Council member Kshama Sawant was in the Central District on Monday as the city council committee she chairs discussed gentrification in her district while a local business sits on the frontlines of displacement.
At the center of the fight recently has been Saba, an Ethiopian restaurant on 12th Ave that has served the neighborhood for nearly 20 years. Saba is emblematic of broader change many longtime residents in the Central District see in which small businesses have increasingly been displaced. Organizer KL Shannon, who says she grew up in the area, said that she can’t think of one black-owned business anymore in the Central District due to rapid development.
“We want the kind of development that would allow small businesses of every origin to thrive here and for working families, regardless of income, to find affordable housing in our city because we go to work everyday and we make our cities run,” Sawant said. “We have the right to our city.”
— Jake Goldstein-Street (@GoldsteinStreet) July 30, 2019
As CHS has previously reported, developer Alchemy Real Estate and Isola Homes are lined up to demolish the property and create a six-story, 289-unit apartment building with commercial space and 11 “Live-Work Units,” plus underground parking for up to 230 vehicles after Saba was evicted in early July.
Teklegiorgis likened the notice to redevelop the property last year to a “death sentence.”
Many of the speakers at Monday’s meeting made clear the fight isn’t about staying at the restaurant’s longtime location or being able to find a new space but about giving the owner relocation assistance to cover the costs to reopen.
“We shouldn’t beg for anything, we should get paid,” Lawrence Pitre, president of the Central Area Chamber of Commerce, said to applause.
In a late June meeting with two representatives from Alchemy, Workie Wubushet, who owns the restaurant and said she was told to come to the gathering alone, says she was intimidated and berated with “abusive behavior,” as a letter from Sawant’s office put it.
An online petition to save the restaurant led by Saba Teklegiorgis, Wubushet’s daughter, has over 2,400 signatures, as of Monday afternoon. She once again pleaded for support on Monday as a letter was passed around and signed by some attendees that is expected to be delivered to the company that evicted Saba. The letter calls for a sincere apology and full relocation assistance.
“This isn’t the Seattle I know; the Seattle I know, we stand up for what’s right,” Teklegiorgis said. “The Seattle I know, we care about people… we know we can make a difference.” Solidarity was a common theme throughout the meeting.
Sawant proposed a citywide policy for relocation assistance for families and small businesses displaced by developers.
“Let’s not wait until it’s at your door, until your children are also being devoured by this system [that] has not been set up and operated for the benefit of any of us,” said Wyking Garrett, president of Africatown Community Land Trust.
CHS first reported on the battle around the restaurant last fall as Sawant took up the cause to “save Saba.”
“We want to make sure we’re not just talking here, we want to make sure real justice is delivered to Saba,” Sawant said Monday. She was the only city council member in attendance, but both Metropolitan King County Council member Larry Gossett and his challenger Girmay Zahilay did show up.
Alchemy Real Estate did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
In terms of housing, New Hope Missionary Baptist Church, which hosted Monday’s committee meeting, could build 100 units of affordable housing on its property, according to Sharon Lee, executive director of the Low Income Housing Institute. She also cited Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd, Tabernacle Baptist Church, and Goodwill Missionary Baptist Church as having land that could potentially be used for housing.
“Right now, it’s not enough to say ‘Oh, we’ll do one project in the Central Area every five years,’ that is not going to get us there,” Lee said, adding that the goal should be five or six projects per year.
Just over a week ago, Sawant’s office also hosted an event to stir support for her rent control proposal that would implement the practice in the city if the statewide ban is lifted in Olympia. Sawant bowed out of the event due to ethics concerns over her council office hosting what could have been perceived as an election rally with ballots already mailed out.
Ballots are due August 6 for that top-two primary.
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