Thank you, Cathy, for your service!

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Cathy serves Capitol Hill in many different capacities.

Cathy Hillenbrand recently completed two years of service as Chair of the Board of Directors of Capitol Hill Housing. A 49-year resident of Capitol Hill, Cathy also chaired the Steering Committee of the Capitol Hill Champion, a volunteer-led effort to advocate for the incorporation of community goals into the redevelopment on top of the Capitol Hill light rail station. We sat down to talk with her about the June 19 groundbreaking for Station House, CHH’s affordable housing venture that will provide thoughtfully-designed residences for working families on Capitol Hill. [Ed. Note: This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity]

You have been involved with many efforts to shape Capitol Hill, including the aboveground development that will soon accompany the light rail station. How did you first become involved?

I kind of get rooted and attached to a place. I’ve always felt about Capitol Hill that you could roll off it in any direction and get anywhere you wanted to go in Seattle or in the region. What’s interesting to me is the persistence of the arts and cultural life up here. What’s challenging is how it’s changed in such a short time. Still, depending on the time of day that you’re out and about on Capitol Hill, you see different slices of life and layers. The fact that we have a playground in Cal Anderson Park that is heavily used is a huge thing to me.

I had been on the Seattle Arts Commission, and I was part of the Light Rail Review Panel for University Link, which was the Capitol Hill and Husky Stadium stations. I got involved in that because my husband and I bought this place that was two blocks from the light rail station in Capitol Hill. So, when I moved over here, I started trying to meet people. And then when I got off the Arts Commission, I got involved with the Transit-oriented Development (TOD) Stakeholders Committee of the Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce. There was funding from the City for the neighborhood to engage with Sound Transit. The Chamber hired Schemata Workshop to do a study for us, and that resulted in the TOD Recommendations Report, and that resulted in the creation of the Capitol Hill Champion. First, I was the co-chair, and then I was the chair until Capitol Hill Housing applied to develop the site for affordable housing. During that time, I was asked to be on the Board of Directors for CHH, and I said I would do it so long as it didn’t compromise my position as chair of the Champion.

On June 19th, we will celebrate the groundbreaking for Station House. Is there an impact that you are hoping the development around the light rail station will have for the community?

I think it remains to be seen. The big thing is the viability of the plaza and how it’s managed. I see that plaza as a hardscape to Cal Anderson Park. The layout of the properties was done from the point of view of where the train would be – Sound Transit didn’t want to build directly over the station box. One might have planned it differently if one had placemaking at the top of the list, but we have what we have. And we wanted a community center. But we are getting a community room, a daycare, and a farmer’s market. We will see how it all plays out. Hopefully, we will be able to move forward with building LGBTQ-affirming senior housing on the Hill. LGBTQ-centered development was a priority in the conversation about building above the light rail.

The fact is, once they decided they were putting a train through here, it changed the neighborhood, even though it’s not obvious. And I don’t know if a community can ever get ahead of development. And everything moves so fast now, and land is so valuable that it puts communities at a disadvantage. Through the EcoDistrict, CHH has devoted staff and played a critical role in watching out for Capitol Hill. We are stewarding our community. As we get bigger, I don’t want us to lose that role. I personally see the EcoDistrict as the place were that’s going to happen.

The Capitol Hill EcoDistrict, where you’re also on the steering committee, formed out of the conversation around development at the light rail station. What are your hopes for the EcoDistrict’s future?

I didn’t join the EcoDistrict Steering Committee until I got off the Champion, but from the beginning, before the EcoDistrict was conceived of, the Champion was pushing for deeper environmental considerations to be included in the design guidelines for the light rail station itself. We’ve been trying to get to a place where you could go to a developer and say, we have an EcoDistrict up here; please engage with it around your building, and here are some ways to do that. The EcoDistrict is shaping a lot of things, but it’s a challenge to influence every development.

The EcoDistrict is the place where so many hopes and dreams – ideals one has – can be manifested in so many interlocking ways. It’s equity, it’s environment, it’s local – it’s hyper-local. In our bodies, our bones are a matrix. Activity draws calcium to our bones, and they become stronger. I see the EcoDistrict as a big matrix of all these small hubs where there is self-determination and as a hub in an even larger matrix. You’re bringing all these pieces together to look at the health of a bigger thing, like the health of the Salish Sea. Currently, jurisdictions are fighting for the survival of their bureaucracies and their government functions, and we need to figure out how to unify those in a way that is driven from the ground up by communities.

