Sunrise at Sunset

[Photo 1: Row of mulitcolored 2 story homes]
Row of mulitcolored 2 story homes

[Crane lifting modular home portion]
Crane lifting modular home portion.

RENTON, WASHINGTON - Among giants the not-so-towering tend to get overshadowed. Case in point? The Renton Housing Authority.

To its north, the Seattle Housing Authority houses 16,000 HUD-assisted households. To its south, the Tacoma Authority is home to 4,800. King County's Authority serves 11,000. And the Renton Authority? Under 600 HUD-assisted households.

Big or not, all four authorities have lots in common. The same mission - providing and preserving decent housing to help families in need afford a roof over their heads. The same reality - demand for affordable housing far exceeds supply. The same challenge - big dreams cost big bucks.

They also share common origins, formed mainly to receive Federal resources to build and manage temporary housing for workers in Puget Sound factories and shipyards producing the ships, planes and tanks that helped win World War II.

In all four communities "temporary" soon became permanent, providing affordable housing to families for decades. Including war-time housing in Renton that, by 1959, was rundown, worn-out. The Renton Housing Authority demolished, then replaced it with the 100-unit, Sunset Terrace complex.

By 2008 time again had taken its toll. A quarter of families in the area lived below the poverty line. Violent crime ran at 2.5 times the citywide average. And those 100 Sunset Terrace units were now, said the King County Assessor, "substandard."

Which is why housing in general, Sunset Terrace in particular were a priority in the 10-year Sunset Area Community Investment Strategy approved by Renton's City Council in 2009. It was a bold plan to bring new public facilities, new housing, new jobs and new families to the Sunset area.

Expensive, too, pricing-out at an estimated quarter-of-a-billion dollars. Seattle, King County and Tacoma had also undertaken neighborhood revitalization. But all three had access to resources Renton did not enjoy. They'd all won HUD HOPE VI revitalization grants which provided significant up-front capital that replaced deteriorated public housing and also sparked other public and private investments in the larger neighborhood. Renton's revitalization would replace only 100 units of dilapidated housing, too few to be eligible for HOPE VI funds.

Renton moved forward anyway. Five years later, a lot's been done. Despite a Great Recession, for example, $66 million in needed funds already have been secured. The Renton School District has opened a new early childhood education center. Existing parks have been rehabbed and a new 3.1 acre parks is planned. A new branch of the King County Library is near completion and, next door, an innovative playground accessible "no matter the child's physical or mental disability" opened last summer.

In late 2012, the Authority celebrated the opening of Glenwood Townhomes, the "first step,," said Mayor Dennis Law, in replacing those 100 units of rundown, worn-out public housing. Just as it opened, the Authority started building the 18-unit Kirkland Avenue Townhomes. Opened in late 2014, reportedly it's the first modular multi-family housing complex in western Washington.

What next? More "new housing on Edmonds Avenue Northeast," says The Renton Reporter, and, finally, "new affordable housing on the Sunset Terrace campus" itself. And a private developer has announced plans to build 400 units of market-rate housing in the Sunset area.

What's happened in Renton's Sunset area, no surprise, has won awards. A Puget Sound Regional Council Vision 2040 Award for Glenwood Townhomes, "the start," it said , "of a great neighborhood, sure to be cherished in Renton's future" and, in 2013, a Smart Communities award from Governor Jay Inslee as an example of the "leadership and innovation" that makes Washington State "a great place to live and do business."

The City Renton and Renton Housing Authority also enlisted lots of partners, garnering support from the Renton School Districts, Renton Technical College, King County Library System, the Washington Housing Finance Commission, the King County Office of Housing and the King County Housing Authority, the Washington Community Reinvestment Association, EPA, the U.S. Department of Transportation and, with HOME funds and rent subsidies, HUD.

Authority executive director Mark Gropper is quick to note that revitalization might never have happened without the work of "hundreds of people." He's talking about the people of Renton. Neither the City nor the Authority had access to the considerable resources available to their larger neighbors. And the effort was launched during a Great Recession, a time when some might say "no way." Instead, the people of Renton said "let's go!" Thanks to them, the sun rises and shines brighter every day in the Sunset neighborhood.


Content Archived: September 10, 2016