by Agueda Pacheco Flores
Before she could begin negotiations with Curtis Brown to sell The Arches Apartments, longtime South Seattle matriarch Barbara Chamberlain passed away. Now, three months later, the property is up for sale for a whopping $6.35 million, putting 25 families at risk of displacement.
“I have to admit she was a friend and a friend of everybody in the neighborhood,” says Brown, the executive director of SouthEast Seattle Senior Center (SSSC); the same organization Chamberlain and her husband donated land to years before.
“I guess she hadn’t mentioned [selling The Arches Apartments to Brighton Development Group] to the family or trust, so now we’re having to compete for the property,” explains Brown.
Brown says the Brighton Development Group (BDG) hopes to purchase the property and avoid losing more BIPOC families in the Rainier Valley area, which has seen a dramatic amount of gentrification and displacement over the last several years.
Overall, rent increases have pushed families out of the primarily Black and immigrant neighborhoods. BDG, which provides senior housing, would keep rent prices down in order to keep the area affordable for the families already living in the apartment complex. Brown says Chamberlain, like BDG, kept rent prices low because they cared about the community as opposed to profit.
The Arches Apartments, located on the corner of Rainier Avenue South and South Holly in the Brighton neighborhood, is home to more than 20 families, mostly BIPOC, who have lived there 209 years collectively. The Arches sits across the street from the SSSC and the 123-unit Brighton Apartments, a senior housing complex that Brown also manages.
Throughout the years, while the price of rents have skyrocketed across Seattle, those at The Arches have not. Similarly, the rents at the Brighton Apartments complex have also remained affordable, and keeping rents low is the plan if BDG wins the bid for the property.
“Under the current framework I guarantee whoever buys it is going to have the opposite effect,” Brown says, adding that a pro forma analysis shows rents at The Arches would have to increase by 16% if purchased by an outside group in the first year alone on top of the 16% rent increase that has occurred already over the past two years in Seattle.
As part of BDG, Brown is working to secure funding to purchase The Arches Apartments. So far the Rainier Valley Development Fund has pledged $1 million to BDG’s cause — a little less than half of what BDG needs for the $2.5 million total down payment.
BDG also wants to build an additional 200 units of affordable housing on the five acres of land. They’ve also planned to work with other community groups to build a 20-unit condo space on land they already own to bolster the diversity of the neighborhood and reverse some of the displacement and gentrification that’s already occurred.
“Watching this whole process of displacement has been so alarming to me, even on a personal level,” says Brown, who grew up in South Seattle. “I’m up all night sending emails saying we can’t lose this apartment building.”
Brown is attempting to raise money through bank loans. He’s hoping to secure $2.5 million of funding through the City of Seattle’s Equitable Development Initiative and an additional $600,000 through a line item via Congressman Adam Smith. Brown says he applied last year and lost, but he hopes the outcome is different this year.
BDG is also accepting donations of any amount from the public.
“Any help matters, even a $25 gift helps stop displacement in our neighborhood,” Brown says.
A statement from Councilmember Tammy Morales’ office called the possible purchase of The Arches by BDG “critical for combatting displacement in the South End.”
“Our office has met with the Brighton Development Group (BDG) to hear about their initiative to purchase this property on Rainier in order to take it off of the speculative market, put it into community control, and preserve the families and affordability of apartments onsite,” Morales’ statement says. “I hope to see positive movement on this project and for this land to be taken into community control.”
Offers, which will be reviewed by Chamberlain’s trust, are due next week on Monday, April 11.
If BDG wins the bid, Brown says the residents will be invited to meet with BDG and city officials to discuss their hopes for the property and to find ways to increase their economic power over their homes.
“It’s not an apartment building you call home, it just so happens to be home that’s an apartment building,” says Brown.
Agueda Pacheco Flores is a journalist focusing on Latinx culture and Mexican American identity. Originally from Querétaro, Mexico, Pacheco is inspired by her own bicultural upbringing as an undocumented immigrant and proud Washingtonian.
📸 Featured Image: Curtis Brown of the Brighton Development Group (BDG), which seeks to prevent further displacement of Rainier Valley families by purchasing properties like The Arches Apartments on Rainier Avenue South and keeping rents affordable. (Photo: Alex Garland)
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