Photo depicting a mural of Uncle Bob Santos being installed on the side of an apartment building.

New Affordable Housing Project Uncle Bob’s Place Incorporates Local Artwork, Centers Community Preference Policy

by Jadenne Radoc Cabahug

On the corner of King Street and 8th Avenue South in the Chinatown-International District sits a new affordable housing development. Named after legendary community activist Robert “Uncle Bob” Santos, Uncle Bob’s Place features a large mural of Santos that overlooks the neighborhood. 

The new building will feature artwork from local artists, featuring an expansive range of themes that include health, community building and preservation, workers’ rights, intergenerational relationships, cultural heritage, and activism. 

“People walking through the community [will] absolutely view the history,” said Pei Pei Sung, graphic designer and member of Uncle Bob’s Place’s Art and Integration Committee. “I think buildings that have a special and purposeful place for art tells me that [its developers] believe that creativity is important.” 

Sung said the committee met virtually for the past two years to plan interior and exterior art projects that include sculptures carved into metal red balconies, murals, paintings, a terrazzo floor, numerous history pieces about Uncle Bob’s legacy in the CID, and more. 

“There’s a relationship in being able to community organize and advocate for what people of that community believe is important to them,” said Sung.

After securing funding for the building in 2019, Uncle Bob’s Place is set to allow future residents to move in during the first quarter of 2023. The building will offer 126 affordable units for low-income households, including studios, one-bedrooms, two-bedrooms, and three-bedrooms, with rent ranging from $1,135 to $1,682. 

InterIM Community Development Association (ICDA), the CID organization managing the new development, is accepting applications until the building is full. ICDA Real Estate Development Director Leslie Morishita said the application process is split evenly into two categories: community preference policy (the deadline for applications in this lottery was earlier in November) and a general applicant pool. Those in the general applicant pool must have a maximum income at or below 50% of the area median income (AMI) in King County.

The City of Seattle’s Community Preference Policy has been used in other neighborhoods like the Central District that experience high displacement pressure due to gentrification. Morishita said the CID is experiencing this pressure as well. 

“We really wanted to do whatever we could to prioritize people with connections to the community,” Morishita said.

Photo depicting a group of individuals wearing high-visibility vests and white construction hats standing in front of Uncle Bob's Place.
Photographed left to right: Pei Pei Sung, Rie Shintani, Norie Sato, Leslie Morishita, Erin Shigaki, and Michelle Kumata prepare for a site visit to Uncle Bob’s Place, September 2022. (Photo courtesy of Leslie Morishita.)

Uncle Bob’s Place prioritizes community preference applicants that formerly or currently live in the CID, use its services, have ties to the community through family members, or possess any other community ties that they can cite in their application. Eligible individuals were put into a lottery, which determined the order in which applications were considered. 

“If they’re in the community preference pool, there’s verifications for whatever criteria they [claim],” said Morishita. “So for instance, if they say, ‘I go to my doctor at International Community Health Services’, then we would need the address and the name of their doctor.”

Once the community preference pool is filled, applicants can still be considered for the general applicant pool which is determined by the number of people in a household and meeting the maximum income restriction. 

“It’s been a long time coming primarily because it’s been so competitive,” said Morishita. “I guess the lesson there is that there’s not enough money. Construction is so expensive nowadays and there’s such a need for affordable housing, but there just isn’t enough money for all the great projects that compete every year.” 

Along with the affordable housing units, Uncle Bob’s Place will also have commercial spaces for businesses like restaurant Bush Garden

“We need that space for community to come together”, said Bush Garden owner Karen Akada Sakata. “Whether they come together after work, after a fundraiser, funeral, a wedding, or whatever, having that place that feels like you know, a second home.” 

Sakata said she’s seeing so many communities disappear in Seattle and after vacating their first location, she wants to try to preserve the history and continue to serve the CID community in their new location. 

“I just don’t want to lose the richness of the history of Seattle, and when I say history, I don’t mean just the olden days, but I mean the culture and the feel of different neighborhoods,” Sakata said. “We have this opportunity to really do justice to that.” 

Sakata said even though the location is new, Bush Garden will still serve Japanese food and have a karaoke bar, which Uncle Bob enjoyed during his lifetime. She shared the possibility of opening up the space to allowing local musicians to perform. 

“I saw three generations of people while I was at Bush,” Sakada said. “I’m hoping that tradition will continue so that there’s that history and that kind of connection to the community.”

Editors’ Note: This article was updated on 11/30/2022 to clarify information about the application process and correct the application deadline for Uncle Bob’s Place as well as to correct the acronym for the InterIM Community Development Association.

This article was updated on 12/01/2022 to correct the rent rates for units at Uncle Bob’s Place.

Jadenne Radoc Cabahug is a senior at the University of Washington majoring in Communications: Journalism and Public Interest and double minoring in international studies and French.  She began her journalism career at 15 in Seattle through NPR KUOW 94.9 FM’s RadioActive Youth Media Program producing radio feature stories and podcasts. Since then, she has moved to print and online journalism, writing for local Seattle outlets like Crosscut, the International Examiner, the Daily and breaking international news Factal.

📸 Featured Image: Installation view of John Santo’s portrait of Uncle Bob Santos, painted by Tom Blayney with support from his painting partner, John Lihs. (Photo: Rick Wong, 2022)

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