Learning A New Way to Engage Community

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CHH Staff & Partners Learn the Pomegranate Method
On May 1st and 2nd, Capitol Hill Housing hosted a training on community engagement conducted by the Pomegranate Center for 34 staff members from CHH and five of our partners: Africatown Community Land TrustByrd Barr PlaceSouthwest Youth & Family Services, and the White Center Community Development Association (CDA).
Together, we studied the Pomegranate Method, which prioritizes the needs and ideas of community members in making collaborative decisions for their neighborhoods. This process emphasizes “placemaking” – connecting people and empowering them to define shared spaces.
For CHH, an inclusive and equitable community-driven process is a top priority. We are committed to deepening our understanding of effective strategies and working with our partners toward this mutual goal.
“I enjoyed spending time with my co-workers and community partners, learning strategies and approaches that are focused on elevating community voice. My hope is that we use the Pomegranate training to coalesce our vision…in order to have a healthy, happy, and affordable White Center community,” said Aaron Garcia, a Community Engagement Manager with the White Center CDA and a participant of the training.
We are immensely grateful to JPMorgan Chase & Co. for providing funding for this opportunity and to Katya and Milenko Matanovic from the Pomegranate Center for imparting their wisdom.

Capitol Hill Housing Hires Community Liaison

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Steven Sawada joined Capitol Hill Housing as Community Liaison in April
“My goal is to support the growth
of empowered, autonomous communities.”

Capitol Hill Housing welcomes Steven Sawada as our new Community Liaison. A resident of Capitol Hill for more than ten years, Steven joins us from Catholic Housing Services, an organization built around deep values and a commitment to its mission, he says.

Steven studied communities and networks at the University of Washington Evans School of Public Policy and Governance “to give language to the skills” of community engagement and policy-making. For years, he worked in residential home loan processing and made connections to his experience as a housed person living alongside houseless neighbors. Motivated, as he says, to “reconcile equity with urgency”, he charted a new path.

While volunteering at two Capitol Hill organizations, Community Lunch on Capitol Hill, a homeless meals program, and at Lambert House, a community center for LGBTQ youth, Steven was inspired by the resilience he observed in neighbors caring for one another. With support from his wife, he emphasizes, Steven sought to take on “wicked” problems – those that are systemic, perpetual, and ingrained.

At CHH, Steven’s work will focus on neighborhoods beyond Capitol Hill. A Community Liaison like Steven is an important and valuable addition to our team, especially as we continue to grow the number of projects done in partnership with other organizations and communities.

Steven hopes “to work with communities that have been historically disenfranchised and who are in danger of displacement in our rapidly growing, changing region”. To do that, he will listen to what has been working, acknowledging the expertise that lives within the invisible network of every neighborhood that has held itself together despite threatening odds.

Meeting Notice – PDA Audit Committee

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Committee Meeting Notice

May 17, 2018

The Capitol Hill Housing Board will hold a meeting of the Audit Committee on Monday, May 21, 2018 from 10:00 – 11:00 am. The meeting will be held in the Pike Pine Conference Room at the 12th Ave Arts Building at 1620 12th Ave, Suite 206, Seattle, WA 98122.

Thank you,

Capitol Hill Housing

We’re Looking for New Board Members

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Capitol Hill Housing (CHH) and the Capitol Hill Housing Foundation (CHH Foundation) are both seeking nominations of qualified board member candidates from the Seattle communities in which we currently operate and serve residents.

The deadline for nominations is Friday, March 30th. Please contact Sarah Shoemake with any questions sshoemake(at)capitolhillhousing(dot)org.

Capitol Hill Housing Emerging Leader Fellow Board Position

Read the call for nominations.

CHH seeks candidates for the Emerging Leader (EL) Fellow board position. The EL Fellow program helps CHH cultivate the next generation of leaders who will advocate for the goals of affordable housing and vibrant communities. The EL Fellow program places a young adult, approximately aged 24-34, on the CHH board, for a two-year, non-voting term, typically starting in April. 

Capitol Hill Housing Foundation Board Position

Read the call for nominations. 

The CHHF seeks nominations of potential board members from the Seattle area. The CHH Foundation raises funds to support general operations, resident services, and capital campaigns for Capitol Hill Housing. Candidates aged 24-34, members of the LGBTQ Community and people of color are strongly encouraged to apply. The Board meets quarterly, and is comprised of around 12 members, who serve two-year terms.


