The affordable housing organization EcoTHRIVE has officially acquired a plot of land in north Burien for its first pilot affordable housing project. When completed, the development will have about 27 environmentally friendly cottage units, a shared community space and land set aside for an urban garden.
The project was first conceived by Real Change vendor and artist Susan Russell and community organizer Denise Henrikson in 2016 when they started the art collective Love Wins Love. From there, the collective conceived of the idea of sustainable affordable housing communities. Since then, the group has held numerous community meetings, recruited supportive community members and developers and collected funds for the project’s start-up costs.
“It's like a new blueprint to rebuilding community as a whole, where you know each other and you trust each other, and you have that safety within each other,” Russell said. “That’s a very, very important component to what we might be experiencing, that would create fear and despair. We just see the beauty, and we know that this pilot project will prove the success and we want to help replicate it.”
On Feb. 14, EcoTHRIVE held a party at the Highline Heritage Museum celebrating the progress made on the pilot project, including securing the land, receiving a low-interest loan from the Washington State Housing Finance Commission and applying for the Burien Affordable Housing Demonstration Project (AHDP).
The AHDP is a city program that allows affordable housing developers to circumvent ordinary zoning restrictions. Without the program, EcoTHRIVE would not be allowed to build its pilot project.
The group first applied for the program in July. However, when the Burien City Council was supposed to renew the affordable housing program in October, it decided to scrap the program by a vote of 4 to 3. Housing advocates, including Henrikson, managed to persuade the city council to reverse course, unanimously extending the program for two more years to allow developers in the pipeline to continue with their projects. EcoTHRIVE is set to finish the AHDP application process in about a month.
“So what has been happening with this project is, when we hit these speed bumps like that, we get through it and we’re stronger than we were before that speed bump even happened,” Henrikson said.
One of the next challenges awaiting the project is raising the rest of the $2 million in funding to build the cottages. This startup money is what will enable the development to access more loans and remain affordable for people making less than 50 percent of the area median income. The project is a community land trust, meaning that it will remain permanently affordable and allow residents to have security by owning their own homes.
However, despite the challenges, Henrikson and Russell said that they were optimistic about clearing this next big hurdle for the project.
Henrikson added that EcoTHRIVE’s purpose is to create a viable pathway out of despair and poverty and into hope and community.
Russell expressed gratitude for all the people who have joined EcoTHRIVE to help get to this point.
“It chokes me up just thinking how the interest of people that I thought would never come forward, you know, have come forward,” she said. “You make the space and they will come — and they did. So I’m forever grateful to all of them.”
Read more of the Feb. 15-21, 2023 issue.