With its varied neighborhoods and robust international district, Seattle has long been a melting pot of cultures and identities. But despite the city’s diverse population, many neighborhoods in Seattle have fallen prey to rising housing costs, and as a result, long-term residents — in particular people of color — have found it increasingly difficult to continue to live in the neighborhoods they have called home.

Acknowledging years of gentrification in Seattle’s historically black neighborhood, the Central District, Seattle City Council is now working to correct the effects of gentrification in the area. The council recently voted to use $18 million annually from a new business tax to fund a community preference housing project, starting in the Central District with a partnership with the nonprofit Community House.

A new subsidized apartment complex, called Jackson Heights, will provide 74 rent-capped units for residents in the area. But beyond providing affordable housing, Jackson Heights aims to bring back residents with longstanding ties to the area, reserving half of the units for applicants who can demonstrate that they or an immediate family member lived in the neighborhood prior to 2000.

The demand for units in Jackson Heights has been fierce. Reportedly over 850 people entered a lottery for the community preference units in the building. They had to provide documentation of their former residency and meet certain income requirements to be eligible.

Jackson Heights isn’t the only new development in the Central District, but it is the first in the neighborhood to utilize community preference as a factor in screening applicants. In accordance with fair housing laws, developers for this and future projects can screen applicants for community connections, but they cannot use race as a factor in their decisions. This helps to ensure that diversity in an area is either maintained or improved, by identifying long-term community members, regardless of race.

In addition to providing much-needed housing and enticing former residents to return to the Central District, Jackson Heights will also include retail space at street level. Community House has currently reserved that space for a child-care center and a restaurant.

With the high demand and positive reception of Jackson Heights, it seems that the city has taken a successful first step in strengthening a core neighborhood and creating a model for bringing residents home once more.

This article was originally posted on the Seattle Times by Daniel Beekman.

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