by Ronnie Estoque
The Ethiopian Community in Seattle (ECS) has been developing a 90-unit affordable housing project for seniors in Rainier Beach — the Ethiopian Community Village. Construction began in August of last year.
“At the center of it all is the Ethiopian community living in and around Seattle. They have been advocating for the project for more than seven years now,” said ECS Executive Director Sophia Benalfew. “A group of Ethiopians got together, and they were concerned about inflation here, the gentrification, and our community was being pushed out of Seattle because of increased cost of living, and especially the increased rent.”
During the early stages of the project, the ECS had a huge parking lot, and eventually discussions began around building affordable housing units in that space. Ethiopian youth and seniors passionate about the idea volunteered to talk with elected representatives to share their vision to help get the project initiated.
The 90 housing units will be made available to seniors 55+ and will include studios and one-bedroom apartments. An interest list will start in the fall of 2022 for prospective applicants and registration will begin in January of 2023, which will be submitted to HumanGood Affordable Housing.
The ECS liaised with different departments within the City of Seattle and the State to understand how funding for the project could be consolidated for construction. Throughout the process, a Housing Steering Committee representing local community leaders also helped guide the project throughout its timeline.
“We will also have extra levels of offices to support the community. So mainly it will help us reach more people and it will also help us diversify our programming … currently, we are thinking about expanding our youth programming,” Benalfew said.
The ECS held an open bid to find a contractor for construction, and Walsh Construction ultimately landed the contract. Construction was scheduled to be complete by the end of December, but a local concrete shortage extended the deadline to April 2023.
“[Ethiopian Community Village is] the pride of the community because they have been working on it for years and years,” Benalfew said. “What makes this project especially good for us was, you know, the community was involved from day one. Not only in raising funds and in advocating, but also through the design.”
During multiple planning meetings, community members were able to provide feedback that the architects considered when finalizing designs to ensure that once the building is complete, it reflects functionality and Ethiopian culture.
“We are happy to have contributed to the supply of affordable housing in Rainier Beach. But we really hope that this is only the beginning,” Benalfew said. “We hope to work more with different organizations in and around Rainier Beach to increase the supply, which is really much, much needed … we have seen that the gentrification, the cost of housing is increasing from day to day.”
Recently, the Filipino Community of Seattle (FCS) completed their affordable housing development called the Filipino Community Village. “Since they [FCS] opened before us, we asked for advice when we needed to, and that has been really helpful,” Benalfew said.
The ECS has been participating in various town hall meetings in Rainier Beach to introduce the project to Rainier Beach community members. “We’ll definitely have a grand opening event,” Benalfew promised.
Ronnie Estoque is a South Seattle-based freelance photographer and videographer. You can keep up with his work by checking out his website.
📸 Featured Image: Ethiopian Community Village Development is now underway! (Photo: Ronnie Estoque)
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