There's a spot for me at Vulcan's Central District development. But do I want it? | KUOW News and Information

There's a spot for me at Vulcan's Central District development. But do I want it?

Dec 14, 2016

Seattle’s Central District was historically important to African Americans, until many were priced out.


But Paul Allen’s Vulcan Real Estate Company is coming in, building a big apartment building at the Red Apple site that will include affordable housing.

That has some African Americans wondering: Could I move back to the neighborhood?

Briana Nelson had been following the project at community meetings. “It would be nice to live in this building, if it is affordable,” she said. 

Nelson teaches elementary school in the Renton School District. Right now, she lives with her parents in South Seattle. But she’d like a place of her own.

She has ties to the Central District. She attended Garfield High School, and a lot of her friends live here. 

Plus, there’s the history. It was once one of the few places blacks could live in Seattle. 

“It's created a cultural hub for the African-American community in terms of community centers and festivals that have gone on,” said Nelson.

Things have changed in the CD, and with these modern, market-rate apartments, the neighborhood would change even more. Higher income residents could end up spending money on local businesses. 

Vulcan's proposed development at 23rd and Jackson
Credit Vulcan, Runberg Architecture & Anita Lehmann Illustrator

Because it's participating in Washington State's Multi-Family Tax Exemption program, Vulcan gets a tax break for setting aside one in five of those apartments for people on lower incomes. Studios go to people earning less than 65 percent of the median income, 1-bedrooms to people earning 75 percent, and 2 bedrooms to people earning 85 percent. 

Nelson and I consult a chart to see if she would qualify. We spread it out on the grass near the building site.

“Just so we have it straight, what do you earn a year? Do you remember?” I asked.

“Before taxes, $35,069,” Nelson said. It appears she qualifies — to get a studio, she must earn less than $41,145. 

Tracing the numbers on the chart, we learn that a discounted studio apartment would cost her $1,028 a month. She would pay about a third of her salary in rent, much less than many people in Seattle.

“I could afford that," she said.

There’s more good news for Nelson. Once she's in – the amount of money she earns can go up. And she can stay there. “Oh, so rent would stay the same, even if I did make more, later on?” she asked. Yes, until she earns 150 percent of the amount that qualified her to get in.

Nelson asks if she could take in a roommate, to lower her costs even more. The chart says that a roommate’s extra income would disqualify her. “That’s unfortunate," she said. 

Credit KUOW Photo/Joshua McNichols

That's when Nelson started to think about the rent a little differently. 

“On paper, that doesn’t seem like that much," she said, "but you have other things to factor into that cost as well. Do they charge for parking here?”

Parking is extra. So is internet. Then there’s the student loans she’s paying off.

Nelson wonders if she’ll ever get ahead. “For teaching, it’s hard to earn more, unless you get a master’s or a doctorate. So once I get that, I’ll be paying more loans. Which will put me in more debt.”

Nelson’s story is part of a larger trend. Minorities were moving out of the CD long before Vulcan got there.

“That cow is out of the barn," said Ron Sims, former King County Executive, and former deputy secretary of Housing and Urban Development in Washington, D.C. 

As deputy HUD secretary, Sims waded deep into demographics and statistics, and what he saw wasn't very encouraging. 

“Seattle is not going to be a diverse city, to be blunt," he said. 

Sims said people of color have already moved on to other communities outside Seattle – and even outside King County.

You can read more about affordable apartments participating in the program here.