WHITE CENTER - HUD, the saying goes, is only as good as its partners. Fortunately, those partners keep on delivering.
Partners like the King County Housing Authority which, on an October afternoon, celebrated the completion of Seola Gardens in White Center, a poor, unincorporated area of the County.
With tax credits, $6 million from the County, $1.5 million from the Washington State Housing Finance Commission’s Housing Trust Fund and almost $28 million in Recovery Act, Section 202 Supportive Housing for the Elderly and HOPE VI funds from HUD, more than 1,450 craftsmen and women across 40 trades have now completed 177 affordable rental units – including 65 units for the elderly - and more than 100 homeownership units, replacing the deteriorating, dilapidated Park Lane Homes public housing complex, said King County Executive Dow Constantine, “a new beginning for a well-designed community.”
When it was built in 1963, Park Lake Homes II followed the model used for most public housing developments across America in 20th century - decent, but uniform and bare-bones housing in areas isolated – some would even say, segregated – from the cities around them.
Not Seola Gardens. When demolition began, Park Lake residents in good standing were given Housing Choice Vouchers so they could find alternative housing. Now that Seola Gardens is completed, those residents have been encouraged to return. Many have.
And they’re returning to a different kind of community. Sure, there are still public housing units. Indeed, the Authority replaced every Park Lane unit torn down with a new unit. But Seola Gardens sees its future in terms of diversity – a diversity of housing types, a diversity of family incomes, a diversity of cultural backgrounds. “Our vision,” explained Housing Authority executive director Stephen Norman, “is a neighborhood where homeowners and renters share public spaces and services.” And it’s part of, not cut-off from, the larger community.
Surround by fir trees and overlooking Lakewood Park, this new community called Seola Gardens has eight parks, three playgrounds, rebuilt roads and utilities, pea patches, and extensive public art. It incorporates rain gardens and a water quality pond that cleans surface water before it leaves the site. And it’s won a 2013 Green Hammer award from the Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties for its environmentally sustainable design, construction and operations.
But Seola Gardens is about more than bricks-and-mortar. It’s about opportunity. Which is why the Authority has paid so much attention to insuring that residents – especially young residents – have access to educational offerings that will “provide a future and a path to a success for our young people.”
The on-site Head Start has been remodeled. A community center offers job assistance and computer literacy training provided by the YWCA. Highline Community College is offering English-as-a-Second-Language classes. Neighborhood House provides after-school homework assistance. The Technology Access Foundation Academy is located directly adjacent to the site. And Cascade Middle School and Evergreen High School are within walking distance without having to cross a street.
Just a week after the Federal government shutdown that was supported by some who think government’s too big, does things it doesn’t need to do, Congressman Jim McDermott noted that Seola Gardens is a persuasive demonstration that as a society we can honor the common good and take care of one another.”
But maybe resident Neva Ellison-Long – a blind woman who’d lived with her husband of 17 years and three children in a “cramped,” bug-infested and high-rent apartment in Auburn before moving to White Center – explained best why Seola Gardens matters. “We had struggles” and “we had issues,” she told the audience. But “it just seems like once we got here all of that instantly wiped away. Once the call came “that approved her application, “my prayers were answered. I can’t thank you enough.”
Now that’s what you call “delivering.”
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