Take Action: Vote yes on I-135: Social housing for a diversity of incomes will give everyone an opportunity to thrive

The following was written by Estela Ortega, executive director of El Centro de la Raza and Shalimar Gonzales, CEO of Solid Ground. It was originally published in The Seattle Times on Friday, January 20, 2023.

Every day, our organizations hear from people across Seattle facing the same crisis: Ever-increasing housing costs that rise far faster than wages, leaving families desperately looking for a new place they can afford. They might spend a night in the car while they look, but then a night becomes a week, a week becomes a month, and so another family is exposed to the trauma of homelessness — a trauma now shared by more than 40,000 people in King County each year.  

This is what happens when a city’s skyrocketing population and job growth collides with a private housing market that hasn’t been able to keep pacepushing rents up 50% in metro Seattle over just the last decade. But it doesn’t have to be like this.  

Starting next week, Seattle voters will be asked to consider a grassroots ballot initiative called Initiative 135 that would create a new public agency, the Seattle Social Housing Developer, to buy, build and maintain a new kind of permanently affordable housing across the city. By law, these energy-efficient, union-built, city-owned homes would be available to people with a wide range of incomes, from people with no income at all to folks who are fully employed with good jobs but still struggling with the cost of housing in Seattle. That includes educators, health care staff, child-care providers and the front-line human service workers that are so vital to organizations like ours. Rent would be based on income: People who earn more would pay more, but nobody would pay more than 30% of their income on housing. 

Instead of concentrating and isolating low incomes renters — as public housing projects have often done in the past — these self-governed properties would be home to a healthy diversity of incomes, giving everyone a better opportunity to thrive. What’s more, the flexible income requirements would allow residents to pursue better-paying jobs without losing their housing, giving more people an opportunity to escape poverty and build a better future for themselves. 

Now, you might be thinking, “Sounds great, but aren’t there already a bunch of organizations building affordable housing? Why do we need another?” The answer is yes, there are, and their work continues to be vital in our effort to close Seattle’s staggering shortage of affordable homes — which is why we need to renew the Seattle Housing Levy this fall. But we also know that everything we’re doing now is still not enough. In fact, it has been estimated that King County needs to spend an additional $450 million to $1.1 billion per year to make up for years of housing underproduction.

The Social Housing Developer proposed by I-135 would be able to chip away at that deficit without taking resources from existing affordable housing programs because it would be funded primarily through municipal bonds that would be repaid in part through rental income. And this would be an investment that keeps on giving: Once the bonds on each project are paid off, the rental income generated by each building can be used to pay for the development of additional properties. 

This kind of affordable housing production would be completely new to Seattle, but it has been used successfully for decades all around the world, in places like New Zealand, Austria and Uruguay. In Montgomery County, a fast-growing suburb of Washington, D.C., an agency similar to the Seattle Social Housing Developer recently created a revolving $50 million housing production fund that is expected to produce nearly 8,800 units of housing. We can do the same in Seattle. 

Critics of I-135 have argued that we should focus all our resources on building homes for our lowest-income neighbors. But the truth is we can — and must — do both things at the same time: Build more housing for people with no income at all as well as for those who work full time but still can’t afford the astronomical cost of housing in Seattle. As it is, nearly 46,000 households in Seattle are spending more than half of their income on housing, leaving little left for other basic living costs. 

Building more affordable housing in our city isn’t just the right thing to do; it is literally the only way we can hope to end our homelessness crisis. If we don’t find ways to build new affordable homes more quickly, we will continue to see more of our neighbors priced out of the private housing market and pulled into homelessness every year. Please vote yes on I-135 and help us build a better future for Seattle.  

Estela Ortega is the executive director of El Centro de la Raza, an organization that works to build unity across all racial and economic sectors, to organize, empower and defend our most vulnerable and marginalized populations.

Shalimar Gonzales is the CEO of Solid Ground, a community action agency that works to solve poverty by meeting basic needs, nurturing success and dismantling barriers that keep our communities from thriving.

Read another article about Initiative 135 at PubliCola here.

2022 Employee & Volunteer Recognition

Our staff and volunteers work so hard to provide all 43 of our programs and services. Please join us in acknowledging and celebrating their service and dedication!

