Spic N Span was open between 1963 and 2019 as the only dry cleaners in the CID • Photo by Chetanya Robinson

The Seattle Chinatown International District Preservation and Development Authority (SCIDpda) is planning to build a low-income housing project on the site of the former Spic N Span dry cleaners on South Dearborn St.   

The project will include 86 to 120 units, including two-bedroom apartments, priced from 30% to 60% of Area Median Income (AMI).  

Spic N Span was open between 1963 and 2019 as the only dry cleaners in the CID for over 50 years. Like many dry cleaners, it contaminated the soil and groundwater with chlorinated solvents and mineral spirits.   

Before breaking ground on the project, SCIDpda will clean up these contaminants from the site’s soil and groundwater. 

The Washington state Department of Ecology is overseeing the cleanup and helping fund it through its new Affordable Housing Cleanup Grant Program, intended to help clean up vacant sites with environmental contamination. Because cleanups are expensive, it can be difficult to finance affordable housing on such sites.  

“This is kind of a classic dry cleaner site,” said Zak Wall, cleanup project manager for the site with Ecology. “Humanity’s understanding of the toxicity of chemical compounds has kind of gotten better and better over the years, and so usually, uses of these chemicals kind of predates our understanding of how bad they are for us.” 

Perchloroethylene (PCE or PERC), a common dry cleaning solvent used at the site, is toxic to human beings. The PCE at the Spic N Span site, found in the soil and groundwater, has likely degraded into vinyl chloride, said Wall. Vinyl chloride is a known carcinogen. 

Some cleanup and assessment has already been done on the site, including removing two underground storage tanks in 1998, a treatment system in 2001 and 2004, and more. In 2021 and 2022, the owner treated the contaminants by heating up the subsurface with electrodes, “so you basically boil off those contaminants,” said Wall.  

Other decontamination methods that can be used include chemical oxidizers, or even introducing microbes to eat chemical compounds.  

Before more assessment and cleanup begins, Ecology will collect public comments on the legal agreement directing SCIDpda to implement cleanup, and the Public Participation Plan for the cleanup, until March 12.  

Elsewhere in the CID, 701 S Jackson Partners, LLC (South Jackson Partners) is working with Ecology to decontaminate petroleum hydrocarbons from the site of a former service station, to build a mixed-use affordable housing project.  

Ecology is helping fund only the cleanup of the Spic N Span site, noted Jamie Lee, co-executive director of SCIDpda. “We have to go for more financing to actually build the building,” she said. 

SCIDpda was interested in the site because it was vacant for a long time and sits at one of the entrances to the CID. “We [didn’t] want it to be bought up by speculative development,” Lee said. 

SCIDpda has yet to determine the pricing of the units, but all will be priced for tenants who make below 60% AMI and likely range from 30% to 60% AMI, said Josh Sellers Park, Real Estate Project Manager for SCIDpda. 

According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, 30% of AMI for the Seattle-Bellevue area is an income of about $26,493 per year for one person, and $30,281 for a household income of two. The higher limit of 60% AMI is an income of $52,987 for a household of one, and $60,562 for a household income of two. 

SCIDpda hopes to provide more housing options for the CID, which has the lowest median income in Seattle, at around $36,900, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.  

“We know we serve a lower income community, and so trying to get deeper affordability with the 30% AMI is really a goal of ours,” said Park. Deeper affordability usually requires more subsidy from the Office of Housing, Park noted. “And they’re amenable, I think, when resources are available.” 

To meet the CID’s desire for more family housing, SCIDpda wants to build more two-bedroom units in the project, said Jared Jonson, co-executive director of SCIDpda. “We live in an intergenerational community where you have mom, dad, grandma, grandpa, auntie, uncle, and kids, all wanting to live together,” Jonson said. “This project really helps us further those goals of providing affordable housing and housing stability.” 

The project probably won’t break ground for at least four years, according to SCIDpda. When it’s ready, SCIDpda will use affirmative marketing and advertising in language, and work with community partners who serve clients in the CID, in an effort to attract tenants with a connection to the neighborhood.   

It will also utilize the Community Preference policy, which allows developers in neighborhoods at high risk of displacement to give leasing preference to households that can prove a familial connection to the neighborhood. SCIDpda has used this policy at its project on 13th and Fir, and plans to use it for its Beacon Pacific Village project.  

The project will also feature a community-centered space on the ground floor, though it’s too early to say what kind. Other buildings SCIDpda owns and operates have service providers, childcare, businesses, restaurants, nonprofit offices as ground floor tenants. 

Lee noted that the Spic N Span could have gone on the market, but the seller chose to work with SCIDpda. “Conscious sellers really do play a role in this game of building affordable housing, the game of community development and preserving the CID,” she said. 

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