WENATCHEE — Weidner Apartment Homes’ first foray into the Wenatchee market was a big one — the 314-unit Riverside 9 complex is one of the largest residential structures in town.

Now the Kirkland-based company is expanding in Wenatchee and beyond. It now has three other apartment complexes in development in Chelan County, totaling more than 500 apartments. 

Rising population and a low supply of land has sent the area's vacancy rates plunging and prices rising. One of Weidner's goals is to address that housing crisis, spokeswoman Casey Robertson said.

“It was the success of Riverside 9 and seeing the need for housing over there,” she said. “We’re very excited to be able to do that, provide for that need where there hasn’t been for a long time.”

The company's next project is 600 Riverside, which is already under construction right next to Riverside 9. It’ll have 142 units and is expected to open later this year.

Weidner is also looking to the Upper Valley, where a 200-unit apartment complex called Leavenworth Haus is planned.

The newest project will replace a city-owned parking lot on the corner of Mission and Kittitas streets in the heart of Wenatchee. It’ll have five stories of apartments on top of two underground parking levels.

The city is working on a deal to sell the lot to Weidner for $418,000 and lease back a level of parking for city employees and the public. The city is also hoping the apartment growth will help ease the area’s housing crisis, Steve King, the city's economic development director, said.

“What we’ve learned in this process is it’s good for our housing supply that they’re coming in and investing in these number of units,” he said. “What their market is showing is there’s continued demand, which we agree with, and that’s reflected in our low vacancy rate.”

Current plans for the downtown project call for 180 apartments in a mix of studio, one-bed and two-bed units, King said. The underground parking will have 194 spaces, half of which the city will rent during the daytime.

“It’ll be a game changer for south Wenatchee,” King said. “Two stories will be underground and five above Mission Street, but still that’s a pretty significant building. You’ll definitely be like ‘woah.”’

The city has been exploring uses for the parking lot for years, he said.

“It had been looked at years ago for a housing project. But at that time it was going to be a low-income senior housing-type project,” he said. “That project didn’t go anywhere, and, as time’s gone on, we’ve really heard from the community that we have a need for market-rate housing in downtown.”

The hope, King said, is the wave of new apartments will eventually raise the area’s vacancy rate, which is currently at 2 percent. An ideal vacancy rate would be around 5 percent, he said.

But that won’t be an overnight change, King said. When housing is both scarce and expensive, people often double up or rent out single rooms, which is commonly known as compression.

“When all that ... compression gets released, you’ll start to see rents come down to be more competitive,” he said. “There’s kind of this whole market transition and historically Wenatchee has never caught up.”

If the other three Weidner projects are completed, the company will own 834 apartments in Chelan County. That expansion should help ease the housing crisis, King said. 

“We’re very happy about it,” he said. “They have plans for more in Sunnyslope and what I see them doing is just continuing to build as the market drives it."