by Mark Van Streefkerk
Michael Seiwerath thrives at the intersection of affordable housing and the arts.
For more than a decade, Seiwerath oversaw fund development, governmental relations, and communications for Community Roots Housing, formerly Capitol Hill Housing, where he was vice president of advancement and external affairs. He was also the founding executive director of Community Roots Housing Foundation, an independent nonprofit which helped fund Community Roots.
During his time there, Seiwerath was instrumental in creating 12th Avenue Arts, the Capitol Hill Arts District, and the Rise Together campaign that seeks to raise $25 million for affordable housing and community-driven developments. Now Seiwerath brings his community activism and leadership to Southeast Effective Development (SEED) as the nonprofit’s new executive director.
“One of the reasons I took this job is SEED’s really working at this intersection of affordable housing, arts, and economic development,” Seiwerath said. “I think SEED has a long, proud tradition of working in support with southeast Seattle. We can help by creating more affordable housing; we can help by responding to community priorities and knowing that artists are community leaders critical to our recovery from this pandemic.”
SEED has worked to improve the quality of life for southeast Seattle residents for more than 45 years. The nonprofit community development organization owns 1,135 affordable apartments and continues to develop new properties to help meet the need for affordable housing. SEEDArts manages Rainier Arts Center, Columbia City Gallery, KVRU 105.7 FM, a public art program, and more. When SEEDArts, in addition to other organizations, was developing the Columbia Hillman Arts & Culture District (recognized in 2018), they reached out to Seiwerath for advice since he was integral to the formation of the Capitol Hill Arts District in 2014. He was also familiar with SEED leadership over the years because Community Roots was a colleague organization.
“In 2020 SEED sought to find a leader who is mission driven, visionary, and shares our core values. Michael not only meets these criteria, but brings impressive skills and extensive experience in the areas of arts, real estate, and community building in Seattle,” said SEED Board President Krista Holland in a statement.
While some SEED properties are similar to 12th Avenue Arts, a combination of affordable housing, arts spaces, and/or retail, southeast Seattle’s challenges are very different from those in Capitol Hill. For starters, southeast Seattle has fewer anchor institutions like Seattle Central College, Seattle University, and hospitals like Kaiser Permanente — long-standing institutions with commitments to the community. Due to historical disinvestment of BIPOC communities, it takes a larger constellation of partners, developers, and nonprofits to meet the “huge” need for housing in southeast Seattle, Seiwerath explained. SEED works with partners like HomeSite — an affordable homeownership organization — and the Seattle Office of Housing, the Office of Economic Development, and the Office of Arts & Culture.
“Some of my first steps will be to do a lot of listening,” Seiwerath said. “I really want to connect with more of the leaders, more community members, the small businesses owners in southeast Seattle and hear what they need. I think working in service to community is a wonderful opportunity.”
Seiwerath experienced the benefits of affordable housing firsthand when his family moved into a Community Roots apartment in 2000. Before joining Community Roots in 2008, he was executive director of the Northwest Film Forum for 12 years, seeing it through the development of its current location on 12th Avenue between Pike and Pine. Seiwerath also served as chair of the Seattle Arts Commission, as a member of the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance State Legislative Committee, the Seattle Asian Art Museum Community Advisory Group, and the Cal Anderson Park Alliance Advisory Council. In addition to nonprofit and arts work, Seiwerath has also produced films, notably Police Beat, written by The Stranger’s Charles Mudede, and Thin Skin, which debuted last year and was directed by Mudede.
As Capitol Hill quickly became unaffordable for the artists and communities who made it one of the most desirable places to live on the West Coast, Seiwerath and others “coalesced around the idea of an organic, neighborhood-based arts and cultural district,” he said.
Once recognized, arts districts receive a toolkit with resources and support to preserve historic and culturally-relevant arts spaces.
“It’s a strategy that can be implemented in any neighborhood and Capitol Hill was the first one out of the gate. The pandemic has only shown us how important stable property and ownership is,” Seiwerath said.
As he leaves behind a legacy of arts, economic development, and community partnerships in Capitol Hill, Seiwerath approaches his new position with openness and experience, asking “What are the resources we can bring to southeast Seattle, and how can I use my privilege and expertise to support the longstanding residents of the community?”
Featured Image: Michael Seiwerath (Photo: Alex Garland)
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