After History of Gentrification, Resolution Proposed to Compensate Central Area Church

by Elizabeth Turnbull

Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant unveiled a resolution July 21 to compensate the New Hope Missionary Baptist Church and others for land taken by the City under the “urban renewal” programs of the 1950’s and 60’s.

The legislation comes after advocacy by the senior pastor of the New Hope Missionary Baptist Church, Rev. Dr. Robert Jeffrey Sr., who is calling on the city to return the land or pay reparations for land taken, provide funds to build 87 units of affordable housing to fight displacement, and to create a Central Area Homeownership Fund to help Families of Color build equity in their community.

“Valuable land was taken from the church and from the citizens of this block and this community,” Jeffrey said at a press briefing unveiling the resolution. “What we want today is to begin the process of quantifying the damage done…How many dreams have been destroyed? How many hopes dashed? How much potential wealth has been lost?”

Roughly 50 years ago the church owned two properties on the 21st Avenue and Fir Street in the Central Area, which are valued at an estimated $2 million dollars today, according to the resolution.

In 1969, the church was forced to give up this land after the city leveraged the threat of eminent domain to pay just $34,000 for the property, roughly $275,000 today. Due to urban renewal projects in the ‘50s and ‘60s, more than400 families living in the Yesler-Atlantic neighborhood, close to the church, were also displaced, according to researchers at the University of Richmond.

Today, Jeffrey is demanding that the City either return the property to the church or pay for the church’s housing project plans with the same amount of money.

The resolution, which Sawant’s office sent for introduction Friday, asks that the City condemn and apologize for its past urban renewal project and use funding from the Office of Housing to support the New Hope Family Housing project. 

The resolution also calls for the council to increase the size of it’s Fall 2021 Notice of Funding Availability (NOFA) if enough affordable housing projects are in need of funding.

Sawant’s resolution also includes an increase to the Amazon Tax, a payroll tax aimed at the city’s biggest businesses which passed last year, and asks that the City Council support increasing taxes on big businesses for more affordable housing. 

While the resolution has been released, Sawant told reporters Wednesday said that she anticipates some pushback from the council in getting the legislation adopted.

“I do not expect an easy win,” Sawant said. “We will hear lofty words from the political establishment about equity and investment but we’ll also hear elaborate technocratic excuses about why this project cannot be funded right now or why there simply isn’t enough money.”

As a further push for reparations for the New Hope Missionary Baptist Church, ralliers will be gathering at the Spruce Street Mini Park in the Central Area , July 24, from 12 p.m. to 2 p.m. for an event sponsored by the United Black Clergy, MLK Jr. Committee Members, The Nehemiah Project, and other organizations. 

Elizabeth Turnbull is a journalist with reporting experience in the U.S. and the Middle East. She has a passion for covering human-centric issues and doing so consistently.

Featured image: Rev. Dr. Robert Jeffrey Sr. (Photo: Susan Fried)