Port of Seattle Grants $1 Million to South King County Cities and Organizations

by Mark Van Streefkerk

Earlier this month, the Port of Seattle Commission approved funding of more than $1 million in grants to cities and 14 organizations in South King County. The Economic Development Partnership Program allocated $930,000 to South King County cities to help boost economic recovery for communities most impacted by COVID-19, including small businesses. Through the Port of Seattle environmental grants, 14 organizations will receive up to $20,000 for almost $218,000 in total. 

The recent funding is part of the Port of Seattle’s larger commitment to invest $10 million over five years through the South King County Support Program, partly to help offset environmental impacts on near-airport communities and now to aid in COVID-19 recovery. Port programs are supported through 1.2% of tax paid by King County property owners.

Some of the 14 organizations funded through environmental grants include the Bhutanese Community Resource Center, Highline Botanical Garden Foundation, Congolese Basketball, Federal Way Korean American Association, Tilth Alliance, New Start Community Garden, and Bridging Cultural Gaps. Most of the proposals center around community gardens and public lands, such as the Highline Botanical Garden Foundation’s expansion of the Seike Japanese Garden or Tilth’s soil and water stewardship training. The Bhutanese Community Resource Center will use the environmental grant to create a green canopy and park, and the Congolese basketball team will fund park improvements and an immigrant inclusion project. 

“These are communities that are clearly disproportionately impacted by our operations and are very much good partners,” said Port of Seattle Commission President Fred Felleman. “We also provided assistance in developing the grants … Bureaucracy is a challenging thing, and that shouldn’t be the thing that gets in the way of a worthy proposal.”

Making sure smaller organizations had the necessary help to access these grants was a special emphasis with this round of funding. “Equity is a big part of the community right now and the Port as well,” said Alison Beason, senior data and policy analyst at the Port of Seattle. “We wanted to make sure these funds were distributed equitably.” 

The request for proposals started last fall, and for the first time the Port adopted a community liaison model. Trusted individuals became liaisons, working with the Port to advocate for smaller nonprofits and organizations that might never have navigated a similar process before. Community liaisons also helped the applicants obtain matching funding through other organizations. The Port’s Central Procurement Office held office hours one to two times a week to provide assistance with navigating their online software. Community advisors were included in the panel process to provide insight into community needs, and grant applicants could also pitch their proposals via video, PowerPoint, or oral presentation, a feature that benefitted non-English-speaking presenters. 

Based on Beason’s former work with the City of Tacoma, the Port drafted an equity index based on over 22 data points to help identify communities most in need of funding. “It was a really good case study in how to implement data and identify vulnerable communities or underrepresented communities, not just based around how the federal government defines it [with] poverty or lower income communities,” Beason explained. 

While Beason said that most everyone who applied got approved for funding, those who didn’t were allowed a debriefing, along with an explanation and tips for their next proposals. The new liaison model, office hours, community advisors, and equity index are something the Port plans on extending into new programming later this year. 

“We’re casting a wide net here, and we’re really just getting started,” said Peter McGraw, maritime media officer for the Port of Seattle. 

The next round of environmental grants will be open to applicants this fall, but Felleman suggested that more funding might be available before then. “We’ll probably do some more [funding] before this year is out,” he said. “The vaccine distribution is taking longer, the recovery is taking longer, and we’re going to continue to find ways to help build back better.” 

Keep tabs on grant opportunities through the South King County Fund at their website. Also get alerts through the Office of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion newsletter, which you can sign up for here

Mark Van Streefkerk is a South Seattle-based journalist, freelance writer, and the Emerald’s Arts, Culture, & Community editor living in the Beacon Hill neighborhood. He often writes about specialty coffee, LGBTQ+ topics, and more. Visit his website and follow him on Instagram at @markthewriter

Featured Image: Community volunteers plant native trees and shrubs north of Sea-Tac’s runways. The recent round of funding approved by the Port of Seattle will benefit South King County cities and 14 community organizations. Photo courtesy of Port of Seattle.

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