By Ruth Bayang
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
“It’s a really exciting time for our city,” said Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan as she answered questions on July 6 about the City’s Equitable Communities Initiative (ECI) and the recent recommendations made by the ECI Task Force (ECITF).
The City Council is set to vote on July 20 on approving those recommendations and $30 million in investments to improve disparate outcomes for Seattle’s Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) communities.
“When I came in as mayor, we saw a growing disparity between the new innovation economy and the old service economy, and that was making it almost impossible for people to live in Seattle—it’s becoming expensive. We saw the impacts mostly in the communities of color.”
Durkan said the pandemic highlighted the extent of those disparities.
The ECITF was set up, she said, after “listening to people who said we want a voice at the table… People who have experience with and are tied to the BIPOC community and know the solutions the community needs, to build a more just and equitable community.”
The recommendations created by the 26-member ECITF focused on four areas or “pillars”—business, which will receive $7.5 million; education, $7.5 million; housing, $8.8 million; and health, $6.2 million.
Durkan said during the pandemic, small businesses were among the first hit—mostly owned by people of color, and owners in the Chinatown-International District were no exception.
“In order for a small business to survive, they’ve got to have access to credit,” she said.
ECITF member Rizwan Rizwi said small business owners will have access to loans—ranging from $7,500 up to $100,000, and that money is expected to be in the hands of the community by the end of this year, pending approval by the City Council.
The ECITF also said businesses will have access to one-on-one counseling to help them to improve their financial health and credit worthiness.
Rizwi, who is the executive director of Muslim Housing Services, also addressed the housing pillar of ECITF’s recommendations.
“We want a system that’s fair for everyone.” One approach, he said, is a lease to purchase program.
“Having an apartment and renting works for a while, but when rents become too unaffordable, people still have to leave… A lot of equity is made from the equity market, stock market, and real estate. If you can never purchase anything or have ownership, getting equity and share from real estate is and having a place which you can pass onto the next generation is something that cannot be achieved.” Rizwi added that addressing the systemic conditions that hinder the accumulation of wealth, particularly through real estate and land holdings, will affect not just this generation but future generations.
In regard to education, ECITF wants to address the lack of culturally competent academic support, provide training, education opportunities, and pathways leading to a living wage employment, among other things.
Among the health pillar recommendations—address the systemic conditions creating food “deserts” and lack of healthy food options, the lack of representation in the healthcare profession, and creating culturally relevant and responsive health care programs.
“These pillars don’t stand alone,” said Sharon Nyree Williams, ECITF member and executive director for the Central District Forum.
She added, “Why can’t an artist, as a gig worker, own a house and run their business as an entrepreneur? Why can’t we give small business owners the ability to give health care and benefits to their employees? How do we make us as a whole better and bring all of those pillars together?”
Williams stressed that these pillars are simply a starting point.
“We’re hoping to add pillars throughout the years and bringing on more task force members to continue to shape a Seattle that we can be proud of.” She said ECITF wants to ensure that any programs that come out of the recommendations must be sustainable, not just a one-off.
Durkan said reversing generations of underfunding and discrimination “won’t happen overnight.”
“The four pillars reflect what is a safe, healthy, and resilient community… in building long-term generational changes.”
Ruth can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.