Development vs. Displacement

A nonprofit’s mission to bring affordability to Central District housing.


Photo by Ben Fleishman

Due to racist housing regulations restricting where Seattle’s residents of color could live, the Central District, home to Garfield High School, was once a predominantly Black neighborhood. However, due to recent displacement in the neighborhood, statistics from 2010 show that it is now less than one quarter Black. Because of skyrocketing housing prices in Seattle affordable housing is a necessity, but most for-profit real estate companies are unwilling to provide it. For this reason, much of the affordable housing development in the United States is done by nonprofit organizations, such as Seattle’s Homestead Community Land Trust.

The group maintains many existing homes as part of their trust, but they are also creating new developments such as Village Gardens Townhomes, located in the Central District near Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. Out of 16 homes, 6 will be sold at market-rate prices, and the money for these sales will be used to subsidize the sale of the other 10 houses at much lower prices.

Homestead operates under a model that has its origin in Indigenous American and pre-colonial African cultures, as well as ancient Chinese economics, according to community land trust pioneer Robert Swann. The first time the phrase was explicitly used by an organization to describe themselves was New Communities. This was a collectively owned area of land in Lee County, Georgia, set up by Black civil rights activists in the late 1960s to provide a means to build wealth for landless Black residents of the area.

During the 2010 census the Central District was counted at 20% Black, drastically down from 80% in 1970. Homestead Community Land Trust took this displacement into consideration when planning the Villages Gardens development, and offered priority consideration to those with historical or familial ties to the Central District, which means that those who were displaced due to rising housing costs may be able to repatriate to the neighborhood.

Kathleen Hosfeld, the Executive Director of Homestead, says the land that Villages Gardens is being built on was initially City of Seattle surplus land. Homestead received it for free after winning a competitive request for proposals, a process where organizations pitch to the city a potential land use. Hosfeld considers community land trusts to be a very important form of land ownership, stating that groups like Homestead make addressing social justice and equity issues a priority. They also work closely with the communities they aim to serve. “We don’t build housing for people, we build housing with people,” Hosfeld said.

The City of Seattle has made steps towards creating affordable housing with moves such as the awarding of the site of Village Gardens to Homestead, but Hosfeld states that governments around the nation have a ways to go before the need for affordable housing is fully met.