We are living in extraordinary times. In our region, we are seeing unprecedented economic growth, innovation and technological advances.
Despite all of this progress, striking inequities impact the health, housing and economic fabric of our communities. There is growing inequity between the wealthiest and poorest people in our region, housing costs have skyrocketed, homelessness is on the rise and too many people do not have enough access to healthy food.
Research shows that up to 90 percent of what determines our life expectancy is where we live, how much income we make and the color of our skin. King County is a prime example. Life expectancy can vary by as much as 10 years depending on where you live and there’s over $160,000 difference in median family incomes across the region.
But the issues go beyond income and life expectancy. Inequities drive down prosperity for our whole region. We can and we must do better.
The real solution involves all of us working together to have a more holistic approach to support our communities and collectively address the challenges we are facing.
One way in which we are doing this is Communities of Opportunity (COO). Launched by Seattle Foundation, along with two King County Departments — Public Health and Community and Human Services — COO works with community residents to help shape and own solutions that will have positive impact.
Communities of Opportunity means real community engagement. Instead of working alone in silos, all partners collaborate across areas of healthcare, economic opportunity and more. Community members are also part of the decision making process — setting goals, and implementing the programs.
What we are doing here is providing a national model as recognized by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Using data to identify where we should focus our attention, we award funding to help communities to build on their strengths, strategize ways to break the cycle of poverty and produce better outcomes for children all the way into adulthood.
For example, work with community members in SeaTac and Tukwila confirmed residents’ interest in starting food businesses to increase economic opportunity. One of the biggest barriers to success was a lack of affordable commercial kitchen space. With COO support, a new center will serve as the heart of business incubation, including commercial kitchen space, considered for the Matt Griffin YMCA in SeaTac.
In Rainier Beach, an abandoned fish cannery was transformed into a site for food-related businesses with on-site production, packaging and distribution.
And in White Center, partners have identified property for development of a community-based center with potential for affordable housing, business start-ups and other community use — a space to further connect families in White Center to one another.
What we are learning through this work can be applied across a broader area, creating ripple effects in neighborhoods throughout the county.
King County Executive Dow Constantine has committed to continue the work of COO and has included funding for the program in the Best Starts for Kids plan.
We have an opportunity to build stronger collaborations and strategically leverage additional resources in order to address the increasing inequities in our community. This is a significant step forward as we continue to deliver on our commitment to build a more just, equitable community.
Communities of Opportunity is a powerful example of this work in action, but we cannot stop there. Seattle Foundation will continue to reach out to government, private and social sectors and align our work toward efforts that will truly move the needle and lower disparities. It’s this collective action that reflects the values we are striving for every day to make our region a stronger, more vibrant community for all.
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