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Chief Seattle Club, Bellwether Housing, Kick Off Initiative to Build 200 Units of Native-Informed Housing at North Seattle College

Chief Seattle Club, Bellwether Housing, Bellwether Linden, North Seattle College, Seattle, Eagle Village, ʔálʔal, Sacred Medicine House
A rendering of “ʔálʔal,” one of Chief Seattle Club’s current projects. Rendering by Notions Workshop.

By Meghan Hall

A number of affordable homes will be coming to North Seattle College via a partnership between the university, Bellwether Housing and Chief Seattle Club. Thus far called “Bellwether Linden,” the project will include 202 apartment units and will serve individuals and families with lower incomes, as well as those with disabilities and the urban Native population. The project team recently kicked off the community outreach and design processes, two major steps involved in the development.

“We jumped on [the opportunity] right away,” explained Chief Seattle Club’s Executive Director Derrick Belgarde. In recent years, the organization has been working to develop and expand its efforts to include permanent supportive housing to combat single adult homelessness. However, Bellwether Linden would focus heavily on supporting Native families.

Belgarde added, “Our Native community has never really had that [permanent supportive housing for individuals], so it’s great that we’re finally getting to put a dent in it. But we were always thinking about families, how we have to do something for our families.” 

The project will be located at 926 N 143rd St. and Linden Ave. N. In addition to the residential units, a 6,000 square foot Coast Salish longhouse will be built and provide educational space for North Seattle College, as well as space for Native Cultural events. The designs, layout and final plans of the project have yet to be determined as the project team embarks on a community outreach project in order to shape the development. One aspect the project team knows for certain, however, is that the development must let visitors and residents know that they are standing in a Native building.

“Our mission is to create sacred space to renew the spirit of our people,” said Belgarde. “In any urban setting, [many] do not have a lot of places where they can feel like they are at home, part of their culture.”

The development is expected to feature a lot of Native art and landscaping, as well as layouts that are warm and inviting. Bellwether and Chief Seattle Club want to build a dynamic project, one that breaks the mold.

“[A lot of people] want to build square projects that feel institutionalized and can be traumatizing to people,” said Belgarde. “But you’ve got to create a sense of home.”

Although the initial idea was pitched by Bellwether Housing, Chief Seattle Club will be taking the lead on the design of the project.

“It’s incredibly important, a project like this,” said Amy Besunder, director of fund development and communications at Bellwether Housing. “Chief Seattle Club is definitely the visionary leader around how this development will look, feel, and come together. It is led by their knowledge and expertise in serving the Indigenous community. We are there as a partner with the skills that we can bring as a housing developer…We are looking to Chief Seattle Club to help us with culturally-relevant design for the folks that will live in this development.”

Since opening in 1970, Chief Seattle Club’s original focus has been on the services it provided through its Day Center. However, over the past several years, the organization has grown its advocacy efforts and partnerships, and is now overseeing $186 million in current and future housing projects.

Eagle Village, a pilot project constructed using modular housing, opened in 2019. A former parking lot was converted into 24 units of temporary housing for singles and couples. Chief Seattle Club is also working on two other projects. The first, an 80-unit, landmark housing project across from the Pioneer Square Link Light Rail Station that will feature nine floors of housing, health care and social services, is expected to open this year. The development is called, “ʔálʔal,” meaning “home” in Lushootseed, the Native language of the Coast Salish people. 

The second, called the Sacred Medicine House, will open 125 units of permanent supportive, Indegenous-informed housing in Lake City, Wash. Sacred Medicine House will be completed in the fall of 2022.

Belgarde admitted that such growth has not been easy, and a number of barriers exist that often prevent BIPOC-led organizations from being able to develop. While time and funding are some of the biggest issues, getting the wider commercial real estate industry and public entities to trust in capabilities of such organizations is often challenging. Often, the system itself makes it difficult for non-profit or BIPOC organizations to break into development, making partnerships critically important.

“It is in the system of creating housing, a lot of BIPOC-led organizations don’t have the resources to get into development work,” stated Belgarde. “All of the opportunities are for well-established, mainstream organizations that have a long history of developing. And I know there is a lot of money at stake so people don’t want to take the risk. But if we ever want to reach equity goals, then we have to start enabling BIPOC-led organizations to build for their communities.”

Such challenges become critically important when considering the rate of poverty amongst Native Americans. According to documentation released by Chief Seattle Club in affiliation with its ʔálʔal project, of the 12,000 homeless people in King County, over 10 percent are American Indian and Alaskan Native. Natives are seven times more likely to be homeless than those who identify as caucasion or white.

“[The system] is only designed to let big fish stay in the game,” said Belgarde. “…We have got a lot at stake here, but the more successful we are, the more we can show [people] we can do this.”