About Capitol Hill Housing
Since 1976, Capitol Hill Housing has worked alongside the community to build and preserve apartments affordable to working families and promote the qualities that make Seattle a vibrant and engaged city. Today, we provide secure, affordable homes to over 2,200 of our neighbors in 48 buildings across the city while working to make our neighborhoods safer, healthier and more equitable through the Capitol Hill EcoDistrict. Learn more at

Resident Spotlight: Adrian

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It would be difficult to recognize Adrian had you met her just one short year ago. She had no permanent place to live, had recently pled guilty to a felony drug charge, and felt like she was running out of options.

In the fall of 2016, Adrian was arrested for drug possession. As an unhoused resident of downtown Seattle, she was on the radar of LEAD (Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion), an innovative pilot program developed to address low-level crimes in the Belltown neighborhood. With the support of the LEAD program, Adrian was able to participate in DOSA (Drug Offender Sentencing Alternative), in which she pled guilty to the crime and was required to complete a 6-month treatment program in lieu of prison.

To truly get her life back on track, Adrian needed a safe place to live. With the help of her case manager, Devin Majkut, she applied to at least 10 different property management companies or landlords, but was denied every time. Even with a voucher guaranteed to cover the cost of her rent, many agencies were either unwilling or legally unable to provide housing to someone with a criminal record.

“It felt so unfair,” Adrian recalls. “The government gives you a voucher to help you get back on your feet, but that same government has policies that make it almost impossible to use it.”

Devin reflects on how disheartening the process was, “All you’re trying to do is get more stable and it’s hard to be met with closed door after closed door after closed door. We’re both fighters, I’m confident we would have found a place eventually, but I don’t know when, and I don’t know how safe it would have been.”

Luckily, Devin and Adrian were given a break. Through a personal connection, Devin learned of Capitol Hill Housing’s Individual Assessment program. The program is designed for people like Adrian who may have a criminal record or poor rental history and need an opportunity to tell their story instead of being automatically denied housing.

“It gave me an opportunity to explain the circumstances around my arrest, about my history,” says Adrian. “When the applications are being looked at without a face or a name and you’re just looking at a piece of paper – you don’t know the whole story – you don’t know who that person is.”

Capitol Hill Housing took a second look at Adrian’s application, along with her personal statement, letters of support, and additional background information. With support from LEAD, her application was approved, and Adrian moved into her apartment a short time later.

Devin believes that if it wasn’t for CHH, it would have been a long time before a landlord was found who would have been willing to work with Adrian. The nuances of her case and the program can be difficult to understand and with such a recent conviction, Devin feared it would be difficult to convince people that Adrian was truly ready for independent housing.

Adrian’s success, in addition to another individual housed through a similar process, have led CHH and REACH (the parent program of LEAD) to create a partnership where CHH continues to help remove barriers to housing for the population LEAD serves, while LEAD continues to provide case management to their clients. “It’s really exciting to work with an organization with whom we share so many common goals,” says Ashley Thomas, CHH Resident Services Manager. “Together we can provide safe, affordable housing to vulnerable populations, while also meeting an individual’s need for supportive services.”

And for Adrian, it was just the hand up she needed. She’s looking forward to starting school this fall, where she will study Social and Human Services. “I want to be offer support to people going through difficult times – support that wasn’t available to me when I was young.”

Now, Adrian is able to focus on getting back into the community, reconnecting with family, and even just having a normal social life again. “If you’re not having to worry about where you’re going to sleep or how you’re going to survive, it opens the door to so many more possibilities,” reflects Devin. Adrian adds, “Yeah, like what are you going to make for dinner? How are you going to decorate your apartment? How are you going to manage your finances? I never thought about any of that before – I was just focused on survival.”

But now she’s focused on her health, her happiness, and her family. “I’ve reconnected with my grandmother,” Adrian says. “I know she’s going to leave this earth someday, and I’m so happy to now be in a place where I can say, ‘Grandma, I’m okay.’”


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November 1, 2017

The Capitol Hill Housing Board will hold a meeting of the Joint Board Development Committee on Tuesday, November 21, 2017 from 12:30 – 2:00 pm. The meeting will be held in the Belmont Conference Room of the CHH office at 1620 12th Ave, Suite 205, Seattle, WA 98122.

Thank you,

Capitol Hill Housing