Environmental Works May 2018 Newsletter

Read on to learn more about exciting developments to strengthen African American community and presence in Seattlecommunity ideas for the future of 15th Avenue East on Capitol Hill, and EW’s 2018 GiveBIG campaign to support research that improves permanent supportive housing!

Affordable Housing Week Presentation with Evelyn Thomas Allen

This May 14-18 marked the Housing Development Consortium‘s third annual Affordable Housing Week, featuring a series of events focused on affordable housing needs and solutions in King County.

On Tuesday, May 15, EW commemorated Affordable Housing Week by welcoming guest speaker Evelyn Thomas Allen of Catholic Community Services of Western Washington and the Black Community Impact Alliance.  Evelyn shared her own story as a young Black woman experiencing the displacement of communities of color from neighborhoods they had historically called home; and how her experiences motivated her to take action.  She noted that African Americans have called central Seattle home since the second half of the 19th century, when pioneer William Grose purchased 12 acres along East Madison Street from Henry Yesler.  Evelyn grew up in this nurturing, historically Black community in the Central District.  She witnessed the initial waves of gentrification that displaced her community from the neighborhood, as young professionals came over from the Eastside and offered elders cash for their houses.  One of these purchasers close to Evelyn’s house immediately surrounded the house with an 8-foot chain link fence posted with a “Keep Out” sign.  The trend continued as Evelyn continued her studies and worked as director of Catholic Community Services’ Randolph Carter Family & Learning Center: her community could no longer afford to live and own businesses in the neighborhood that had been their home for over a hundred years.

Evelyn vowed to become a change agent to respond to this challenge.  She brought together Black professionals from numerous fields of expertise to build a strategic plan that resulted in the Village Spirit Center for Community Change and Healing, which provides affordable housing, services, and support for asset building for Western Washington’s Black/African American Community.  The Village Spirit Center committed to empowering the Black community every step of the way, starting with actively recruiting women- and minority-owned businesses for its affordable housing work.  Its Monica’s Village Place I housing project at 23rd Ave. S. and S. Main was built by 35% women- and minority-owned businesses, a milestone that had not before been reached in the affordable housing community.  Evelyn’s team trained Housing Development Consortium members on the methods used by the Village Spirit Center to maximize hiring of women- and minority-owned businesses, including active recruitment, and providing a consultant to support minority contractors’ capacity.

Evelyn discussed several exciting projects in the works to retain Black housing and entrepreneurship in Central Seattle, such as:

  • FAME Housing Corporation will redevelop Bryant Manor at 18th and Yesler from its current 58 units into a 250-unit project (pending upzone approval) with 1-4 bedroom apartments, providing desperately needed affordable family housing in the Central District.  A project goal is to bring back displaced Black families to reestablish the Central District as home to Seattle’s Black community.
  • The William Grose Center for Cultural Innovation at 23rd and Yesler will transform historic Fire Station 6 into a business innovation center, and add new construction with housing for low-income Black youth entering the workforce.
  • Elizabeth Thomas Homes in Rainier Beach will address the southward movement of gentrification through both affordable housing, and spaces for education and entrepreneurship that empower the area’s long-established Black community to prosper in place.  Evelyn’s team worked closely with the neighborhood’s current residents to determine needs.  They plan to include maker spaces and a food innovation center supporting the development of food-based businesses, plus 135 affordable 1-, 2-, and 3-bedroom housing units.

BCIA along with Africatown Community Land Trust are also developing a community land trust to increase home ownership opportunities for the Black community.

The work of Evelyn and her colleagues over the past decades has both strengthened the Black community through asset ownership; and built capacity to leverage power through the legislature and government agencies.  The Black Community Impact Alliance participated in the development of Seattle’s Equitable Development Initiative Fund, which is allocating funding to support building projects that retain spaces and opportunities for communities of color in the city.  BCIA is also a member of the state Communities of Concern Commission, applying Washington Department of Commerce funds to projects by and for communities of color.

For more information, please visit the Black Community Impact Alliance and Catholic Community Services’ Village Spirit Center for Community Change and Healing websites.

15th Ave. E. Community Design Workshop

The Past and Present of 15th Avenue East, Seattle
Capitol Hill’s 15th Avenue East has been home to a commercial district for nearly a century, with early businesses such as grocery stores and book shops mirroring some current uses.  Right in the heart of the 15th Ave. business district is historic Fire Station 7, built in 1920.  The Seattle Fire Department operated it as an active firehouse until 1970; soon after, Environmental Works’ student founders moved in.

Fast-forward over 45 years.  Nowadays, 15th Avenue East still hops with an eclectic mix of locally owned businesses, restaurants, and retail.

In the fall of 2017, architect Jeff Pelletier at Board & Vellum, another architecture firm on 15th, approached EW to discuss the impending sale of the Hilltop Service Station property at 15th and Mercer, and other imminent changes on the street: the QFC block is slated to be the site of new development, and Kaiser Permanente is planning to carry out $400 million in improvements on its sizable lot.  Jeff noted that the people who live and work on 15th have lacked a means to contribute to plans for its future.  EW and Board & Vellum decided to engage the neighborhood in a conversation about community hopes and dreams for 15th.

15th Avenue East Workshop
This conversation blossomed into a two-hour community event hosted by EW and Board & Vellum on April 28, 2018, at The Summit on Pike, which was attended by approximately 85 people who live or work around 15th.  EW staff applied their Pomegranate Method training to facilitate an inclusive, collaborative event.  EW’s Shannon Carrico laid out the ground rules for a productive conversation, including reminding people to focus on how to make the inevitable changes to 15th positive; speaking short and simply; listening; respecting other people’s ideas; and focusing on the goal of the highest good.

For the initial visioning exercise, attendees considered the question “What are your best ideas for the future of 15th Avenue East?”  They wrote their three best ideas on three separate notecards, which were all gathered and posted according to themes that included safety, green space, preserving small businesses, and supporting job development and thoughtful density.  A collaborative discussion followed, in which facilitators strove to identify all ideas presented in order to compile them for future reference by developers, city officials, and other interested community members.

Next, attendees participated in an interactive design exercise.  Street view elevations and aerial views of both sides of 15th from Denny to Mercer were posted on parallel rows of tables.  Attendees used markers, tracing paper, and cutouts of items such as P Patches and benches to mark up the elevations, and convey their ideas for a better future 15th.  Neighbors’ ideas ranged from adding affordable housing above existing retail, to a farmers’ market, to underground parking.  As in the visioning exercise, common themes included retaining affordable spaces for local independent retail, eyes on the street, and pedestrian friendliness.

Our hats are off to you, our neighbors, for contributing your visions for 15th’s future!  We will share all the ideas presented in a document that will be publicly available on the workshop website.

EW’s 2018 GiveBIG Campaign: Research Project to Improve Housing for Our Region’s Most Vulnerable

On May 9, 2018, thanks to your generosity, EW raised $4,193.75 to kickstart our innovative research project to improve permanent supportive housing – low-barrier housing with wraparound services – for our region’s most vulnerable residents.  EW will partner with Catholic Community Services of Western Washington, Compass Housing Services, Low Income Housing Institute, and Community House Mental Health Agency to survey their facilities, staff, and residents, and pinpoint which design features best support people coming out of homelessness.

It’s not too late to give!  Make your fully tax-deductible donation here, and watch our social media for research updates.