HDC Member Highlight: The Nehemiah Initiative

The Nehemiah Initiative Seattle has had quite a start-up year. The nonprofit formed on January 1 of this year but has been a functioning group and mission for almost 20 years.

The Nehemiah Initiative Seattle is a faith-based community development initiative (FBDI). Its mission is to empower the African American community in the Seattle region and beyond to support the retention of historically Black institutions by advocating for development of real property assets owned by those historically Black institutions.

In their first year, the Nehemiah Initiative is working to provide affordable homeownership and rental opportunities on Black-owned church properties. This endeavor addresses the critical need to increase Black homeownership while symbiotically conserving Black churches. Currently, with the displacement of Black congregates, Seattle churches are closing as congregates move to the suburbs. Due to gentrification, this has resulted in a loss of over a dozen historically Black churches over the last 10 years.

Black churches have major purpose with community building and has served that purpose for hundreds of years. These institutions have been centers for resources, political activity, economic advocacy, and social gatherings. At the same time, churches are the most Black-owned property in the city. The Nehemiah Initiative strive to create solutions that align these missions to benefit both churches and community.

The Nehemiah Initiative is exploring all housing options in this effort – from single family, multifamily, cooperative, condos, townhomes, and single cottages for each of their sites. Since the need is so great to close the Black wealth gap, while addressing gentrification, a wide array of tools is needed to make these property developments financially feasible and retain Black communities in Central Seattle. In addition, it would change the economic model of churches relying on solely congregation contributions to revenue gained from property development. Expanding affordable homeownership funding and rental options is imperative to address these challenges.

There has been favorable work on a state-level, city-level, and now federal focus on increasing Black homeownership. Major focus of favoritism of white families in homeownership.  Wealth creation. 7 min ish. During the legislative session, the organization focused on HB 1377. Now, they are working with the Equitable Development Initiative to inform the local implementation in Seattle.

The Nehemiah Studio is an on-going set of studio courses at the University of Washington in the College of Built Environments. They ran these courses in for the last two school years and are running another in 2022. The course employs students studying urban design, architecture, and real estate to comprehensively study the church sites to produce a vision for these developments along with financial analysts. In 2021, students produced a comparative analysis with the additional density bonuses offered for building on faith-owned land and the underlying zoning and developed scenarios based on client needs/desires, site constraints, zoning, neighborhood needs, and stakeholder input.

A major setback the organization is grappling with is an amendment added to CB 120081 for religious property density allowances that was passed few weeks ago. The Nehemiah Initiative was intended to explore housing options for 80% average median income (AMI) to develop workforce housing and moderate-income rental housing. This amendment requires the development to serve low-income renters at 60% (AMI) to qualify for the density bonus, but in return would require deep subsidies for the Nehemiah Initiative’s development plans. Considering this amendment, the organization is left to use homeownership developments as an only option to support their communities’ needs.

Despite this challenge, the Nehemiah Initiative has major milestones ahead on the second half of their first year. Not to mention, the organization is a key leader in HDC’s Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) Homeownership Initiative. The goal of this is increasing Black homeownership by 60,000 new homeowners – or 3,000 new homeowners annually – doubling the Black homeownership rate and closing the Black-white homeownership gap in the Puget Sound region by 2041.

Currently, the organization reflects on historic planning debacles and policy making. They are exploring possibilities to create workforce rental housing for their communities with the Office of Housing and other community partners. To contribute to the Nehemiah Initiative today and help the African American community thrive from within, the organization is accepting contribution in the form of checks to Goodwill Baptist Church 126 15th Ave Seattle, WA 98122 in care of Nehemiah Initiative.