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Africatown project underway for affordable housing with Afrocentric inspired amenities, community spaces

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Construction of a long-anticipated development encompassing 126 affordable housing units and flexible, Afrocentric inspired amenities and community spaces is underway in Seattle’s Central District. The seven-story structure culminates years of negotiation and planning coupled with unique financing to create a project that addresses affordability, displacement, and gentrification in the area.

In 2017, when Africatown Community Land Trust (ACLT, Africatown), Forterra, and Lake Union Partners (LUP, a local developer) announced their historic partnership for inclusive redevelopment, Andrea Caupain Sanderson, a board member at Africatown, remarked, “Bold partnerships like this are necessary if Seattle is to truly mitigate displacement, nurture diversity, and create lasting business and residential affordability.”

The ground floor of the Africatown building, located at 23rd and Spring Street in a formerly red-lined neighborhood, will encompass retail, community open space, ACLT’s new headquarters and a commercial kitchen. Also planned is a public art project curated to honor the legacy of Black families in the Central District. Sculptures, integrated art, a mural, and virtual reality art installations will be featured in more than 20 interior and exterior locations throughout the project.

The six floors of apartments will include studios, 1-, 2- and 3-bedroom units. Residences will be rented to people with 30%-60% of area median income, currently equaling $48,600 for one-person households and $69,420 for a four-person household.

At groundbreaking ceremonies earlier this year, K. Wyking Garrett, president and CEO of Africatown Community Land Trust, called the project “another step toward maintaining and developing a future for the Black community that has called the Central District home for nearly 140 years.”

Garrett, a third-generation community builder and social entrepreneur who grew up across the street from the Africatown Plaza, also described it as “another step in the direction of building a new normal rooted in equity, literally moving away from the modern-day Jim Crow apartheid that has been the status quo.”

ACLT is developing the project in partnership with Community Roots Housing, a public development authority. They are working with several professionals and vendors who are Black, including project architects, members of the design team, the general contractor and Black-owned MAD Construction.

ACLT and Community Roots housing raised $1.26 million for the development. The city of Seattle provided $13.4 million in acquisition and construction financing plus $1.6 million in Equitable Development Initiative funds. King County assisted with $2 million in construction financing. Other funding sources were KeyBank Community Development Lending and Investment, which is providing $37.4 million of construction financing and $14.2 million of permanent financing, and Key Community Development Corp., which is providing $25.7 million of low-income housing tax credit equity.

Project executives said redevelopment of the site is consistent with the vision of the 23rd Avenue Action Plan and the proposed Mandatory Housing Affordability (MHA) legislative re-zone for the Central District along 23rd Avenue. They also noted the project will continue the legacy of community building on the site of the former Umoja PEACE (Positive Education, Art, Culture & Enterprise) Center, the Black-led community organization where the Africatown Seattle movement began over a decade ago. Africatown is also complying with the Evergreen Sustainable Development Standard.

AfricatownAccording to information from Africatown Community Land Trust, it was formed to “acquire, steward and develop land assets that are necessary for the Black/African diaspora community to grow and thrive in place in the Central District as well as support other individuals and organizations in retention and development of land.” Its board includes real estate professionals, business executives, entrepreneurs, other professionals and long-time community members from the Central District. ACLT describes itself as being here “not for income, but for outcome.”

The project’s site was acquired after years of contentious relationships.

White developers who had been building multifamily developments in the area were poised to obtain a full-block property for a 400-unit-plus mixed-use apartment project as rising rents were forcing longtime residents out of the Central District, according to reports. Eventually, when the sale of the property to Lake Union Partners went through, that company and land-preservation nonprofit Forterra and ACLT announced a pioneering plan to sell one-fifth of the block for Africatown Plaza.

Forterra served as the interim purchaser of the parcel on behalf of Africatown, then worked with others to transfer the property in a community development partnership entity. During its 25-year history of securing urban, rural and wild places, Forterra has been a party in more than 400 land transactions.

Yesler Community Collaborative, now named Crescent Collaborative, a local collective impact organization, was a key facilitator in the partnership. The Collaborative has worked with various partners across Seattle’s diverse neighborhoods to support equity and sustainability and to counter gentrification in many of Seattle’s significant historic neighborhoods.

City of Seattle officials have been actively engaged with the project, with a focus on helping develop and support what has been described as a “new model for equitable development.”

At groundbreaking ceremonies, Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell remarked, “When I walked these streets as a little kid, we were not talking about anti-displacement. We thought we would live here forever.”

Lake Union Partners intends to develop between 400-420 apartment homes on their 80% portion of the site.

The full-block project will include capacity for around 515,000 sq. ft. of developable building area. The mixed-used redevelopment of the site is consistent with the vision of the 23rd Avenue Action Plan and the proposed Mandatory Housing Affordability (MHA) legislative re-zone for the Central District along 23rd Avenue.

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