Several Seattle-area pastors are calling on City Hall to build at least 1,000 affordable apartments in the Central District for people who have been pushed out or are struggling to stay in the historic Black neighborhood.
Pointing to the Black Lives Matter movement that has swept the country since the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis last month, the pastors said local leaders must address decades of residential displacement and rising housing costs at the same time as they try to reform policing.
“If Black Lives Matter, then affordable housing for Black families … should matter,” the Rev. Carey Anderson, senior pastor at Seattle’s First African Methodist Episcopal Church, said at a news conference Thursday in the Central District.
“If we really believe — not the rhetoric, not the slogan, but the fact — that Black Lives Matter, then we should do what’s right,” said Anderson, who spoke alongside the Rev. Robert Jeffrey Sr. from New Hope Missionary Baptist Church, the Rev. Lawrence Willis from Truevine of Holiness Missionary Baptist Church, the Rev. Willie Seals from The Christ Spirit Church and the Rev. Angela Ying from Bethany United Church of Christ.
The pastors were joined by Councilmember Kshama Sawant, who said a new tax on big businesses could pay for the proposed housing. Sawant and Councilmember Tammy Morales have proposed a payroll tax on companies that have annual wage costs of more than $7 million.
Seattle business have enough money, and “what we need is the political courage at City Hall” to tax them, Sawant said.
Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda unveiled an alternative proposal Tuesday that also would tax companies with annual wage costs of more than $7 million but only on payroll to employees making at least $150,000 a year. It would focus on funding affordable housing. On Tuesday, Councilmember Andrew Lewis proposed a capital-gains tax on individuals to fund housing for homeless people.
Though the pastors are making a new push for city investments in the Central District, the harms they want to redress are longstanding, they said, referring to waves of gentrification abetted by urban renewal initiatives.
Christ Spirit Church on Beacon Hill was formerly Cherry Hill Baptist Church in the Central District. Truevine of Holiness moved from the Central District to Skyway. “We are not newcomers,” Willis said about the Central District.
Black people accounted for less than 7% of Seattle’s population in 2018 for the first time since the 1960s.
Some pastors, including Jeffrey, whose church is still located in the Central District, want help from the city to build housing on their properties.
Seattle has a relatively new policy that says affordable housing developers with city funding may, with city guidance, prioritize rental applicants with neighborhood links.
The city has in recent years contributed funding to affordable housing developments in the Central District, including the Liberty Bank Building at 23rd Avenue and East Union Street and Jackson Heights at 23rd and South Jackson Street.
In a letter earlier this month, Jeffrey, Willis and Seals also urged Mayor Jenny Durkan and the council to stop sweeping away homeless encampments and to fund more tiny-house villages for homeless people.