As Liberty Bank Building picks up another award, will the City follow through on Africatown Plaza?

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Architect rendering of Africatown Plaza on 24th & Spring

As the Liberty Bank Building wins the NAIOP affordable Housing Development of the Year award last week, the fate of Africatown Plaza, the affordable housing project that held so much promise is now in the City’s hands.

23rd & Union, deemed “The Most Controversial Corner In Seattle” has long been an epicenter of the Black community in Seattle, so the news was nothing less than historic, two years ago  when the Africatown Community Land Trust (ACLT) and their development partner, Capitol Hill Housing (CHH) secured 20 percent of the block where at the time Midtown Plaza stood on the intersection of 23rd and Union in a historic deal that included long time owners the Bangasser family, Africatown Community Land Trust, Forterra and Lake Union Partners. 

After an initial deal with Africatown, Forterra and developer Lennar fell through, Lake Union Partners stepped in and honored the deal structure which had them purchase 80% of the block and the remaining 20% being purchased by Africatown and non-profit development partner Capitol Hill Housing replacing Forterra in the deal with support from the City of Seattle Office of Housing. 
 


At the time this deal was hailed as a win-win situation as market rate housing and affordable housing would be on the same block and both private and public partners came together to “put winners on all corners” according to the Puget Sound Business Journal.

Once the land was secured, Africatown and CHH started down the pre-development process which included feasibility studies, aligning partners, securing architects and technical experts, starting the design process as well as an interim activation of the block.

Fast forward two years later. With architectural team including GGLO, David Baker and Laurie Wilson in place and several well attended community design meetings under their belt in which the community was actively involved in the design process helping to envision a building that resonates with the history and culture of the neighborhood.
 
Africatown Plaza Design Session held earlier this year at the Liberty Bank Building.


With all the boxes checked, Africatown submitted all required paperwork to the City of Seattle Office of Housing last month for project funding.

With the application now sitting with the city, the fate of Africatown Plaza and the promise of a win-win that would bring more affordable housing to 23rd & Union, the heart of the historically African American Central District which has been ravaged by displacement and gentrification now lies with the Office of Housing. 

The application sits among many competing projects across the city seeking the city’s support from the City of Seattle’s Housing Levy Fund which is expected to make a decision before the end of the year. 
 
Africatown Plaza is slated to have up to 138 units of affordable housing with plenty of below market rate retail space.

With the Midtown Center demolished, and the Lake Union Partners portion of the property breaking ground, the question is will the city follow through to ensure “winners on every corner” by funding the Africatown Plaza to move forward? 

The African American community in the Central District has found no peace in the Central District for nearly 140 years. From racist housing covenants and redlining to systemic gentrification and displacement with the end result being the Black population of the Central District dropping from over 80% decades ago to less than 20% today largely driven by city policies. 

Africatown Plaza project seeks to build on the opening of the iconic and national award winning Liberty Bank Building earlier this year which has proven to be a lightning rod for what is possible in regards to affordable housing in the Central District. ACLT has sought to be responsive to community needs with more family sized units and a design that incorporates Afrocentric design to combat cultural erasure, honor and celebrate the Black community that has made the Central District home for nearly 140 years, and maintain a sense of place.


Will the Black community that has been systematically displaced by past policies and practices of the government as acknowledged earlier this year by the State Legislature bill HB 1918, receive much need investment or will the process drag on as we have seen with the Central Area Senior Center, Byrd Barr Place, and Fire Station 6?

The previous Mayoral Administration took bold steps to move forward in supporting inclusive development at Liberty Bank Building and the acquisition of Midtown Center. Current Mayor Jenny Durkan has praised Africatown’s community led place based solutions saying that “I think Africatown will not just be a model for Seattle but for the nation”. Now is the time for her administration to align investment and advance economic justice on 23rd and Union.

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