This month marks my one-year anniversary as Seattle Foundation’s President and CEO. As I reflect on the past year, some themes come to mind — the beauty of this region and the people who live here; the dedication of our Board and their trust in me to move forward meaningfully our already blossoming work around equity and justice; and the will and courage it takes to build a joyful and equitable Greater Seattle region.
The journey ahead is a long one and those reflections give me hope for the years to come. As I think about my second year as Seattle Foundation’s leader, I’d like to share more about a key part of our journey as an organization and as a region.
In 2015, Seattle Foundation began to step into a greater civic leadership role. As your community foundation, we are a vocal and engaged leader in communicating, convening, and catalyzing collective action that positively impacts the people of Greater Seattle.
I spoke about this recently in a virtual fireside chat with our board chair Ed Taylor. Our region faces many complex challenges and with the care and generosity of those who give through us and alongside us, Seattle Foundation has supported many nonprofits and initiatives over the decades with grantmaking dollars. But as we look to the future, I know that grantmaking alone will not achieve the outcomes Seattle Foundation is working towards. To be able to address multi-layered systemic issues like housing and houselessness and climate justice, we need to step further into the civic leadership space.
But what does that mean exactly?
Seattle Foundation as a civic leader means acting as a convener across public and private sectors — bringing people, organizations, and institutions together in meaningful ways to think strategically about complex, systemic issues. It means providing access to groups who may not typically be invited to discussion and decision-making tables to ensure that all voices are heard. It means being a thought partner, leveraging research, and helping community-led ideas and solutions get off the ground.
Tackling Our Housing Crisis
Right now, housing is a pressing example of this. As we all know, in Seattle and its surrounding areas, housing supply is not keeping pace with demand and costs are increasing faster than incomes. Most homeowners in Seattle are spending more than half of their incomes on housing and many have been priced out of Seattle altogether. Many of these cost-burdened households experience housing insecurity and if faced with a rent hike, job loss, or major unforeseen expense such as medical bills, are at risk of economic displacement.
Over the last year, I’ve listened to people who grew up in places like the Central District. I’ve been struck by their stories of coming up in a thriving, tight-knit community but, over time, watched it become a place where many could not afford to live.
The need for affordable housing in the Puget Sound area and across the state is profound. But housing is a systemic issue that no single group, institution, or public entity can solve on its own. It requires innovative solutions with voices at the table of those most impacted by development and policy decisions. It requires civic leadership.
Over the last few years, Seattle Foundation has made greater and growing investments to address this housing crisis as a civic leader:
Black Home Initiative (BHI): Stewarded by Civic Commons, the Black Home Initiative is a new regional effort that targets the racial inequities at the core of the housing ecosystem. BHI’s approach focuses on three areas:
- Growing the pool of homes available for purchase
- Supporting Black households who want to buy a home and obtain a mortgage
- Improving the collaboration among public, private, and nonprofit organizations to create a more efficient and effective “ecosystem” for Black homeownership
Statewide, 35 percent of Black households and 68 percent of white households are homeowners. Forty-two percent of Black households in our state have zero net worth. BHI’s goal is to reduce racial and economic inequity by increasing homeownership among Black households. Over the next five years, BHI aims to support 1,500 new low- and moderate-income Black households owning a home in South Seattle, South King County, and North Pierce County.
With $5 million secured, BHI’s network of nonprofits, private companies, philanthropies, governments, and associations is working to eliminate the disparity in homeownership rates between Black and white households while addressing systemic barriers — including lending underwriting and real estate practices — that have impeded Black household access to homeownership.
Evergreen Impact Housing Fund (EIHF): Launched in 2020, the Evergreen Impact Housing Fund provides an innovative financing solution to build more affordable housing. Co-designed by Seattle Foundation, an Advisory Committee, and the Washington State Housing Financing Commission, it’s a first-of-its-kind financing tool that closes a critical gap in the development of affordable housing. EIHF convenes public and private partners, bringing together investors such as Microsoft and local credit unions — including BECU, Salal, Sound, Verity, and WSECU — with public entities like the Washington State Housing Finance Commission to deploy resources that ensure the financial feasibility of affordable housing projects. The strategic infusion of private funds lowers the risk for developers and creates incentives for them to build more affordable housing, especially family-size units. The model encourages Black Indigenous People of Color (BIPOC) developers and community-led developments, generating wealth and housing for communities of color. So far EIHF has committed to funding 1,100 affordable housing units (for about 3,500 family members) serving households earning, on average, 55 percent or below the median income where the projects are located.
Turning the Page Together
The innovation and collective effort of BHI and EIHF is work I am committed to leaning into further, to deepen our efforts to solve these key issues in our region not just with dollars, but as a civic leader and partner. I couldn’t be more excited for the momentum that’s building and the ways Seattle Foundation can be a strong civic leader for this place we call home.
When I think about a joyful and equitable future, I see a vibrant neighborhood and community — a place where individuals and families have what they need to live full lives. I see a place where every person has a cozy home, feels connected and committed to each other, is safe and loved. This is what we are striving for in the work we do every day at Seattle Foundation, and I hope to deepen the ways that all of you can journey alongside us in this effort.
In relationships, they say the traditional one-year anniversary gift is paper because it represents your new partnership like a blank sheet — relatively fragile and full of possibilities, a story yet to be written. While Seattle Foundation is by no means a blank sheet, I do think we are turning the page into a new, blank chapter, and I look forward to the story we will tell together.
Alesha Washington is President and CEO of Seattle Foundation.