Nonprofit El Centro de la Raza, translated as The Center for People of All Races, has served the diverse residents of Seattle’s gentrifying Beacon Hill neighborhood over the past four decades.
Founded in 1972 by the late civil rights defender Roberto Maestas, the organization has been a vital part of the community, providing programs and advocacy for children and adults to ensure social equity and justice.
When El Centro de la Raza started to see families and other households displaced from the neighborhood, it set out to create a mixed-use, transit-oriented housing development that would serve the entire community.
“Low-income communities of color were moving out of the city,” says Estela Ortega, executive director. “This was an opportunity to bring people back to the city, get them out of their cars, and allow them to hop on the train and go downtown where many of the jobs are.”
The nonprofit, with the help of Seattle-based Beacon Development Group, created the 112-unit Plaza Roberto Maestas: Beloved Community, which opened last year. The development team worked with local residents, organizations, and community leaders on the anchor project for the redeveloping neighborhood.
The development is comprised of one- to three-bedroom units for households earning between 30% and 60% of the area median income. Approximately 275 individuals live at Plaza Roberto Maestas, including 110 children 18 and younger.
In a sign of the need, nearly 1,000 people submitted applications for the 112 units on the day it began accepting them.
“It’s serving those in the community who were getting displaced,” says Cindy Proctor, vice president of development at Beacon.
However, Plaza Roberto Maestas is not just about housing, it’s about much more, says Ortega. It has become a beloved community for the entire neighborhood.
“The community was elated that we were asking their input,” she says. “Everything that is there is what the community wanted.”
The development, which is adjacent to the nonprofit’s program offices and the Beacon Hill light-rail station, has become a multicultural hub. Its large outdoor plaza is inspired by a traditional Mexican public square and opens up onto the pedestrian-friendly Roberto Maestas Festival Street.
The nonprofit’s Business Opportunity Center is supporting budding food cart entrepreneurs with the tools, space, and funding to get started. Over a dozen small business owners have been approved and licensed to use the carts or tabletop vending space.
Seven new classrooms for the nonprofit’s bilingual Jose Marti Child Development Center has been added with access to a city pocket park, and the 5,500-square-foot Centilia Cultural Center has been home to many community events, meetings, and celebrations since its opening.
In addition, the development includes 3,200 square feet of neighborhood-based retail space, including a local coffee shop, and 4,500 square feet of office space.
Proctor, whose offices moved into the development, says residents and nonresidents alike congregate on the plaza to eat, socialize, hear music, and view art.
“Here you have the coffee shop, taco stands, a childhood development center with a wait list. It’s a very open community place that allows the integration of low-income residents who live there with other neighborhood residents,” says Proctor. “For us, it’s been absolutely wonderful to work in the development we built and to see children out in the plaza.”
The development also touts sustainable strategies to improve its performance under Washington’s Evergreen Sustainable Development Standard. Being adjacent to the light-rail station, $100 transit cards were distributed to each household at the initial lease signing, and ample bike parking is on site.
Energy-efficiency measures include solar photovoltaic panels, net metering, Energy Star appliances, LED lighting, variable refrigerant flow mechanical systems, and high-efficiency condensing gas-fired central hot water heaters. Steps also were taken to conserve water, including low-flow plumbing fixtures, a rain garden and green roofs to reduce runoff, native and drought-tolerant landscaping, and water-efficient laundry facilities on each floor.
Plaza Roberto Maestas was financed with public and private funding sources and was split into four condominium units to facilitate the mix of uses. The $37.5 million residential portion was primarily financed with 9% low-income housing tax credits allocated by the Washington State Housing Finance Commission and purchased by U.S. Bancorp Community Development Corp. Additional funding included levy, Community Cornerstones, and HOME funds from the Seattle Office of Housing; a private loan from Washington Community Reinvestment Association; seller land equity and a loan; and a capital campaign.
Additional partners include SMR Architects, the architect of record; 7 Directions Architects and Planners; and Third Place Design Co-Operative.