BY ELAINE KO
Director, Inter*Im Community Development Association

Our agency recently completed a new building for 50 families, Nihonmachi Terrace (NT), on the top of Main Street in the ID. Our new offices are located on the street level and it is really great to be able to greet our newest neighbors each day on the street.

I recently took the opportunity to talk with some of the families living in NT. What a heartening experience to hear how much these families love their new home.

Mario is a cook at the Sheraton Hotel, and came to this country 20 years ago from El Salvador. He and his wife Jenny were overjoyed when they found NT. Jenny is a jeweler, with “more off than on” employment. They had a very difficult time finding a place that was affordable.

Jenny recounts, “We looked and looked for two months — we saw a small basement room for $750 with no heat and insulation … then I read an article in the International Examiner and called immediately.” She said they used the last of their savings to move in, but now that they have stable and secure housing, they can ‘”get back on their feet.”

“I love it here because it‘s so secure. I love the neighborhood and have lived in the Seattle area most of my life. I love walking to the library [in the ID]. I shop at Uwajimaya and local stores, and we eat at the local restaurants,” Jenny says. She is very appreciative that this housing was built.

Beth Ku lives at NT with her sister, brother in-law and two nieces. She came from Hong Kong and her family members came from China only a year ago. Her 80-year-old mother lives in the Bush Hotel, one-half block away. Her mother is so happy to be close to her children. Beth works at the Seattle Chinatown/International District Preservation and Development Authority, owner of the Bush Hotel, and she walks one block to work. As she is the only income earner, it is very practical for her to walk to services. She and her family also do their grocery shopping at local businesses, walk to the International Community Health Center for medical appointments, and family members take the bus to North Seattle Community College.

“It is so nice here,” states Beth. “I enjoy playing badminton in the courtyard. In fact, neighbors watch us play and sometimes will join in. In my job as a receptionist, I see there is a big need for affordable housing. Everyone is calling asking for housing, and we have to tell them there is nothing available right now.”

She further notes: “I like the fact that the units are open to each other – that way we get to meet our neighbors!”

Elyas and wife Ayan came from Ethiopia 10 years ago. Their four children go to Bailey Gatzert Elementary School and day-care in West Seattle. While Elyas must drive to his job at Oberto Sausage in Kent, his wife studied English at South Seattle Community College and now works part-time at a day-care center.

Elyas says: “I like it very much. Very clean and quiet. Nice people. Nice staff [referring to building manager “Lucky” Zeng].” Elyas didn’t know anyone as he was the first household to move into the building. Now he’s made friends. His kids play in the center courtyard area every day.

“Lucky” Wanfu Zeng and his wife Jenny came from Fuzhou City, China, and their young children attend Kimball Elementary School and the Denise Louie Education Center. Lucky loves the fact that he doesn’t need to drive – he and his wife work in the neighborhood, buy their groceries and eat in the neighborhood. Once a week they go to Costco.

“We like NT very much. I like the multiethnic households. I see people all the time who wish they could live here. I hope more housing like this can be built.”

Lucky marvels that each unit has a different design suited to meet the unique needs of the families.

With the building teaming with children of all ages, and most residents speaking different languages other than English, this is truly a unique and enriched living environment. When I think of the many years of effort and the countless number of people involved in building Nihonmachi Terrace, these residents remind us that it was all worth it.

The purpose of Inter*Im Community Development Association (ICDA) is to facilitate community development in Seattle’s International District and the larger Asian/Pacific community. Contact:[email protected] or (206) 624-1802. www.interimicda.org..

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