by Agueda Pacheco Flores
King County is home to more than 500 contaminated sites, but now at least two will get cleaned up for a second chance as affordable housing.
Through its new Affordable Housing Grant Program, the Washington State Department of Ecology has slated two new sites for redevelopment. The grant program has $21 million to allocate to projects that clean contaminated sites for affordable housing. The Department of Ecology has funded dozens of sites previously through pilot programs, including the Mount Baker Housing Association project and Grand Street Commons — both in the South End. This is not a coincidence. Communities of Color who have historically and systematically been redlined and are now being pushed out of gentrified neighborhoods are disproportionately impacted by environmental contaminants including air pollution.
That’s why Ian Fawley, the department’s outreach planner for toxic cleanup, says the program accomplishes two things at once.
“One of the unfortunate happenings of pollution is people that are disproportionately affected … are also in the areas that have the need for affordable housing,” Fawley says. “So it can benefit both of those needs at the same time for the folks that have environmental justice concerns they’re living with.”
The department took public comment and feedback for the Renton location earlier this month. The Renton site, known as Boathouse Inc., has yet to break ground. It operated as a dry cleaner for two decades until 2002 and has chemically contaminated soil and groundwater.
The developer taking on the project in Renton will provide 50 units of affordable housing. Those units will be available to households earning 60% to 80% of the area’s median income.
The second cleanup location is the Seventh Avenue Service site in the International District, which has soil contaminated by gasoline. The site, located on South Jackson Street, operated as a garage and gasoline station from the 1930s until the 1970s. The developer, 701 S Jackson Partners LLC, will provide 202 units of affordable housing.
The department will take public comment on the site from Aug. 15 until Sept. 11. Construction is projected to start in 2023 and expected to be finished four months after breaking ground. Such a concise timeline for projects like these are not the norm, according to Fawley, who says that between assessing the extent of contamination and administrative paperwork, knowing when a project will be finished is the biggest challenge.
“We have all of these steps that need to be completed by law for this site to be clean and safe for the community that’s living there,” he says. “That’s why the law exists and the process exists, but they also have to do that on a clock, so they have this timing that they need to accomplish these things, get all approvals, and then do the development.”
Across Washington, Fawley estimates that there are at least 14,000 sites with environmental contamination, but that most are concentrated where there’s been heavy land use, such as King County and Seattle, where housing affordability continues to push out and price out Communities of Color.
“So there’s that goal being met for cleaning it up, but then also to take that already-developed area and instead of contributing to the sprawl of building affordable housing outside of an area, building affordable housing in an area that already has the need,” he says. “It helps those communities that are there.”
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: The Seventh Avenue Service site in the International District was previously a garage and gasoline station. (Photo: Jaidev Vella)
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