“We wouldn’t give up on this dream:” Lower Valley gets first affordable senior housing

The Sno-Valley Senior Center broke ground on a 15-unit apartment complex on Aug. 23.

For decades it had been the same tired story for seniors living in the Snoqualmie Valley.

When it came time to downsize to a smaller home — because their current dwelling was too costly or a burden to maintain — it forced them out of the community. Affordable small homes or apartments were basically nonexistent.

Now, at least some of those people, “who’ve lived here their whole lives,” says Kira Avery, executive director of the Sno-Valley Senior Center in Carnation, “will get to stay.”

Achieving the dream of many at the senior center, Avery and other leaders broke ground on a 15-unit apartment complex on Wednesday, delivering unprecedented affordable housing to local seniors.

Located adjacent to the senior center, off Commercial Street, the one-bedroom units will serve those 55 and older, including income-eligible veterans, who are low or extremely low income. Construction of the three-story building is expected to begin in early September.

The apartments alone won’t completly quell the senior exodus in the Valley. Yet, getting even 15-units of affordable housing, a cost of $8.1 million, is no small feat for an orginazation the size of the Sno-Valley Senior Center.

The project is the first affordable housing for seniors in the lower Valley and possibly the first of its kind in the county, said Joeanne Donohue, COO of the center’s parent company, Sound Generations.

“I’m blown away by what you pulled off,” she said. “You’re the first senior center I’m aware of, certainly in King County, that’s pulled off a project like this.”

Much of the work for the apartment complex was championed by Lisa Yeager, who spent over a decade as the senior center’s executive director. She retired from the center in June.

Yeager had been looking at housing projects as far back as 2005, during her first tenure as executive director. Since then, there has been an “intense interest” in housing among the center and its board of directors, she said. “We wouldn’t give up on this dream.”

Current and former members of the Sno-Valley Senior Center Board of Directors at the groundbreaking. Photo Conor Wilson/Valley Record.

Current and former members of the Sno-Valley Senior Center Board of Directors at the groundbreaking. Photo Conor Wilson/Valley Record.

Efforts on the current project began in 2018. During the center’s annual membership meeting, there was an overwhelming request for senior-only housing. Yeager herself said she had seen many close friends move away because of high housing costs.

“Everyone said we don’t wanna move out of the Valley when we can no longer afford our home,” Yeager recalled earlier this year. “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, alongside most of the Valley, offer few options for residents to “age in place,” an ability to live in one’s own home and community safely, independently and comfortably regardless of age, income or ability. Housing is comprised of mostly single-family homes, which are often a burden to maintain or afford as one ages.

Those challenges come despite nearly a third of residents in the lower Valley being 55 or older, said King County Councilmember Sarah Perry.

“Healthy communities ensure that our older community members can age in place,” she said at the ceremony. “Now that’s us – that’s us – thanks to the Sno-Valley Senior Center.”

Difficulties among Valley seniors were underscored in a 2021 feasibility study conducted by the senior center. Roughly a quarter of the center’s 1,000-plus annual users were classified as having extremely low incomes, making a third or less of the area median salary.

After the feasibility study “confirmed what they already knew,” Yeager said, they looked at how to fund a housing complex.

Raising over $7 million through a series of grants, a loan and allocations from the state and King County, the center had to raise the last $1 million itself.

In her speech, Yeager recalled thinking $1 million would be an impossible barrier. But an anonymous donor, who felt passionate about the project, donated the sale of their Duvall house. That raised $700,000.

Donations for the remaining $300,000 came through in only three months.

“Three months – can you imagine – $300,000 for this teeny-tiny little senior center to raise in three months,” Yeager said.

“I can’t express how grateful I am,” she continued, through tears. “I guess all I have to say now is: wow.”

A land use sign for the affordable housing complex. Photo Conor Wilson/Valley Record.