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This project is trying to reverse gentrification by bringing people back to Seattle's Central District

Daniel Beekman, The Seattle Times on

Published in Home and Consumer News

SEATTLE -- When Andrese Collins bumps into people he grew up with in the Central District, the conversation always starts the same way: "Where you'd go?"

Most of his childhood acquaintances have moved away as Seattle's historic Black neighborhood has changed and become more expensive -- to places like Kent, Everett and Federal Way. Collins and his grandmother relocated to South Seattle when he was in high school, leaving behind the playground where he made friends and the stores where his grandmother liked to shop.

"A lot of us have moved south or north," the 24-year-old said. "That makes it harder to stay in touch. We don't see each other that much anymore."

But the Central District remains special to Collins, so he was intrigued when he heard about subsidized apartments opening up this year at a new housing complex at 23rd Avenue and South Jackson Street: 74 rent-capped units, including half reserved for people with longstanding ties to the neighborhood.

Undertaken by a nonprofit called Community House (alongside a building for people with mental illnesses), Jackson Heights is the first Seattle project completed under a new City Hall policy that encourages developers to combat gentrification by choosing residents with community connections.

Similar policies were established long ago in other major cities, and the idea has gained traction here after the tech boom sent housing costs soaring.

 

The Black Lives Matter movement is adding momentum, with protesters decrying the redlining and racially restrictive covenants that once obstructed Black people from building wealth and living beyond the Central District -- as well as the development policies and socioeconomic forces that later pushed many out of the neighborhood.

Dozens of religious leaders cited Black Lives Matter last month as they called on City Hall to fund 1,000 units in the Central District for displaced residents. A coalition called King County Equity Now is demanding that public properties in the neighborhood be handed over for development by Black-led community organizations.

The City Council voted last week to use $18 million annually from a new tax on big businesses for "community preference" housing, starting in the Central District; Councilmember Kshama Sawant lobbied for the allocation, while Councilmember Debora Juarez championed an amendment ensuring other revenue from the tax will be used to distribute housing across the entire city.

At Jackson Heights, the initial interest was immense. More than 850 people entered a lottery for the preference units. The building opened in April.

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