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Seattle's Future: A City For The Many?

Yesler Community Collaborative tackles gentrification through affordable housing and more


November 26, 2017

Guest blog by Ellen Kissman, Yesler Community Collaborative

Since its founding by settlers in the late 1800s, Seattle has never stood still. From gold rush boomtown to 21st century high tech hub, our community’s character has changed many times. Each prosperous period brought more people and diversity, contributing to the vibrant cultural landscape we enjoy today.Ellen Kissman HeadshotBut diversity in Seattle hasn’t necessarily meant inclusion. Often it has meant just the opposite—a deliberate separation of people by race, culture and economic status across neighborhoods that persists to this day. And the ability to afford housing is a key element in this separation.

Now we’re in a new era of rapid growth, marked by ubiquitous construction cranes and soaring home prices and rents. Rapidly changing demographics and a significant influx of wealth are increasing these historic divides. The rise in housing prices is driving many residents—especially communities of color and those with lower incomes—out of their traditional neighborhoods and beyond the city limits.

Communities across the region are working to counter this trend. The work of Yesler Community Collaborative (YCC) and our community partners aims to support the overall health and revitalization of the neighborhoods surrounding Yesler Terrace, where YCC advocates for equitable development to preserve cultural and economic diversity in Seattle, and housing that is affordable for all.

We seek to sustain a city for the many, where everyone can thrive—businesses and families, young workers and elders, long-timers and newcomers, teachers, restaurant workers and artists. We want Seattle to grow in a way that retains our diversity. We want to support the communities that have helped make their neighborhoods what they are today, including the African-American community in the Central District, the Asian Pacific Islander community in the Chinatown-International District and the LGBTQ community in Capitol Hill.

By connecting the issues, coordinating efforts and articulating a clear message, we can leverage resources to make real change. Recently, YCC and partners helped craft an innovative partnership for equitable development, combining affordable housing and commercial space with long-term community-ownership in a market-rate development project in the heart of the Central District.

We have united with partners to pursue an anti-displacement policy and action agenda. One of our primary goals is to increase affordable housing, which helps address homelessness, and also provides families who have been displaced or are at risk of being pushed out a way to remain in their neighborhoods.

Anti-displacement work requires groups like ours to tackle some tough underlying questions:

• How do citizens and government come together to sustain truly equitable and inclusive communities?

• What kinds of community involvement, decision-making, policies, systems and relationships does it take to redress historic under-investment and institutional racism?

• How does a community walk the fine line between development and gentrification to ensure that people of color, refugees and other marginalized groups can succeed?

Though this work is difficult, conditions are favorable to effect positive change. Our region’s elected and civic leaders are embracing principles of racial equity and ethnic diversity. Several local developers working in YCC neighborhoods understand the importance of building community along with new structures.

Most importantly, many marginalized communities are coming together and finding their collective voice. They are building their capacity to get things done, with growing support from the philanthropic sector. Seattle Foundation and its philanthropists have supported YCC’s work through fiscal sponsorship, contributions and service on the board.

Together, we are forming innovative cross-sector partnerships, implementing policies that harness market forces to achieve the common good, and practicing new ways of doing business that look at more than the bottom line. We can achieve our city for the many—if we truly make it ours, and seize this moment to own our growth.

The Yesler Community Collaborative is a nonprofit organization that advocates for equitable development and brings partners together to preserve cultural and economic diversity in Seattle, with housing that is affordable for all. Seattle Foundation was an incubator and funder of Yesler Community Collaborative.

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affordable housingBasic NeedsEconomic equityPeople with low incomesRacial equityVibrant Communities

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