By James Tabafunda
Northwest Asian Weekly
The name for a new affordable-housing project in Seattle’s Rainier Valley seems to be a perfect fit since it’s located next door, at 3925 South Bozeman Street, to the Lao Highland Community Center. “Samaki” is a Lao word that means “people” or “individuals coming together.”
Samaki Commons, built specifically for large families and the disabled, celebrated its grand opening on July 30 with a unique ribbon cutting ceremony in front of about 100 onlookers.
It featured six children who live at the $12.5 million apartment complex.
Their parents and other residents will reflect the diversity of the Rainier Valley – immigrants and refugees from Asia and Africa as well as Black and Latino families.
Samaki Commons’ multicolored buildings — painted in green, yellow green, red, and orange — serve a dual purpose. In addition to providing much needed low-income housing, they also stand as an example of “green” construction. It minimizes harm to both its residents and the environment, and is designed for sustainability.
They are made up of products that provide energy efficiency, indoor air quality, and water conservation. They also utilize recycled materials such as used maintenance and office equipment, and Lonseal flooring in the bathrooms.
The 41 units consists of a two-bedroom unit for its resident manager, nine one-bedroom units, 18 two-bedroom units, 11 three-bedroom units, and two four-bedroom units.
Inter*Im Community Development Association (ICDA) developed and owns Samaki Commons. Executive Director Hyeok Kim, who also served as the emcee for the event, announced that the project finished months ahead of schedule and on budget.
She also introduced one of the residents of Samaki Commons, Tika Ram Khatiwada, a refugee from Bhutan.
He spoke about his long journey to the United States and praised the project’s lead service partner. “When we came here, we faced great difficulty. I am most thankful to the International District Housing Alliance. Thank you,” said Khatiwada.
Other service partners include Asian Counseling and Referral Service, Asian Pacific Islander Women and Family Safety Center, Chinese Information Service Center, and Refugee Women’s Alliance. Funding for the project came from a total of 13 local, state, and national organizations and businesses, including Enterprise Community Investments, the City of Seattle Office of Housing, the Seattle Housing Authority, and Bank of America.
The project’s designer is Arellano Christofides Architects, and its contractor is Marpac Construction.
“When you experience situations like being an immigrant or a refugee, in Mr. Khatiwada’s case, there’s a lot that you want to share because the life that you can now create here in the United States, in communities like Seattle and in communities like … Samaki Commons. [It’s] such a stark contrast,” Kim pointed out.
She said, “It is a project that will serve low-income families and individuals in Southeast Seattle. Projects like this don’t happen by themselves. They happen because leaders in our state, in our county, in our city, and in our private sector help make sure that we have the kind of government and the kind of public sector that wants to support affordable housing in our communities, that wants to support thriving, vibrant communities.”
Kim then introduced Laura Lockard, deputy communications director for Gov. Chris Gregoire. The Washington State Housing Trust Fund and the Washington State Housing Finance Commission provided financing for the project.
“On behalf of Gov. Gregoire, I’m pleased to extend her warm greeting and share in your accomplishment today. The work being done here at Samaki Commons is an encouraging example of a community coming together,” she said. “Work such as this is a true testament to the positive solutions we can generate when we work together on issues of common concern. In her inaugural address, Gov. Gregoire issued a statewide call for service, volunteering, and community leadership. Samaki Commons is a shining example of that call to action.”
King County Councilmember Dow Constantine stated, “This project was five years in the making.”
“This is how we are going to start addressing the affordability problem here in King County, one major partnership, one wonderful project at a time,” he said.
The Housing Opportunity Fund, through the King County Department of Community and Human Services, also contributed financing for the project.
Seattle City Council Chair Richard Conlin pointed out, “One thing that, sometimes, people think is in conflict is having a low-income housing project and a green building, a low-income housing project and a sustainable development. But, the fact is those are totally not in conflict.”
“We have to bring them together in order to have the kind of society we want,” he added. ♦
For more information about Samaki Commons, visit www.interimicda.org.
James Tabafunda can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.