by Elizabeth Turnbull
On Friday, Oct. 16, members of the Skyway community and government officials gathered to celebrate the designation of the second U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) EnVision Center in Washington State, which is set to provide resources for residents in Skyway.
Building off of the Skyway Resource Center Pop-Up at 12643 Renton Ave. S., which the Renton Innovation Zone Partnership, the Renton School District, and King County departments opened in early September, the EnVision Center will continue providing social services to visitors as well as resources such as personal protective equipment, access to health insurance enrollment, and information on and referrals to behavioral health and housing resources, among many other offerings.
Such resources are significant as Skyway, located between Seattle and Renton, is an unincorporated area, which means that it is not technically a part of any city and as such, it lacks a city council or mayor to advocate for it. This has left King County to fill in for the lack of a local government, which is a responsibility that the County has historically failed to prioritize.
In 2019, the median income in the Skyway-West Hill area was more than 20% below that of the countywide median income, and in 2017, over 15% of residents lived below the poverty line, a rate five percentage points higher than in King County overall.
Notably, the Skyway-West Hill area also has the highest percentage of African American residents of any community in Washington state.
Congressman Adam Smith spoke at the event on Friday. Several other members of state and regional government such as Washington State Senator Rebecca Saldaña, State Representative Sharon Tomiko Santos, and Damien Pattenaude, the Superintendent of the Renton School District, were also present.
King County Council Member Girmay Zahilay spoke to the resilience of the Skyway community and also of the capability of such investments to spare Skyway from the gentrification that the Central District (CD) and portions of South Seattle have experienced.
“In Skyway, it’s not too late — that economic tsunami that hit the CD and South Seattle, that’s coming for Skyway next, but it’s not too late,” Zahilay said. “The opportunity exists here for us to invest in this community without displacing the people who call it home.”
HUD EnVision Centers, an initiative under the current U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development and former presidential candidate Ben Carson, generally provides economic aid, housing, health, and educational resources through public and private partnerships. Overall, the goal is for recipients to become self-sufficient and to be on a path toward economic mobility.
Although the weather is getting progressively colder, the EnVision Center will remain a pop-up for the time being to support social distancing practices. At an unspecified later date, the Center “will seek a permanent location indoors,” according to a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development statement.
While the current state of the EnVision Center is a step in the right direction, many needs still remain, and Skyway activists and community members have been pushing for a full-service brick and mortar community center.
In late September, Zahilay announced that the King County Executive’s budget proposal for next year and 2022 includes $10 million in seed money for a Skyway community center and an additional $10 million for a Skyway and White Center participatory budgeting process. Through the latter process, area residents would have the opportunity to choose what aspects of the community they want to invest in.
In addition, the budget proposal puts aside $750,000 in start-up funds for Skyway and White Center to design an alternative system of public safety, 32,000 hours of new Metro services to Skyway, and $4.6 million in marijuana tax redirected from law enforcement to community-based programs in King County, of which a specific percentage would go to Skyway.
The proposal must go through the Council’s deliberation process which will most likely end in mid-November, at which point the budget for the next two years will be finalized and the Council will decide whether the plans pertaining to Skyway will go forward.
Estimates for how much a community center would cost are between $50 million and $55 million, according to Zahilay, who is encouraging all levels of government to chip in to fund projects in Skyway as he believes the area should receive extra support because of its diversity and status as an unincorporated area — rather than less.
“Washington State should say, ‘We’re gonna pay extra attention to Skyway’ — especially given the demographics, if we’re saying we care about equity and social justice, if we’re saying that Black Lives Matter,” Zahilay said. “Yes, $10 million dollars is great for a community center, but when you take into account a generation of not making those investments, so much more is owed.”
Elizabeth Turnbull is a Seattle-based journalist.
Featured image by Susan Fried
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