Black pastors and activists want Central District land as reparations

Pastors and advocates point to the New Hope Missionary Baptist Church and the land extracted from it as a startling example of the barriers black communities have faced over decades of systemic racism.

Beginning in the 1960s, the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development, or HUD, created what is called the Model Cities program. The objective of the program was to clean up “degraded” areas of city centers by creating opportunities for urban development. Under the scheme, which locally targeted the Central District, the New Hope Missionary Baptist Church was forced to sell Seattle land now part of the Spruce Street Mini-Park for $34,000. This land, which New Hope owned until 1970, is now worth $2 million, according to the Low Income Housing Institute.

“The land has been unjustly taken,” Pastor Robert Jeffrey said in a recent interview. “We have evidence that the pastor, the church, did not want to sell the land, but he was threatened that if he did not sell they would take it for less money than they were offering. So he gave in. »

Jeffrey said he and others are looking at other plots of land in the Central District taken from the black community. But for now, he wants a portion of the $18 million earmarked for housing for residents with community ties and generated by Seattle’s new annual big business tax to go to his church to build 90 homes. affordable. The new business tax is expected to bring in more than $200 million a year in total.

The community’s overall goal is for at least 1,000 new affordable apartments to be built over three years for historic residents and displaced people in the core area. In a letter to Mayor Jenny Durkan and Seattle City Council, Jeffrey and two other pastors also said they want to train students of color to help build some of the neighborhood’s new developments, including small homes.

Sawant said she helped champion pastors’ goals to prevent deepening poverty, citing the likelihood of a pandemic-related recession hitting Seattle.

“The only way to prevent this, the burden of this recession from falling on the shoulders of the working class in general, but specifically working communities of color, is to do the exact opposite, which is to say to invest in the community. she said, adding that this would include both new housing and construction jobs for the community.

Jeffrey said he also supports the land claims of King County Equity Now, a community-led group spearheading the call for defunding the Seattle police. King County Equity Now wants to halt redevelopment of Yesler Terrace, a public housing complex in the Central District that is a mix of heavily subsidized and market-priced homes. The project is almost complete.

“In order to review the legitimacy of a request, you need to review what was promised,” Jeffrey explained, referring to the Seattle Housing Authority, which helped oversee the project. “They failed to deliver on the promise to bring African Americans back into the community, and they failed to deliver on the promise to include African Americans in the development process.”

Kerry Coughlin, director of communications with the Seattle Housing Authority, said former mayor Norm Rice, a longtime leader of the African-American community, and black-led groups such as Africatown were intimately involved in the redevelopment of the property. Coughlin added that the redevelopment has created more affordable housing, a large percentage of which is for black people and people of color.

Coughlin said she also wanted to make sure some of King County Equity Now’s proposals didn’t have the unintended consequences of leading to a loss of affordable housing. Another request from King County Equity Now — to build affordable housing on the Seattle Housing Authority’s operating site — would mean his organization would have nowhere to maintain 60% of its affordable housing. Not all inquiries from King County Equity Now are for affordable housing. The group is also calling for a Central Area retirement home — Paramount — that the Washington State Department of Health and Human Services acquired due to bankruptcy, to return to black community ownership. To free up hospital beds during the pandemic, the state bought the nursing home this year for $13.5 million.

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