by Andrew Engelson
The Seattle City Council unanimously approved legislation on Monday, July 12, pushed by Mayor Jenny Durkan to purchase two parcels of land for affordable housing to address the growing pressure of housing displacement in the South Park neighborhood .
The lots at the intersection of 14th Avenue South and South Henderson Street will be purchased for $3.65 million and eventually developed into between 70 and 120 units of housing, according to Stephanie Velasco, a spokesperson for the Seattle Office of Housing. Responding to input from the neighborhood (including a sizable Latino community), the project will include many three-bedroom units appropriate for multigenerational families.
“Now we can start building the dream of housing that will go there,” said Maria Ramirez, chair of the Duwamish Valley Affordable Housing Coalition (DVAHC). “It’s a big move forward to bring in a bunch of units of new housing — quality housing that’s affordable at different levels of [area median income]. And family housing. It’s going to be community-led. We’re going to design something that the community wants and has been asking for.”
The project is an outgrowth of the City’s 2016 Duwamish Valley Program, which in conjunction with a variety of community organizations, including DVAHC and the Duwamish River Cleanup Coalition (DRCC), produced the Duwamish Valley Action Plan in 2018. The plan identified a range of action items required to prevent displacement and increase environmental equity in the South Park and Georgetown neighborhoods. For these particular parcels, the Office of Housing began negotiating a purchase in December 2020 and expects to close on the sale in mid-August. Next, a request for proposals (RFP) from nonprofit housing developers is expected in the second half of 2022, Velasco said.
“There will be a focus on ‘family-size’ units,” Velasco said in an email to the Emerald, “meaning two or more bedrooms to accommodate larger households, and the development will utilize Community Preference to support those most impacted by displacement. Plans for the development may also include community-oriented space on the ground floor, with additional goals to incorporate water- and energy-efficient sustainable building practices.”
The emphasis on family units is critical to the Latino community in South Park. According to the Duwamish Valley Action Plan, nearly 34% of South Park residents are “Hispanic or Latinx,” compared to 6.6% overall in Seattle. Incomes in the neighborhood are also well below the Seattle average, at a little over $34,000 compared to $74,500 citywide.
Ramirez says a typical resident of the new project, which will likely take two to three years to be completed, might be someone who works for one of the many nonprofits based in the South Park neighborhood center. “I’m thinking of the moms who have two, three, or four kids who haven’t been able to stay here, who’ve struggled to find decent affordable housing nearby. A lot of the profile is families, or multigenerational families with grandmas living with them.”
Paulina López, executive director of the DRCC, said in a press release from the mayor’s office, “I am really thankful to Mayor Durkan and the Office of Housing for a bold and responsive action to support this urgent investment in our local vision for housing justice, rooted in racial and environmental justice.”
South Park is next to some of the most heavily industrialized and polluted areas of the city, and has long been neglected in terms of racial and environmental equity. Though the neighborhood faces an uphill battle against displacement and pollution, the City has made the region a priority with a variety of initiatives in recent years. Seattle Parks and Recreation recently bought a 1.3-acre site from the County to create a new park along the Duwamish River and is in the design process to create a new South Park Plaza (also along the river) as well as improvements to Marra Farm, a community food garden.
Ramirez says the DVAHC’s approach to preventing displacement involves three parts: building new affordable housing, preserving existing affordable housing, and creating a multipurpose center to house a range of nonprofits and community services in the heart of South Park. To that end, the City’s Office of Planning & Community Development (OPCD) recently awarded $1 million to DVAHC to acquire a parcel of land that will be developed into a center.
“We’re already putting together some partners who are local organizations that don’t have space here,” Ramirez said, “including a youth program, a senior center, and the Duwamish Tribe.”
Ramirez notes that the presence of Duwamish in South Park’s future is of critical importance. “We’re really excited about the possibility of the Duwamish having a place here in South Park, the place where they originally lived. They were the first to be displaced.”
DVAHC is currently evaluating potential sites and applying for additional funding to create the multipurpose center. Velasco said that for the 14th Avenue South and South Henderson Street site, the Office of Housing will seek funding from the City’s 2016 housing levy and the Incentive Zoning program as well as a range of other state and federal sources.
Andrew Engelson is a Seattle-based writer and editor who lives in the South End.
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