Partnership could develop former Hilltop ‘Filthy 15′ site

An innovative partnership could soon turn a vacant parcel of land in the Hilltop neighborhood into the site of one of Tacoma’s latest single-family affordable homes.

Under the House For Hope program, which is spearheaded by the Master Builders Association (MBA), the City of Tacoma, Habitat for Humanity, HomeStreet Bank, and the MBA would partner to build the single-family home on a 6,500 square foot lot located at 811 South L Street, according to a briefing last week during Tacoma City Council’s Neighborhoods and Housing Committee meeting at City Hall.

If the plan is successful, it would mark a dramatic turnaround for site that was once listed on Tacoma’s notorious “Filthy 15,” a list of properties deemed dangerous or derelict by the City of Tacoma and unfit for human occupancy.

At one point, the site included a two-story home (pictured below) that had seen better days. “This is a house I walked by and used to dream about buying,” said Tacoma City Councilmember Lauren Walker during the meeting last week. “It was lovely.”


Three years ago, however, the City of Tacoma spent just over $27,200 to raze the boarded up building after receiving complaints from neighborhood residents. The City placed a lien on the property for demolition costs. In spring of 2011, HomeStreet Bank acquired the property through a foreclosure action. The bank also became responsible for the demolition costs, as well as nearly $13,000 in interest to date.

“While the building was a problem, since then the vacant lot has become a problem, as well,” explained Assistant City Manager Tansy Hayward. “We’ve had a number of complaints about graffiti or overgrown vegetation on the lot.”

Under the proposed plan, the City would waive the costs associated with the demolition. In return, HomeStreet Bank would donate the property to the MBA and Habitat for Humanity, which would partner to build the affordable single-family home and make it available to someone eligible for a first-time homebuyer affordability program. The MBA would donate the labor and materials to build the home. Following the property sale, any remaining profit would be split between the MBA and Habitat for Humanity.

Tacoma Municipal Code allows the City to waive debts in excess of $25,000 if recommended by the city manager and approved by Tacoma City Council.

According to MBA Executive Officer Tiffany Speir, a recent market analysis pegged the value of a single-family home in the neighborhood at just under $180,000.

During the meeting last week, council committee members said they would like to see the City of Tacoma have some say in how the new home is designed so it is compatible with other buildings in the neighborhood. Councilmember Joe Lonergan, who said he considered buying the former home with his wife when they were first looking to purchase a home years ago, noted the neighborhood includes many beautiful 1890s-era homes.

City staff are expected to return to the council committee with draft versions of a memorandum of understanding and resolution. The committee could then recommend approval and forward it to the full council for a final decision.

“This is a positive ending to a very sad, sad story,” said Councilmember Walker.

Todd Matthews is editor of the Tacoma Daily Index and recipient of an award for Outstanding Achievement in Media from the Washington State Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation for his work covering historic preservation in Tacoma and Pierce County. He has earned four awards from the Society of Professional Journalists, including first-place honors for his feature article about Seattle’s bike messengerssecond-place honors for his feature article about whistle-blowers in Washington State; third-place honors for his feature article about the University of Washington’s Innocence Project; and third-place honors for his feature interview with Prison Legal News founder Paul Wright. His work has appeared in All About Jazz, City Arts Tacoma, Earshot Jazz, Homeland Security Today, Jazz Steps, Journal of the San Juans, Lynnwood-Mountlake Terrace Enterprise, Prison Legal News, Rain Taxi, Real Change, Seattle Business Monthly, Seattle magazine, Tablet, Washington CEO, Washington Law & Politics, and Washington Free Press. He is a graduate of the University of Washington and holds a bachelor’s degree in communications. His journalism is collected online at