The geographic boundaries constituting Southeast Seattle are south of I-90, north of the southern Seattle City limits, west of Lake Washington, and east of I-5. About 84,000 people live in this region which comprises over a dozen neighborhoods. For decades, this mosaic of communities has been among the most ethnically diverse region in the State. Seventy-one percent of our residents are nonwhite, and 40-53% are immigrants: many of whom are fleeing war-torn and impoverished nations from East Africa and the Middle East. Forty ethnic groups live in Southeast Seattle, and 60 different languages are spoken. Thirty percent of the population is under age 18. These are the realities of our constituents.
Southeast Seattle has the highest poverty rates and the greatest percentage of low-income residents within the City of Seattle. In certain parts of SE Seattle, the unemployment rate hovers at the 16%-20% level — about triple the current Seattle unemployment rate of 5.1%. One out of 5 residents live in poverty, and 1 in 3 children are poor. Some 80% of children attending SE Seattle public schools qualify for free or reduced lunch, and their schools consistently receive the lowest scores for academic achievement of any neighborhood in the City of Seattle limits.
The current moment in SE Seattle brings both challenges and opportunities: several neighborhoods, especially those close to light rail stations, have undergone gentrification in recent years, forcing hundreds of longtime residents to leave their homes and close small businesses. Others live in fear of such future displacement. Most SE Seattle residents are experiencing shifting economic and cultural landscapes, witnessing – yet not benefitting – from the current economic boom that much of Seattle now enjoys. There is still a scarcity of private investment in SE Seattle, and the region continues to struggle with a negative public image. Underutilized commercial spaces abound, and neighborhood businesses capture only a small portion of local spending. In recent years, median home prices have skyrocketed.
Members of SE Seattle communities need safe, affordable, and attractive housing, and they need increased opportunities to become economically self-sufficient. No less importantly, as our region changes, its constituents – our children, youth and adults – need opportunities to express themselves, to connect with and dialogue with each other. They need to have a reason to hope; to be inspired, and to experience beauty. The arts and cultural expression are essential pathways to transform a collection of houses and family into a vibrant community where people become rooted with a sense of place, care for one another, and develop support systems for raising, educating and passing on cultural legacies to younger generations.