The MLK Mixed-Use Affordable Housing project, which received some of the federal funds, would feature 145 units of low-income housing as well as an early learning center.
The MLK Mixed-Use Affordable Housing project, which received some of the federal funds, would feature 145 units of low-income housing as well as an early learning center. Renderings by Runberg Architecture Group, courtesy of Low Income Housing Institute

Representative Adam Smith is something of a Congressional wallflower. Unlike Seattle’s other rep, Pramila Jayapal, Smith doesn’t often draw the national spotlight, and he’s not what you’d call a liberal dynamo—though his progressive record continues to please voters in the diverse 9th Congressional District, which ranges from South Seattle to the Eastside and down the I-5 corridor to Federal Way.

But, like Jayapal, the quietly diligent Congressman who’s held his seat since 1997 does have a knack for keeping federal dollars flowing into his district. Earlier in July, Smith announced he’d secured more than $8 million in federal funds for community-led efforts in the FY 2022 House Appropriations Bill.

That means ten local projects—many of them focused on housing, homeless services, youth, and racial equity—will get a substantial boost in the coming year. Among those funded is the Africatown Community Land Trust (ACLT) Keiro project, a longtime resource for Asian American elders in the Central District that has found a second life providing shelter to families with children who are experiencing homelessness. With help from the new $1 million in federal funds, ACLT hopes to boost services and eventually purchase the site.

“Immediately upon receiving these funds,” Wyking Garrett of ACLT said in an email, “ACLT will be able to provide 150 beds to homeless and unsheltered individuals. We hope that many of the homeless residents that are housed at Keiro temporarily will become permanent residents when we open our doors. These residents will be supported by wraparound services. At the time of completion, Keiro will provide 285 units of permanently affordable rental housing that is much needed in Seattle – a city that is suffering the dual crises of a lack of affordable housing and homelessness.”

The infusion of federal money can help start a cycle of funding momentum, and build confidence in other potential funders. “This is an unprecedented opportunity,” Garrett said of the project, “to harness community-rooted expertise with support from the City of Seattle to make the former Keiro facility a home and hub for community members experiencing houselessness due to displacement and disconnection from life-sustaining and enhancing social supports and resources that are critical for one’s well-being.”

Some of the nine other projects that received between $600,000 and $1 million each include the African Diaspora Cultural Anchor Village, a community center focused in immigrant communities in Tukwila; the Entrepreneurship Incubation Hub, a teaching commercial kitchen in Kent; the Maritime High School in Highline; and Wadajir Residences and Souq, a multi-use housing complex that will include an international market for Tukwila’s Somali community. 

The Low Income Housing Institute (LIHI) also received $1 million toward its proposed MLK Mixed-Use Affordable Housing and Early Learning Center, a development that would feature 145 units of low-income housing as well as an early learning center managed by Refugee Women’s Alliance (ReWA).

“We’re very happy that Rep. Smith included us in the federal budget,” LIHI executive director Sharon Lee said. “It’s been a long time since elected officials could include local projects in the federal budget.”

Located just south of the Othello Link station, the MLK housing complex will include 25 units set aside for homeless young adults who have aged out of the foster care system, Lee says. The affordable housing will come in a mix of one-, two-, and three-bedroom units—helping fill a gap for families being priced out of the neighborhood. On the ground floor, a six-classroom learning center run by ReWA will focus on free and low-cost bilingual preschool programs.

In a press release, Lee said the funding “demonstrates a real commitment to addressing the displacement of communities of color and expanding child care resources for immigrants and refugees in our community." 

LIHI will leverage the federal funds to apply for grants from the city and the Washington State Housing Finance Commission, Lee says. “This is a small chunk of what we need, but it’s an important part. We’ll be asking the city and state to help with additional funding in September.”

For his part, Smith is happy his old-fashioned pork barrel procurement will benefit the diverse communities in his district. “I am thrilled the House appropriations bills include funding for the ten projects I submitted that will help address growing inequities and underinvestment in our communities,” Rep Smith said in a press release.

Not everyone is thrilled with Smith, however. Two progressive-minded challengers have already announced candidacies against the long-serving Representative, who currently chairs the House Armed Services Committee. Burien Deputy Mayor Krystal Marx has joined labor organizer and Tukwila School District teacher Stephanie Gallardo in announcing attempts to unseat Smith in 2022.