern Washington or Bellingham — just far away — so they could find something they could afford.”

Carnation and most of the Valley offer few options for residents to “age in place,” a term defined by the Centers For Disease Control as the ability to live in one’s own home and community safely, independently and comfortably regardless of age, income or ability.

Single-family homes make up nearly all of the housing options in the lower Valley, which can be difficult for residents to maintain as they age or become a cost burden on a fixed-income. Because housing costs are so high, it leaves Valley seniors looking to downsize with few viable options, leading to a mass exodus.

The housing challenges facing Valley seniors were underscored in a 2021 feasibility study for the apartment complex. Roughly a quarter of the senior center’s more than 1,000 annual users were found to have extremely low incomes, defined as being a third or less of the area median.

“It really highlighted that the need was so real and so huge,” Yeager said.

While the new apartments will only serve a fraction of those in need, Yeager is hoping it gets the ball rolling.

“This will only make a tiny dent,” she said. “But we hope it’s the beginning of many.”