Seattle’s Equitable Development Initiative Distributes Over $7 Million to Community Organizations

by Mark Van Streefkerk 

Prioritizing Seattle’s Central and South End neighborhoods, the Equitable Development Initiative (EDI) will distribute more than $7 million to community organizations, beginning in November. On Nov. 10, Mayor Durkan announced that $4.4 million was awarded to seven community-based organizations for site acquisition and major capital projects. In addition, $1.25 million was also dedicated to capacity-building support among existing EDI partners. On Nov. 18, an additional $1.77 million in funding was awarded to BIPOC-led organizations to support responses to COVID-19. 

The Nov. 10 announcement included finalizing the City’s transfer of properties to Black-led organizations, such as signing ownership over to the Central Area Senior Center, and transferring former Fire Station 6 to Africatown Community Land Trust via a 99-year lease. Under the guidance of the Black Community Impact Alliance and Africatown, former Fire Station 6 will become the William Grose Center for Cultural Innovation, a hub for technology education, business development, coworking space, and more. The city also transferred ownership of Central District’s former Fire Station 23 to Byrd Barr Place, which had been operating out of the station since 1969. Byrd Barr is a nonprofit that provides support for housing and other basic needs.

The additional $1.77 million in funding was distributed in awards of up to $50,000 to 36 organizations listed here. The one-time awards will support community-based responses to the pandemic.

“The EDI program is designed around the strategy of strengthening place-based and accountable organizations to own and control land in communities that are at high-risk of displacement,” said Ubax Gardheere, Equitable Development division manager at the City of Seattle Office of Planning and Community Development. “Neighborhoods in South Seattle are some of the areas at highest risk of displacement and low access to opportunity, and so the awards will help organizations immediately secure land [and remove] it from the speculative market.” 

Gardheere explained that the EDI program was funded through the sale of the Civic Square property in January. More funding was later generated from both the Short-Term Rental Tax and some funds from the federal Community Development Block Grant, as well as a one-time allocation from the sale of the Mercer MegaBlock last year. Since 2017, the City has helped fund 24 organizations through the EDI. “We are collectively advancing racial equity outcomes that centers community ownership, wealth-building and anti-displacement strategies,” Gardheere emphasized. 

An interim board recommended awardees to the City, while members for a permanent EDI advisory board are actively being sought. For information on how to apply, click here.  Applications are accepted now through Nov. 30.

Along with these award announcements, the Office of the Mayor also re-emphasized the City’s pandemic relief programs for businesses and individuals. Programs include rental assistance, food vouchers, small business stabilization funds, free COVID-19 testing, and more. For a full list of City COVID-19 resources, click here

Here’s how the EDI’s $4.4 million in funding was allocated with a quick look at projects supported by the grants:

Africatown Midtown Plaza, $640,000

Midtown Plaza will have between 5,000 and 8,000 square feet of affordable commercial space for Black-owned businesses, including 130 affordable homes and art that reflects the African-American heritage of the neighborhood. 

Byrd Barr Place, $500,000

In addition to acquiring the fire station it currently operates out of, additional funding will help expand service, and support renovating the 100+ year old building to meet ADA and environmental standards. 

Chief Seattle Club, $500,000 

Funds will go towards the ?ál?al project, a mixed-use space that will serve the physical, cultural, and spiritual needs of American Indian and Alaskan Native communities. The project will create more than 80 affordable homes, services, a health clinic, and café and art gallery space in Pioneer Square. 

Ethiopian Community in Seattle, $750,000

Funding will go towards renovating the Ethiopian Village that serves multiple generations of Ethiopain community. Redevelopment of the current community center will include 100 affordable senior homes, childcare and commercial space. Construction is expected to begin next year. 

Multicultural Community Coalition, $842,000

By creating a community-owned and operated co-working space and Cultural Innovation Center, the Multicultural Community Coalition will anchor several organizations in Southeast Seattle that support immigrant, refugee, and POC communities. As part of the Opportunity Center at Othello Square development, the center will be a cultural arts and heritage venue that hosts year-round cultural events and activities. Artists, nonprofits, and creative small businesses will produce and distribute cultural goods through a creative economy.

Rainier Valley Midwives, $1 million

Since Rainier Valley Midwives (RVM) launched in 2015, the organization has struggled to find the right location for their services amid rising rent costs. Last year they received an EDI grant for the pre-development of a permanent birth center. After getting community feedback, RVM set their sights on a Rainier Beach location. “This year’s funding from the EDI is allocated for land acquisition,” said Tara Lawal, RVM Executive Director. “This grant will catapult us to the next level to allow us to purchase this ideal site.”

Informed by health justice advocacy, RVM helps create more equity for South End residents. “We serve families of color who have some of the worst outcomes, higher cesarean rates, preterm births, NICU admissions,” Lawal noted. Their Birth Bundle is a comprehensive, social justice-informed approach to supporting pregnant people throughout pregnancy, labor, and postpartum.

Wing Luke Museum, $168,000

The Wing will preserve the Homestead Home one block south of the museum. Constructed in 1937, despite the Chinese Exclusion Act and discriminatory barriers to single family homes in the neighborhood, the Homestead Home is the most intact remaining single-family home in the Chinatown-International District. The museum intends to build 60 affordable apartments above a street-level community gathering space on the home’s adjacent parking lot. 

Other EDI Fund Recipients In Central And South Seattle Neighborhoods:

Chinatown-International District, Little Saigon Landmark Project.

Central District, CAYA Community Center.

Southwest Seattle, Duwamish Longhouse, Duwamish Valley Affordable Housing Coalition, Hope Academy.

Southeast Seattle, African Women Business Alliance, Black and Tan Hall, Cham Refugee Community, Innovation Learning Center, Rainier Beach Food Innovation District, West African Community Center.

Mark Van Streefkerk is a South Seattle-based journalist living in the Beacon Hill neighborhood.

Featured image by Alex Garland