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Madelyn Lazorchak, Communications Writer05/25/2022

Housing and community developers came together this week for the NeighborWorks Training Institute (NTI) in Los Angeles. A highlight was Wednesday's symposium, "Housing Practitioner Exchange: Insights and Innovation from the Front Lines," a chance for network organizations from the Western region to share, as a bellwether for the rest of the U.S., how they're moving the needle and solving problems in their respective communities.

"This moment in time in our industry and in the communities that you all serve will really require a new way of working, a new way of thinking, new strategies and approaches, new partnerships and expanded access to resources to replicate and scale the successful strategies that you all are trying," NeighborWorks America's President & CEO Marietta Rodriguez said during the welcome. NeighborWorks' new strategic plan includes a commitment to investing in strategies that can be replicated to increase access to affordable housing, she added. "This is a chance to change how we collaborate."

Symposium participants Darryl Smith, executive director of HomeSight, and Kathy Flanagan Payton, president of Fifth Ward Community Redevelopment Corporation, sat down before the event to share some of start the conversation – a conversation that will continue in the months ahead.

Solutions in Seattle

Darryl Smith smiles at the cameraIn Seattle, escalating housing prices are hitting hard. "They're just stunning," says HomeSight's Smith, whose nonprofit works to allow individuals to stay in place. According to the Zillow Home Value Index, the average median house price in Seattle is $958,000. Meanwhile, Redfin reports that homes receive six offers on average and are on the market for around six days. Among potential solutions? HomeSight is building one of the Pacific Northwest's first limited equity co-ops. Federal and local governments are helping support the project, known as U-Lex (pronounced "oh-low," from the Coast Salish phrase meaning "to gather"). This will bring a 68-unit affordable homeownership opportunity to Seattle.

"We think it will be a model going forward," Smith says. The co-op, a form of shared equity housing, is a way to fight rising housing costs while allowing individuals to earn equity. Co-ops are the norm in places like New York, Smith says. "But they're kind of unheard of out here." Through the co-op, individuals buy shares in the building, based on unit size. "It allows you to stabilize your housing costs and keeps you in the community you know and love -- and helps you develop equity for your family legacy."

U-Lex will be one of the first large-scale developments to use Seattle's community preference policy, allowing developers in areas of historic displacement to hold units for Southeast Seattle residents or for those who have been displaced and want to return. "It's a policy combined with a housing strategy to press back against the bulwark of what we've been seeing," says Smith. The area was once subject to redlining, the discriminatory practice where lenders denied loans to communities or individuals often because of race. Now, Smith says, the same community harmed by redlining is being pushed out by cost. 

Co-ops won't solve the whole problem, Smith says. "But it will be one of the tools we can use to keep people here." 
Gentrification in the Fifth Ward

Housing is paramount in the Fifth Ward, largely home to families of color, where inventory, access, capacity and redlining are a challenge, says Payton. "We exist to create and enhance opportunity andKathy Flannagan smiles at the camera increase inventory for affordable housing clients – and attract the accompanying amenities like business and retail services." 

As a comprehensive redevelopment organization, Fifth Ward incorporates and builds around landmarks that are already a part of the community to help improve quality of life. Those landmarks sometimes present challenges that discourage development. The area's many churches, for example, have purchased and held on to large parcels of the land. Fifth Ward is talking to some of them about potential partnerships for strategic development.
A report from Kinder Institute shows the homeownership rate in Fifth Ward as one in three, and describes renters as "cost-burdened." Fifth Ward is moving toward more of what Payton calls "economic integration" as gentrification continues. "We've changed our approach," she says. "In the past, we developed 100% for low- to moderate-income families." But that can concentrate poverty in one place, she says. So projects, like the adaptive reuse of the St. Elizabeth Hospital and a new 70-unit development will center around residents of mixed incomes. "Gentrification is difficult to avoid, but it can be managed, and we aim to manage it for the benefit of the indigenous community."

To remedy a lack of trust that sometimes accompanies gentrification for residents who have been there all along, CRC encourages and invites open dialogue. They work "to celebrate the legacy and growth opportunities to bridge the old and new," Payton says. "The balance is truly a delicate juggling act."

The Housing Practioner Exchange takes place May 25 from 9-11:30 a.m. PT in Los Angeles. Stay tuned for more information about the next NTI, to be held this August in Kansas City, Missouri.


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