Unique affordable-apartment project aims to help residents stay in Central District

The 500-plus-unit project planned for the prominent corner of 23rd and Union is the first apartment development in Seattle to use a local community ownership model for 20 percent of the units.

Hoping to slow the displacement of residents from Seattle’s historically black Central District, local community groups are trying a new approach: teaming with developers to co-own a new apartment project affordable to low-income renters.

The housing will be at the pivotal intersection of 23rd and Union in the Central District. Once a focal point for the local civil-rights movement, popular soul-food restaurants and live-music venues, the block now anchors a majority-white neighborhood that’s become known for protests against gentrification by both white and black residents.

A huge opportunity to shape the area surfaced a couple years ago, when a full block ripe for potential redevelopment came up for sale at the southeast corner of 23rd and Union.

On Tuesday, a coalition of local developers and community groups closed a $23.3 million deal to buy the 2.5-acre block, where the MidTown Center strip mall is now located.

It plans to build at least 520 apartments, about half of them affordable, subsidized units for lower-income renters.

Notably, the community group Africatown — which buys land to help the local black community thrive culturally and economically — will own one-fifth of the block and develop at least 120 of the new apartments. It will reserve the housing for local residents earning as little as $27,000, with one-bedroom rents as low as $720 — less than half the cost of the typical Seattle apartment.

Its mission has taken on more urgency as African Americans have dropped from 70 percent of the Central District’s population in the 1970s, to less than 20 percent now.

“Normally people just throw their hands up and say, ‘Gentrification is inevitable and part of the market,’ ” said Wyking Garrett, a…

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