By Mahlon Meyer
Northwest Asian Weekly
The CEO of Africatown said his group was going to acquire Keiro, but it’s not clear what the details are.
“Africatown Community Land Trust (CLT) is currently in the process of closing the acquisition of the property,” K. Wyking Garrett told the Northwest Asian Weekly. Garrett did not elaborate if the money for the purchase would come from the city or through a deal with a private lender.
Still, he revealed that his hopes are still riding on the city.
“Africatown CLT has put together an innovative financing strategy for Keiro acquisition and we are currently working through the institutional policies that have been mechanisms of systemic exclusion of Black developers,” he said. “This is a very unique opportunity for the City of Seattle to lead and make a bold step to make the rhetoric of social justice, equity, and shared prosperity a reality.”
Keiro was sold to Shelter Holdings for $11 million in 2019. Last year, in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement, City Councilmember Kshama Sawant was part of a movement to try to get the city to purchase Keiro for Africatown.
“Black community-led organizing and advocacy created this unprecedented opportunity to recover a block that would have been lost to the type of speculative development that is pushing Seattle to a one class city, rather than a world class city that is inclusive of the communities of the world that have been here and helped make the city,” said Garrett.
The following month, Sawant proposed a budget amendment to fund Africatown’s proposal to develop affordable housing on the site. At the time, Sawant proposed $13.8 million for the project. Funding would come either by reducing the police budget, slightly increasing a new tax on Amazon and other major corporations, or by restoring a $30 million Strategic Investment Fund to Address Displacement, which Mayor Jenny Durkan eliminated from her proposed budget, according to Sawant.
“Unfortunately, the majority of the council did not agree,” she wrote.
However, said Sawant, she was able to win a budget amendment that funds “pre-development costs” so that the project can have a chance to “win future grants.” Theoretically, it is still possible for public money to fund the purchase of Keiro.
Rachel Fyall, an associate professor who teaches about affordable housing in the Daniel J. Evans School of Public Policy and Governance at the University of Washington, said the city can buy the land from Shelter Holdings and give it to Africatown. “State law allows leftover land to be in a land transfer.”
As an example, she cited instances in which Sound Transit had surplus land that was transferred for other uses.
For Africatown, the acquisition of Keiro would be “a key part of Africatown CLT’s work to create an inclusive and equitable future for Seattle,” said Garrett.
He said the “long-term development plan is to create approximately 300 units of long-term affordable housing and community serving commercial space.”
In the meantime, according to the latest public records available through the King County Assessor’s Office, Keiro remains in the hands of Shelter Holdings.
When Keiro was first sold in 2019, after financial troubles, some community members expressed frustration that an asset they said they and their families had built and sustained would be lost.
Fyall said there was still an opportunity for solidarity.
“If there is a particular building or property with cultural value to multiple communities, there may be an opportunity to partner across organizations,” she said. “For example, InterIm CDA and SCIDpda both have a track record of developing and providing affordable housing that meets the needs of low-income residents from Seattle’s Asian and Asian American communities.”
Garrett expressed a similar vision.
“Africatown CLT is excited to continue to work with the Japanese/Pan-Asian community and First Nation indigenous communities to envision and create a development that honors our presence and journeys in the Central District/Seattle,” said Garrett.
Mahlon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.