As the Northwest faces an ongoing housing crisis, an unusual partnership between major housing stakeholders is working to uplift communities in Western Washington. Known as Rise Together, the collaborative campaign leverages the power of a broad coalition of partner organizations  to accelerate community-driven development. Champions of anti-displacement and stable housing, the six organizations that make up Rise Together have so far raised over $38 million in a capital campaign with the goal of funding six equitable development projects in the Seattle-area. 

The collaborative partners consist of Africatown Community Land Trust, Byrd Barr Place, Community Roots Housing, GenPride, Southwest Youth & Family Services, and the White Center Community Development Association. With just $7 million left to raise in its capital campaign, the collaborative credits its success to a unique partnership model that centers community-driven leadership, sharing of  knowledge, capacity-building, and inclusion in ways broader than “just including” someone or a group of people.”

“[The partnership exists] really to give us the capacity and to teach us how to do this so that when the next project … comes along at White Center, we have the tools, and the knowledge, and now the experience to build things,” said Sili Savusa, executive director at White Center Community Development Association.


Chris Persons, CEO of Community Roots Housing

Chris Persons, CEO of Community Roots Housing said, “our whole vision as an organization is around community. Community empowerment [and] thriving, healthy communities. And in our vision, that really starts with stable housing for folks.” (Photo courtesy of Community Roots Housing)

Founded in 1976, Rise Together partner Community Roots Housing is a mission-oriented affordable housing organization serving the Seattle area. Since 2018, the organization has used its expertise in development, financing structures and real estate to lead the capital campaign and support partner organizations taking the lead when it comes to deciding how best to support the communities they serve.

“The expertise we can’t bring is knowledge of the community and what the community needs are, which is why it’s so important for us to really listen deeply and work very closely with our community partners,” said Community Roots Housing CEO Christopher Persons. 

“The depth to which we partner [with] the community, where we share ownership, where we stand back so community partners can lead — it's a fairly unique value proposition that we bring to affordable housing and community development,” continued Persons. “We don't come in [as if] we're the champions, [or] we're going to try to save the neighborhood. We have a skill set and… we position ourselves so communities can leverage that to their own benefit.”

As a white-led organization, Community Roots Housing recognizes the crucial importance of building this trust with their partners. That means not only maintaining a dialogue around issues of equity and power, but also centering that dialogue in the work itself. The goal is for partner organizations to leverage Community Roots’  knowledge and experience, while still calling the shots. 

“Community Roots Housing, who I have mad respect for, but they also understand this project we’re building in White Center, we’re the boss, not [them], we are,” said Savusa. “Leaning into that in a respectful way… building the relationships, building trust, I think has been really powerful for all of us.” 

“We’re not alone in this,” echoed Judy Kinney, executive director of GenPride. “There’s the range of expertise in the room, the range of funding [experience], relationships, seeing what other people have gone through… so we aren’t making the same mistakes. It really is the best of community.”

The six Rise Together organizations decided to partner after recognizing the similarity of their values, needs and objectives. The combined efforts of the collaborative have already facilitated community-altering projects that have allowed families to stay in Seattle, small businesses to thrive, and communities to be better-served. 

Our journeys are different,” said Savusa of Rise Together’s many projects and organizations, “but at the heart of it, it’s about liberation, so I couldn’t ask for a better group of partners.”

The Rise Together collaborative has already managed to complete construction on several projects in the Puget Sound region: the Liberty Bank Building and Byrd Barr Place Fire Station in the Central District as well as the Boylston-Howell Family Housing rehabilitation in Capitol Hill. Africatown Plaza and Pride Place (located in the Central District and Capitol Hill respectively) are under construction and will open later this year.

Closing the remaining $7 million funding gap will allow the group to begin construction on the last and largest project: the White Center Community HUB. The HUB will combine community services like healthcare, early learning, counseling, and education in one convenient spot, and will feature amenities and space for artists, entrepreneurs, urban gardeners and more. 

“I think the best part of this project is watching the successes of our partners as they come online,” said Steve Daschle, executive director of Southwest Youth & Family Services, one of the organizations that will inhabit the HUB. 

“We’ve seen [multiple] groundbreakings and completions already and the impact that they’ve had in their communities has been inspiring to me and inspiring to us as we try to finish up this campaign. We are so close to completing the entire campaign and we can’t wait for our own groundbreaking in a few months.”


Byrd Barr Place Fire Station, Africa Town Plaza, Pride Place, and the Liberty Bank Building.

Among Rise Together's projects are (clockwise from top left) Byrd Barr Place Fire Station, Africa Town Plaza, Pride Place, and the Liberty Bank Building. (Photos courtesy of Rise Together)

In 1996, when the current Southwest Youth & Family Services building first opened, the organization was located within its service area. But due to gentrification and displacement, the community members the organization serves have been forced to move further south. The organization’s new home in the White Center Community HUB will allow them to meet their clients closer where they are.

“The Rise Together effort has shone a light on… displacement and allowed us to speak with one voice — although there are six different organizations involved — to demonstrate the impact of gentrification and displacement and how important it is to site and locate services where people are at. And that’s our hope for the HUB,” said Daschle.

“HUB” is an acronym for “Hope, Unity and Belonging.” The organizations came up with it collectively as a way to acknowledge the values of White Center and Rise Together.

“It is about remaining hopeful at times [when] people are struggling,” said Savusa. “Unity: bringing families, bringing young people, bringing organizations together, and then really leaning into the fact that this is your community, that we all belong here regardless of what you look like, and what part of the world you came from.”

Pride Place, a Rise Together project planned in collaboration with GenPride, has similar goals for the elder LGBTQIA+ community. Pride Place had its groundbreaking in the fall of 2021 and will be the Pacific Northwest's first affordable housing and community center for “rainbow elders” and allies.

“When we think about rainbow elders, they represent those who have fought and taken great risks to ensure that we experience some of the rights and expectations that we have today,” said Kinney. “And yet even still, they are more likely to experience increased health disparities, isolation and poverty than their cisgender and heterosexual peers.”

“GenPride is a relatively new organization,” continued Kinney. “No way could we be in a position to raise the capital needed for Pride Place. Without the Rise Together collaborative, Pride Place would not be happening.”

As communities across western Washington deal with rising housing costs and displacement, the members of Rise Together hope their capital campaign model can inspire other community organizations to join forces and tap into the power of collaboration as they embark on the work to maintain and create vibrant, affordable communities.

“Our whole vision as an organization is around community,” said Persons. “Community empowerment [and] thriving, healthy communities. And in our vision, that really starts with stable housing for folks.”

Continued Persons, “It can't be driven by some organization… with the experts coming from the outside and saying, ‘Here's what you need.’ It really needs to be driven by the community [saying], ‘This is what we need. We're not leaving these areas where we've lived for years and years and years.’”