Hilltop, Tacoma

Attainable housing development is driven by the Hilltop community.

Hilltop, Tacoma
Forterra Hilltop project

Rapid Changes in Tacoma’s Hilltop Neighborhood

The Hilltop neighborhood has been a home to the Black/African American community in Tacoma for generations. The neighborhood has been a target of redlining, a racist practice in which Communities of Color—most notably, Black/African American neighborhoods—are denied financial services, health services, and other essentials. This history of redlining has led to serious, long-term impacts on the neighborhood and its residents.

Nestled close to downtown, the once underinvested neighborhood is now experiencing rapid redevelopment—but often in isolation from the community itself. With Sound Transit’s light rail expansion coming to the heart of Hilltop in 2022, these changes are expected to accelerate. Longtime residents and business owners want to remain in Hilltop, but increasingly feel the pressures of rising property taxes and rental costs.

An Opportunity

Creating attainable housing—rental and for-ownership homes combined with commercial and communal spaces—intermingled with market-rate housing can provide relief and a solution for Hilltop residents and business owners who want to remain rooted in the neighborhood they helped shape. Forterra is developing a new model for attainable housing that addresses long-term affordability and sustainability. This model can be successful only in partnership with the community.

Forterra’s Involvement

Forterra began as a nonprofit land trust with a mission to support land conservation as well as livable communities. This “trust” has evolved to include working with urban and rural communities to build attainable housing. We have 30 years of experience in real estate, financing, development, and community outreach, with decades of work in Tacoma. Knowing our commitment to communities, Hilltop leaders reached out to Forterra about the vacated Rite Aid property on Martin Luther King Jr. Way at South 11th St.

The parcel represents an opportunity to create attainable and market-rate housing and local business spaces in ways that respect the heritage and extend the legacy of the neighborhood. Forterra has purchased the property and is working with current and former Hilltop residents and business owners to drive the development of the building—what it will look like, how it will function, and who it will serve. Forterra hopes that this community-driven work will help slow the spread and mitigate the impacts of gentrification while increasing home-ownership options for those who have long defined Tacoma’s Hilltop.

What is “Attainable Housing”?

“Attainable housing” means that homes and business spaces are priced at a cost within reach. Forterra will price many of the homes and business spaces at no more than 30% of the tenant or homeowner’s total income. At least half of this project’s for-ownership and rental homes will be attainable to individuals making 60% of the area’s median income based on 2020 estimates.

Working with the Community

We are working with Fab-5, a hyper-local Hilltop-based nonprofit, to guide community engagement for this project. Fab-5 has actively been engaged with the Hilltop community on housing for several years. Together, Tacoma Housing Authority and Fab-5  worked with the Hilltop residents on the Hilltop Community Framework Plan, which expanded to #DesignTheHill, a grassroots development initiative that empowered the community to shape the future of Hilltop. Building on this work, Fab-5 is partnering with us on our community engagement strategy, community design lab meetings, a Community Investment Council, and more.

Hilltop, Tacoma map illustration

Art on Hilltop

Forterra and Fab-5 are commissioning Black artists to celebrate and honor the history and culture of Tacoma’s Hilltop neighborhood. The artists will first activate the vacant former Rite Aid building on the property and create art for the new housing and commercial space to come. Learn more in our call for artists.

How to Get Involved

We are hosting a series of community design workshops beginning in summer 2020 to provide project details, hear ideas, and learn from the community. Regular updates on the project will be available by signing up for project newsletters. We will be meeting in-person or virtually, stay tuned!

For more information contact Managing Director of Community Development Rebecca Bouchey at rbouchey@forterra.org.

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About Forterra

Forterra works to protect, enhance, and steward our region’s most precious resources—its communities and its ecosystems. We love this place. We want to keep it special. To do this, we conserve land, develop innovative policies, and support sustainable rural and urban development. In our 30-year history, we have helped conserve more than 223,000 acres. Our work reaches from the farmlands and river canyons of Yakima to the estuaries and forests of Washington’s coastline. Forterra is the 2018 winner of the Olmsted Medal, a national honor of the American Society of Landscape Architects for environmental vision and leadership.

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