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Performing arts and affordable housing come together in planned Rainier Valley project

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Affordable housing provider Capitol Hill Housing and music education nonprofit JazzED

An aerial view of the Rainier Valley in 2001.
Courtesy of the Seattle Municipal Archives, item No. 114373

Two nonprofits announced Wednesday they’d be banding together on a Rainier Valley development that combines affordable housing with music education and the performing arts. Music-education nonprofit JazzED and affordable-housing provider Capitol Hill Housing announced the joint purchase of land at 21st and Hill, the former home of bowling alley Imperial Lanes.

The development will be located right next to where two Central Area schools, Lake Washington Girls School and Giddens School, plan to relocate into a jointly built academic community center.

JazzED was born out of Garfield High School’s nationally acclaimed jazz band after some parents realized not all students had the same opportunity to participate.

“I think any place where people can share ideas and have respect for each other’s point of view and culture is a good place,” said Clarence Acox, Seattle JazzED co-founder and Garfield High School band director, in a statement. “There’s such a divide now; we need that now more than ever. This building is a good place to start.”

The collaboration, said JazzED in a press release, could expand their mission of creating more equitable opportunity for music education in Seattle:

In a city that is nationally known and celebrated for its strong middle and high school jazz education programs, only a fraction of students in Seattle can access these programs. Seattle JazzED was established as an all-city solution to that problem. Instruction in jazz, a Black American art form, teaches more than just music—it instills teamwork, accountability, confidence and empowerment. In response, Seattle JazzED has grown exponentially from serving 56 young musicians its first year to more than 900 annually, with 42 percent of students receiving full or partial financial aid to participate. Thousands more could be served.

The new building, which will replace JazzED’s current home in the Madison Valley’s MLK F.A.M.E. Community Center, will allow the nonprofit to take on 2,000 more students each year—or three times its current capacity. In addition to the music school and space to store and repair instruments, plus capacity for summer camps and after-school tutoring, the building will also include a performance space, for a total of 12,000 square feet dedicated to the performing arts.

“JazzED is growing exponentially every year, and we’ve had to be creative with our space—down to kids practicing in storage closets,” said Seattle JazzED co-founder Laurie de Koch in a statement. De Koch said the building will help JazzED “plant ourselves in the city in a way that will ensure that we’re here for decades to come.”

The affordable housing piece of the planned building, developed by Capitol Hill Housing, will consist of 100 homes on the upper five floors. The homes will be affordable to those earning up to 60 percent of area median income (this year, that means a maximum of $1,053 a month for a studio apartment or $1,353 for a two-bedroom). The nonprofit did not immediately respond to a request for comment on apartment size.

The public-private Regional Equitable Development Initiative (REDI) Fund, administered by Enterprise Community Partners to support development of affordable housing near transit in the area, provided an initial $2.3 million loan for the site purchase. (The site, between Mount Baker and Beacon Hill, is two blocks from Rainier Avenue and the 7, 9, and 106 lines, or a 15-minute walk to the Mount Baker light rail station.)

Capitol Hill Housing will seek additional public funding sources to complete the project; JazzED is launching a capital campaign in the near future.

The announcement comes just after a frenzied campaign to preserve music venue the Showbox raised questions about the capacity for building homes in Seattle, the power of nostalgia, and preserving Seattle’s arts spaces during a tidal wave of development—bringing the conversation about avoiding displacement of Seattle’s music scene to the forefront.

“We don’t want to [just] protect this one piece,” said Seattle City Councilor Teresa Mosqueda before voting to temporarily expand the Pike Place Market historic district. “We want to protect cultural hubs, especially in black and brown communities.”