Roxanna Johnson, 50, grew up in the Sunset neighborhood in the Renton Highlands and has fond memories of riding bikes with friends along the walking paths between the homes and down Honey Creek Drive.
No one in Sunset had a lot of money back then, Johnson said, but it didn’t matter.
The neighborhood dads would go to the police auctions and buy bikes for the kids. Then they’d clean up the bikes and spray-paint them, so each one looked new.
In the summertime, Johnson’s parents would hang white sheets on the clothesline outside as a makeshift movie screen and show home movies to the neighborhood kids.
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Johnson said kids were expected to do their chores, wash their hands and be on time for dinner, but the rest of the time was theirs to enjoy outside — biking, fishing, collecting tadpoles and playing ball in the street.
Earlier, during World War II, the War Department partnered with the Renton Housing Authority to build multifamily units for Boeing workers who could then walk down the hill to work. The military-style housing was intended to be temporary, but many of those buildings remain and are in disrepair today.
Johnson still lives in the Sunset neighborhood, though its character and ethnic makeup have changed since her childhood days in the 1960s.
Some come in the form of newer housing developments like Harrington Square and Glennwood Homes. And others in the form of ethnic stores like Viet-Wah Asian Food Market and restaurants like the Tea Palace.
Walk Score, a Seattle company that provides automated walkability ratings, considers the area “very walkable” (and gave it a score of 72 out of a possible 100), meaning most errands can be accomplished on foot.
Garden grows community
As the Sunset Neighborhood Association president, Johnson tries to nurture that sense of community through events like an annual picnic, Easter egg hunt, outdoor movie night and safe trick-or-treating with neighborhood warming stations and a community garden.
The garden was the result of Anne Case, who decided to do something for the community to help people work together, to connect outdoors and to make the neighborhood safer after attending a Bible-study class at Calvary Baptist Church.
“I got really inspired,” says Case, 33, mother of three. “I wanted the neighborhood to participate in something that’s their own.”
With support from the city of Renton, the Sunset Neighborhood Association and a five-year commitment from the church, Case and a team of volunteers used grant funding to create a community garden on property owned by Calvary Baptist Church.
The garden contains 12 raised beds that measure 5 feet by 32 feet. Two of the beds are used to grow produce to be donated to the Salvation Army food bank. The other 10 beds are subdivided and available for rent by members of the Sunset neighborhood.
Case, who oversees the project, says that volunteer support has been incredible, and she loves seeing neighbors connect with each other. In particular, she enjoys watching parents teach their children about where their food comes from and how to grow healthy food.
Case also says the garden has helped with the homeless situation near the church, providing much needed food.
New projects sprouting
As the city of Renton and the Renton Housing Authority try to reinvent the Sunset neighborhood, new housing developments are being completed and communitywide projects are in the works:
• Eight new housing units at Glennwood Townhomes in Sunset Terrace celebrated completion with a ribbon-cutting ceremony in September.
• Harrington Square, a new apartment community on Harrington Avenue Northeast, is fully leased.
• Renton School District Early Childhood Learning Center is set to open in fall 2013.
• Renton Accessible Playground, accessible to children of all abilities, is being planned by the city, the school district and the Rotary Club of Renton.
“The area is perfectly poised for redevelopment,” says Erika Conkling, senior planner for Renton.
Home values in the Sunset neighborhood and surrounding area have been rising. The median value of all single-family homes (not just those recently sold) in the broader area defined as the 98056 ZIP code was $290,000 in November, up 6.1 percent from the previous year, according to the Zillow Home Value Index.
The Northwest Multiple Listing Service reported the median price for homes sold in Southeast King County, which includes Renton, was $259,997 in November, up 18.2 percent from the previous year. That makes the area more affordable than most of King County, which had a median home-sale price of $385,000 in November.
The median rent for single-family houses in the 98056 ZIP code was $1,710 a month, up 2.6 percent from a year ago, according to Seattle-based Zillow.
There are many signs of new life in the Sunset neighborhood.
After school, Johnson often sees kids throwing footballs or playing outside near the Renton Housing Authority homes.
That wouldn’t have happened 10 years ago, she says. All of the kids have video games and computers, but they are coming outside to play, like they did when she was a kid.
“It’s wonderful to watch,” she says. “I love where I live!”