The smell of paint still hangs in the air, and the courtyard is filled with freshly raked dirt as the final stretch to finish Merritt Manor is underway. The project is a combined effort between Fourth Street Housing partners Glenn Wells and Scott Wammack, Help Us Move In (HUMI), Olympia Federal Savings (OlyFed), Homes First, Anne Sarver‐Merritt, and her brother Burt Sarver. The project is named for Anne’s late husband Tony. Without her generosity and her brother’s tireless dedication and enthusiasm for eliminating childhood homelessness, this project would not have been possible.
With about a month until the project is complete, community members gathered to get a look at the affordable housing complex in its final stages. It won’t be long until construction sounds are replaced by the joyful laughter of children playing in the courtyard playground, families working together in the garden spaces, and neighbors meeting and becoming a community.
Merritt Manor architect, Glenn Wells, explained why the project is so essential to the area. “Back in 2009, the recession hit this area,” he shared. “The result of that recession was that new housing starts for apartments and homes stopped, but our growth didn’t. In 2014, we started to see some housing projects, but not at the rate of our growth.”
The robust growth that continued with limited housing resulted in a rent crisis. Rent over the last three years has skyrocketed, and has priced a lot of families out of the market, he explained
Merritt Manor will provide 82 homes to families with children that make between 60 and 80 percent of the median household income in Thurston County. Rent for the units will be based on a calculation designed to prevent rent costs from outpacing wages. The formula will take the median wage of Thurston county, as set by HUD, and will multiply that by 60 percent. Then, that figure will be multiplied by 30 percent, resulting in the cap for rent. This will ensure that those currently stretched thin by the housing crisis, who are maybe paying 50 percent of their income or more to rent, will be able to afford housing in a sustainable way that allows them to meet more of their own basic needs and save for a better future.
“A lot of things had to go right for this project to become a reality,” shared Wells. Olympia Federal was among the groups that made the project possible. “They were determined to make this work. I could not have done this without Olympia Federal.”
The OlyFed team joined the open house, excited to get a look at the progress on the project. “The biggest win today is that there will be 82 families residing here with a safe place to live,” said Lori Drummond, president, and CEO for OlyFed. “This is an amazing place for families to live,” she added.
Wells also expressed appreciation for Homes First, a major part of the community effort and Trudy Soucoup, their CEO. “Trudy of Homes First has helped us create relationships with South Sound Reading Foundation, the YMCA, Family Support Center, GRuB, Community Youth Services, The Housing Authority of Thurston County, and Community Action Council,” he said. These relationships will help families navigate resources to help them build a better life for themselves.
“We have 1,600 homeless kids going to school in Olympia, Lacey, and Tumwater,” said Soucoup. “We want to fix that.”
Though the construction is nearing completion, there is more to be done. Fourth Street Housing will donate $5,000/month for 30 years, which HUMI will use as community matching funds to further their mission in eradicating child homelessness.
Walking through the different units, at various stages of completion, it’s easy to imagine families in the homes. There will be families making dinner together, or parents cooking while their kids sit at the counters working on homework. The living rooms, empty now, will be filled with holiday celebrations, birthday parties and countless restful Sunday afternoons. And soon the empty apartments will echo with the simple sounds that make buildings into homes—washing dishes, laundry machines humming, and the hustle, the bustle of readying for work and school, and the laughter of children that have one less adult‐sized worry to occupy their minds. Soon, 82 families will have a new place to call home.
If you want to help the future residents of Merritt Manor, you can contact them through the Merritt Manor website. Or if you or someone you know is interested in becoming a resident, sign up for updates on their page.