23rd Avenue and East Union: ‘Displacement is real and there are efforts to push against that’

SEATTLE -- There is one block in Seattle's Central District that some say is the test site for gentrification. The area around 23rd Avenue and East Union Street was once a bustling African-American community

But as we've seen, skyrocketing rents are forcing some in the community to move elsewhere. Those who remain are fighting to preserve their history.

To know what's really happening in the Central District, you just need to step into Earl's Cuts and Style barber shop.

"Back in the 1980s, I had a lot of clients here,” said barber shop owner Earl Lancaster. “Some of the clientele went down south. Some are here.”

One of those still here is longtime resident Keith Cottom, who's been living in the neighborhood for close to 60 years, he says.

According to Cottom, there have been a lot of changes in the Central District. He says many people can't afford to live there anymore. He also says there has been a change culturally.

“There`s more white people around now. In my block, it used to be all blacks. Now I`m the only black on the block,” Cottom said.

According to the Puget Sound Business Journal, the African-American population around 23rd and Union has decreased from 36% in 2000 to 12% in 2015.

"Everything around here was black-owned except for the big commercial stores,” said Central District resident Jonathan Rushing.

For Lancaster, he says there used to be more family homes around the area.

“People that used to stay here are being priced out or the new generation. The new techy babies,” said Lancaster.

Keeping note of the changes also, is Marc Stiles, Reporter for the Puget Sound Business Journal.

He wrote a cover story about what's happening at 23rd and Union.

"The people who I interviewed for this story, love this corner, the people who grew up here,” said Stiles.  “But it`s also had its share of tragedy and hardships.  "

According to Stiles, many people remember that Central District, just a few years ago, had boarded up windows and there was a lot of crime.

Now, the block has new apartments, with more on the way.

Business owner Ian Eisenberg owns the controversial Ike's Pot Shop, located at the corner.

“People who actually live here are pretty excited about the growth,” he said. “New stores, new opportunities, new jobs,”

Eisenberg's shop has been the target of protests about change in the neighborhood.

"We want affordable housing but everybody in Seattle is upset that nothing is affordable here,” said Eisenberg. "This is really no different.”

"I grew up in 28th and Lane. That whole block, everyone I grew up with, their house is being sold right now,” said Rushing.

A big question however is, what's being done to preserve the culture and provide more affordable housing.

An empty lot right next to Ike's, construction is set to start on an affordable mixed-use apartment project.

This was the site where African-American owned Liberty Bank used to be.

A non-profit developer is working with three African American community groups to build a six-story building with 115 apartments for lower income people.

For Stiles, there is a reason this corner is important for Seattle’s future.

“A recognition that displacement is real and there are efforts to push against that,” he said.