WSHFC's Anti-Blackness

The Washington State Housing Finance Commission (“WSHFC”) was reportedly planning NOT TO FUND any affordable housing projects within the City of Seattle in 2021 effectively excluding Black-led projects including Africatown Plaza, Elizabeth Thomas Homes and Ethiopian Village from accessing critical resources. Out of the seven (7) total projects expected to be funded by WSHFC in 2021, zero (0) of those projects were within Seattle’s city limits. Initially, WSHFC awarded out $235M. Black-led projects applied for $42M. WSHFC awarded $0 to Black projects. Initial award list here.

This decision is explicitly anti-Black and inconsistent with the Gov. Jay Inslee’s commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion in Washington state announced December 15th 2020 and President Biden’s administration’s stated commitments to Build Back Better through Racial Equity and the Executive Order On Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities signed Jan 20, 2021.

Seattle has historically been the base for the vast majority of Washington State’s Black population. Centuries of racist covenants and anti-Black racial hostility drastically narrowed places where the Black community could call home. In spite of such hostile and adverse circumstances, Blacks in Washington created vibrant Black communities in the spaces afforded, particularly in the Central District of Seattle and Southeast Seattle. Anti-Black racism permeated public and private policies and practices as identified in HB 1918 legislation passed in 2019, Sec. 5. (1):

“The legislature finds that the Central District is identified as the oldest surviving residential neighborhood in Seattle where, historically, residents who faced housing and economic discrimination elsewhere in the city could settle and raise families, resulting in a richly diverse multicultural community. The legislature also finds that the Central District is widely recognized as the historical center of the Seattle African American community which is reflected in the historic buildings, institutions, and culture of the neighborhood. The legislature further finds that the Central District has been adversely impacted by public works, capital projects with significant public funding, and other land use decisions which have contributed to dislocation, displacement, and the disintegration of an identifiable existing community and its historical and cultural character.”

Now, as demand for land in Seattle grows at an unprecedented pace, new anti-Black government policies are aiding the violent disruption of the small piece of space the Black community called home. This violent disruption includes the rapid gentrification and exclusion of Blacks from Seattle, which is important not merely due to the dismantling of historical Black cultural and societal spaces, but also due to the socio-economic, health, wealth, and education implications resulting from Blacks being pushed out of the State’s largest economic and cultural engine.

From the broad to the specific, we would like to call your attention to the following Black focused Seattle Project applications that would be denied if Seattle is ignored:

  • Africatown Plaza. As you are aware, Africatown Community Land Trust (“ACLT”) is a nationally recognized anti-gentrification organization. Formed in 2016 by long-standing Black residents of Seattle’s Central District to combat the decimation of Washington’s most historic Black neighborhood, ACLT has quickly become a beacon of light in a city rapidly forcing communities of color out. The Africatown Plaza project symbolized the collective mobilization of the Black community saying “No” to the development of a whole block of extreme cultural importance. ACLT now owns twenty percent of that block and has secured over $16 million in funding for the development of a culturally fluid affordable housing complex aimed for Black residents that long called the Central District home. While this project has been recognized nationally and internationally for its importance, it has received far too little state support. As such, Africatown Plaza is one of the projects requesting funding this round, specifically in the forms of bonds and 4% credits. The total annual allocation of 4% credits ACLT is requesting is $2,680,075 to make the Africatown Plaza project viable after lying dormant all of these years.

Other critical Black projects in the City of Seattle that have or had planned to apply to WSHFC include:

  • The Ethiopian Village. The Ethiopian Community in Seattle (ECS) is one of the first grassroots organization founded by Ethiopian immigrants residing in greater Puget Sound. Since becoming a Washington nonprofit in 1987, ECS has been serving Ethiopians and East Africans of Seattle and King County, including the creation of the Ethiopian Community Center which is the project site for the Ethiopian Village Project, an affordable housing for Seniors. The Ethiopian Village Project will provide many critical services including an after school programing, senior meal programs, health workshops, social services, summer camps, coding training, cultural immersion courses and more. The Ethiopian Village will offer 90 units of affordable housing for seniors in South Seattle.

  • Elizabeth Thomas Homes. In the midst of a citywide affordable housing crisis, Catholic Housing Services and Equity Alliance of Washington, in partnership with the Rainier Beach Action Coalition (RBAC), seek to develop a community-oriented project that includes affordable housing and commercial space. Research shows that Black families and other families of Color who qualify for affordable housing are larger than the county average, and particularly larger than white households who qualify for affordable housing. Elizabeth Thomas Homes will deliver much needed housing to working families at risk of displacement from Seattle, addressing the “missing middle” population, or those left with few housing options. Elizabeth Thomas Homes will include 119 units of family housing in Rainier Beach, South Seattle.

In total, 30 projects applied to WSHFC to receive funding in 2021. That zero projects were selected from Seattle highlights a gross oversight that disproportionately impacts Washington’s Black community. This anti-Black action needs to be rectified immediately. This is all the more pressing given the recent data on how COIVD-19 is devastating our communities, and that the projections for Black homelessness (already and epidemic) have vastly increased due to the resulting economic and health impact of COVID-19.

Accordingly, we are calling on the community to reach out to WSHFC (see instruction on how below) to demand that WSHFC stop its anti-Black policies, and instead invest in Black communities. WSHFC is having a public meeting via zoom on 2/25 - we encourage everyone to attend that meeting as well to make your voice heard as well in addition to direct outreach.

February 25 Public Meeting | Use your voice at the Washington State Housing Finance Commission Work Session meeting today (Thursday, 2/25) at 11am. Join virtually at www.zoom.us. Go to “Join a Meeting,” and enter:

Meeting ID: 865 7622 0438 Passcode: 155682 Tweet: WSHFC Twitter See whose in charge: The commission board

Washington State Housing Finance Commission 1000 Second Avenue, Suite 2700 Seattle, WA 98104 Directions Main Phone: 206-464-7139

Email: AskUsMHCF@wshfc.org

UPDATE: After mobilized community pressure, WSHFC selected and announced projects in the City of Seattle. Why did it take such resounding community support to fund City projects? To fund Black projects? How much of WSHFC funding since its inception has gone to Black developers or Black-owned projects? Stay tuned.

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