by Lauryn Bray
At the end of April, the Washington State Senate Committee released the amended 2023–2025 Biennial and 2023 Supplemental Capital Budgets, which included $6 million in funding for an affordable housing and early learning center project in Skyway. Originally, the proposed budgets allocated only $3 million for the affordable housing part of the project; however, after residents, activists, and legislators continued to advocate for the needs of the Skyway community, an additional $3 million was carved out in the amended budget for an early learning center.
For an unincorporated neighborhood on the outskirts of Seattle without access to funds from the City or much funding from King County, Skyway community members consider this a massive win. According to Ryan Quigtar, executive director of the Renton Innovation Zone Partnership, the call for affordable housing development in Skyway has gone unanswered for over a decade. “We haven’t had a reasonably affordable housing project happen in Skyway,” he said. “I think the last one that was built was Creston Point, and that opened in 2007. That’s 16 years ago.”
The new building, a collaborative effort between Childhaven and the Low Income Housing Institute (LIHI), is to be developed in Skyway’s business district. In addition to the 65 units, the building will also be home to four Early Childhood Education and Assistance program preschool classrooms serving 80 children and their families.
Jon Gould, chief community impact and government relations officer for Childhaven, says the building is in its early design phase. “It’s going to be between 45 and 55 units of housing. About a third [of the units] will be family housing, so two- and three-bedroom units for families with kids. Another third would be one-bedrooms, and a [final] third will be studios,” explained Gould.
The Washington State Senate has allocated money for the project from two separate funds: $3 million will be provided by the Housing Trust Fund, while the other $3 million will come from the Ruth LeCocq Kagi Early Learning Facilities Fund. The bulk of the financing — $30 million — will come from direct budget appropriations, according to Childhaven.
“The cost of housing in Seattle is just astronomical. When it comes to what you have to do to buy and rent, the rates are really comparable, and you’re not even gaining an asset or building generational wealth,” explained Rebecca Berry, executive director of Skyway Coalition, an organization that supports community-led development. “Having access to a spectrum of affordable housing options is something that we’re really big champions of in Skyway, because we want to make sure that we’re addressing all the types of families’ situations.”
Considered an unincorporated part of King County, Skyway lies just south of Seattle and west of Renton. “Unincorporated” means it does not directly have a local branch of government, thus making it ineligible to receive City funding. It also does not have its own elected officials, though it tends to be governed by County laws.
At 27.4%, Skyway has the highest population of Black people in the region; Renton has a Black population of only 8% and Seattle 6.8%. Historically, Seattle’s Central District, which is about half the size of Skyway, has been seen as the area’s Black Mecca.
“Councilmember Girmay [Zahilay] released a [Seattle Times] op-ed and was kind of the first person to really start talking about Skyway having the largest concentration of Black people in Washington State,” said Quigtar. “Now that was three years ago. So it’s probably very likely that we don’t hold the largest concentration any longer because of displacement.”
Since the end of the ʼ70s, the Black population of the Central District has become less as time passes, and Census data shows the community of Skyway may follow a similar trend. Data from the 2010 Census on racial demographics in Skyway (located on Page 28) states that 4,638 or 29.6% of residents identified as only white, and 4,913 or 31.4% identified as only Black or African American. Ten years later, data from the 2020 Census would show that even though Skyway’s population increased from 15,645 in 2010 to 17,397, the percentage of Black people living in Skyway lowered to 27.4%.
Skyway’s lack of access to government funding has inhibited the neighborhood’s development for decades. Unlike Seattle, where community businesses can apply for money from the City, Skyway receives much of its funding from the State and only some from King County. Such limitations have perpetuated an overall lack of resources.
“Skyway [has] one grocery store. The number of businesses in Skyway aren’t that numerous, even in terms of day care or child care. A lot of people who live here do look outside of Skyway for those things,” explained Fin Hardy, a kindergarten teacher at Lakeridge Elementary School and board member of the West Hill Community Association. Hardy also said Skyway does not even have its own high school: “Our high schoolers go to Renton High.”
Hardy has been living in Skyway since she and her husband bought their home there after moving from Othello. Hardy’s husband is a social worker for the Renton School District, and the two have a 1-year-old child. Hardy is excited about the early learning center.
“I think it’s so key for the resources to be available within your community. And to be able to send your kid to day care, or an early learning center, that is within your building … if you just think about all of the things going on for the parents of young kids — getting them to places, getting them fed, getting them to bedtime — it’s a lot when you add in a commute to somewhere that takes your, like, voucher for whatever day care assistance that you have,” explained Hardy, “if that’s even something that you have access to.”
According to Gould, the 98178 ZIP code is one of the biggest child care deserts in the state of Washington. “Skyway’s lack of affordable early learning opportunities is another example of systemic disinvestment and systemic racism, because Skyway is home to the largest percentage of Black families in the state,” explained Gould. “So providing early learning services, particularly free early learning services — which these preschool classrooms will be — is part of a community strategy to help not just kids, but help families thrive.”
While the early learning center will serve the Skyway community, it is not intended to be a preschool just for the families in the affordable housing complex. “It’s going to be a preschool for the whole community, with preference for people in 98178,” said Gould.
Statistics show that if more of an effort is not made to support the needs of the community, the percentage of Black people living in Skyway will continue to decline. As more outsiders move in who can afford to commute outside of Skyway for their needs, the threat of gentrification looms, and Skyway becomes more at risk of becoming like the Central District.
“There are a lot of things that King County could do to create a better climate for small businesses and Skyway. And that’s also important for anti-displacement efforts,” said Gould.
Skyway community members have been devising strategies to combat displacement for decades. Quigtar argues the game plan should expand beyond just affordable rental housing. “Affordable housing is one piece, and when we talk about that, I think a lot of folks have generically [gone] to affordable rental housing,” said Quigtar. “But I think another piece for us that we try to promote is wealth building, and what else is needed to build wealth, so that people can maintain and not be rent-burdened, mortgage-burdened.”
“The working goal is [to find out] how Skyway can be self-sufficient,” explained Hardy. “How can we create this model where we build our own expertise, skilled tradespeople and skilled leaders, to really grassroots build from the ground up?”
The approval of the additional $3 million in the amended budget, along with the initial $3 million from the Housing Trust Fund, is undoubtedly a step in the right direction. However, Gould urges there is more to be done in order for the Skyway community to thrive.
“It’s not just about affordable housing,” said Gould. “It’s about community businesses being able to thrive in Skyway as well. So preserving the economic climate and incentivizing businesses that are owned and operated by people in the community that employ people in the community.”
Lauryn Bray is a writer and reporter for the South Seattle Emerald. She has a degree in English with a concentration in creative writing from CUNY Hunter College. She is from Sacramento, California, and has been living in King County since June 2022.
📸 Featured Image: Attendees visit the Skyway Resource Center. (Photo courtesy of Renton Innovation Zone Partnership)
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