Seattle Experiments With Community-Owned Hubs and Job Incubators

The patch of ground at the southwest corner of Martin Luther King, Jr. Way South and South Othello Street, kitty-corner from the Othello light rail station in Seattle’s Rainier Valley, may not look like much now—an overgrown sidewalk, a few incongruously jaunty “O!hello!” signs, and a whole lot of weeds. But in the next few years, it could be Ground Zero for a new type of real-estate development—one championed by the City and local non-profits, working closely with community members, as a way to help keep vulnerable communities intact as the city changes by investing in cultural and economic anchors.The projects emerged from a community-driven process, led by social-justice groups like Puget Sound Sage and South CORE (Communities Organizing for Regional Equity) as well as several small-business associations in Southeast Seattle, that culminated in the city of Seattle’s Equitable Development Initiative, which aims to encourage (and help fund) developments that preserve communities at risk for economic displacement.

The development, known as the Southeast Economic Opportunity Center (SEEOC), is one of five planned equitable developments across Cascadia’s largest city. These city-blessed projects, driven by non-profit developers and community groups and funded by private investors, foundations, and city and state dollars, aim to help communities at risk of displacement prosper in place. They will preserve cultural institutions and provide opportunities for jobs, education, housing, and child care in areas of the city where rapid change threatens to fracture fragile communities.

The project, supporters hope, will not only provide affordable housing to Rainier Valley’s immigrant and refugee communities but will also serve as those communities’ social and cultural nexus. It will also offer job training, education, and employment in ground-level retail stores and restaurants, the center’s Seattle Children’s Hospital-run health clinic, a public charter school, and small-business incubators. The centerpiece of the Opportunity Center, a Multicultural Community Center serving eight discrete ethnic and cultural populations, would be community-owned and operated.

“If this community doesn’t own something, we’re going to get pushed out.”
-Tony To

“If this community doesn’t own something, we’re going to get pushed out,” says Tony To, director of the nonprofit housing developer Homesight, which is spearheading the project. “We have to own real estate. We have to own our own assets. We have to own our own programming. And this is not something that’s easy to do. This is not, frankly, something that Seattle is usually used to.”

Read the rest of my piece on the Southeast Economic Opportunity Center over at Sightline.

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