Edmonds Lutheran Church stepping away from Compass housing project

Updated 03/04/2020 with additional information clarifying ownership of the project

The affordable housing project employing Blokable modular housing that was planned for the vacant area behind Edmonds Lutheran Church will not be built. According to Compass Housing Alliance which spearheaded the project the primary reason was money, or rather the lack thereof.

Begun in 2018, the project was a collaboration between Compass Housing Alliance, housing manufacturer Blokable and Edmonds Lutheran Church. The agreement called for the church to transfer ownership of the land to Compass, which would work with Blokable to build the first-ever urban village using an estimated 80 of their pre-fabricated units. Compass would then take over all property management functions. Hopes were high in June 2018 when the first unit, purchased by Compass, was installed as a demonstration model adjacent to Edmonds Lutheran Church.

Blokable, formed in 2016 and based in Vancouver, Wash., builds entire self-contained housing units varying in size from studios to three bedrooms. Units are trucked to their destination, where they can function as either stand-alone structures, or connected as part of multi-unit buildings in an array of configurations.

The urban village that was to grow from this seed was controversial from the start. Housing advocates saw it as a promising path forward to address the housing crisis, but many neighborhood residents expressed vocal concern about the potential for increased crime, traffic, congestion and density. At a packed and sometimes-heated July 2018 public meeting at the church, all sides got a chance to air their views.

But financing was always a question.

The original vision called for raising money through private funding sources, but according to Mary Steele, Compass Housing interim executive director, it soon became clear that this approach would not have worked in a reasonable timeframe, and that was the primary factor in the decision to abandon the project.

“The Blokable concept is new, and financing in traditional ways just isn’t possible,” Steele explained.

But according to Blokable co-CEO Aaron Holm, other factors were in play.

“The Edmonds Lutheran project was one of a number of developments in our pipeline and would have brought much needed housing to Edmonds,” said Holm, who prefers the term “vertically integrated prefabricated housing” to describe the Blokable units. “Compass Housing had an organizational change and determined that they needed to focus their resources on services and not housing creation so the project was stopped. We look forward to launching upcoming projects in the Puget Sound area and California.”

According to Edmonds Lutheran Pastor Tim Oleson, the congregation is still very much in support of using the church’s land to help address the housing crisis, but the Compass project turned out not to be the solution they’d hoped.

“Compass told us that they simply no longer have the capacity to do the project,” he explained.  “Right now we’re working with our lawyers to unwind our contract with Compass.”

Because the original agreement called for transferring ownership of the church’s land to Compass, the church must now “unwind” the process to ensure that ownership reverts to the church.

“When we went into this, we did our due diligence to ensure that if something didn’t work out and the project didn’t fly, the land would come back under our ownership,” added Oleson. “The hope of our congregation remains to have affordable housing on that land, but before we even think about future options we need to cleanly and clearly unwind the contract with Compass.  First things first.”

Part of this will likely include the fate of the Compass-owned demo unit. For the present, it remains in place on church grounds.

“Many of our church members are disappointed,” said Oleson. “Affordable housing has been part of our hope for that land for decades, and this isn’t the first plan that didn’t work out.  For now it’s appropriate to grieve, reassess, and look at what we’ve learned before we start looking at concrete next steps for where to go from here.”

— Story and photos by Larry Vogel

  1. Wow..
    a sad day for Edmonds to step up and do what’s right.
    Well, my Lord (Jesus) works in very strange and mysterious ways.
    No worries, Faithful.

    Humans slam doors shut
    God flicks windows open

    Voila! ; )

    It will be Fun to see how His plan unfolds.

  2. I never understood the need for the high-tech aspects of this project. Wouldn’t a Soviet style building like the Lynnwood City Center, with no high tech doors, cameras and screens be more affordable?

  3. The Cart Before the Horse. What does “unwind” mean, break a contract? I smell lots and lots of lawyers, $$$$, and time wasted. I wonder who supported this “effort” with their hard-earned money?

    1. Our tax dollars at work. The Alliance for Housing Affordability of Snohomish County gave $550,000 to said project. Will they be giving that back too as well?

  4. Almost every single neighbor adjacent or within several blocks were opposed to this project. There was a clear evidence of a similar “Low barrier” mini house project in Licton Springs in North Seattle, where they also allowed residents to do drugs, not monitored or enforced. They were recruited & their criminal drug records were disregarded & the results were horrific.. Because drug users have friends! which descended upon the neighborhood camping out and in & out, using the mini home facilities.
    many mini-renters turned into dealers, to fund their own habits, or crime which in the neighborhood shot up over 150% You can see for yourself; if you go to Google maps “street view” Search 87th & Nesbit ave N Seattle “July 2018 date” view up and down street you will see prostitutes , campers openly shooting up right on Google maps! It is now CLOSED.
    We the People have compassion, based on faith, many in this neighborhood have helped others, volunteer work and such, but we also have laws. Drug offenders need treatment centers, with enforcement to clean up.
    It has been proven with Seattle’s failed policies. With the recent shooting at 7-11 and there is already more than enough crime for our officers and emergency personnel to deal with..
    Finally, this should NOT have been approved right next store to single family homes.. there are typical buffer zones to consider for such commercial use, abutting single family homes, usually condos or duplexes something to that affect This is a family home neighborhood next door, lots of kids and school bus stops on the same street.

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