Executive Director’s Award – Hilda Magaña

Employee of the Year, Seattle – Tania Zárate

Employee of the Year, Federal Way – Maria Casarez

Spirit Award – Laura Aban

Volunteer of the Year Seattle – Yadira Alvarez

Volunteer of the Year Federal Way – Moises Marchan

Equipo del Año – AARP

Service Awards

25 Years of Service

Maria Rico

Maria Teresa Garcia Fitz

Sandra Medina Silva

20 Years of Service

Ricardo Solis

Maria de Jesus Ramirez

Cristina Jimenez

15 Years of Service

Jessica Harris Herrera

Maricela Arguello

Belem Mendoza Ruiz

5 Years of Service

Veronica Gallardo
Wing Yiu Yuen

Mirtha Gonzalez
Yaoping Yang

Rosa Isela Perez
Ayda Majeed Ramadhan

3 Years of Service

Victor Cerdeneta
Mandela Gardner
Heidi Hammes
Iris Navarro Diaz de Leon
Yenny Dzul
Deicy Pérez Sánchez
Hayley Berra

Safiullah Mirzaee
Janeth Angeles
Jim Cantú
Olga Cortes
Estela Rodriguez
Pedro Ruiz
Paolo Arellano

Daniela Lizárraga
Karen Calvo
Maria Jasso Torres
Adulfa Gomez
Vilma Villalobos
Camila Puelpan

Frontline Worker Awards

This year, we are celebrating the staff that since March 20th, 2020, with sacrifice, bravery, and at great personal risk, became a frontline worker exhibiting the highest degree of selflessness. We are forever grateful to their essential service! ¡Mil Gracias, por su sacrificio!

Laura Aban
Maria Luisa Aguilera
Rosalina Alvarez
Janeth Angeles
Fidencio Angeles
Norma Aparicio
Maricela Arguello
Graciela Ayala
Iran Barba
Lissette Barraza
Rafael Barron
Jose Belloso
Citlali Beltran
Jasmin Calderon
Perla Campbell
Angie Chen
Jully Chu
Olga Cortes
Elpidio Cortez Montiel
Maria de Jesus Ramirez

Martha Diaz
Ceyla Diaz Peñaloza
Rocio Espiritu
Hiromi Fermin
Teresa Fitz
Veronica Gallardo
Teresa Garcia
Raquel Garcia
Heydi Garcia
Claudibet Garcia
Flor Gomez
Angela Gomez
Adulfa Gomez
Mirtha Gonzalez
Jessica Gonzalez
Javier Gonzalez
Jessica Harris Herrera
Bertha Hernandez
Xingmei Huang
Baiyang Huang
Maria Jasso

Cristina Jimenez
Kira Lancian
Jason Li
Jiali Lin
Elizabeth Lopez
Hilda Magana
Sandra Medina
Juana Mendoza
Belem Mendoza Ruiz
Hortencia Mercado
Favian Mogollan
Janet Monroy
Maria Paguada
Claudia Pay Pay
Rosa Perez
Cecilia Perez
Franz Perez
Bernadette Polinar
Audelia Quintero
Ayda Ramadhan
Diana Ramirez

Ana Ramirez
Heyda Raymundo
Mari Rico
Alejandra Rico-Diaz
Jenny Rivera
Rocio Ruiz
Pedro Ruiz
Vianey Sanchez
Ricardo Solis
Xiaying Tan
Janet Torres
Consuelo Trujillo
Vilma Villalobos
Wendy Yang
Erxing Yang
Tania Zarate
Susie Zhang
Theresa Zhao
Sandra Zuñiga

2023 Día de los Reyes Recap

Gracias to everyone that came out to celebrate with us at our Día de los Reyes events!

Mil gracias to the students, teachers, and parents of our José Martí Child Development Centers for their traditional performance of the procession of los Tres Reyes Magos! Gracias also to all our small business vendors who were selling such amazing products.

History & Significance of Día de los Reyes

January 6th marks a symbolic celebration among the Mexican culture and various areas around the globe as we celebrate Día de Los Reyes also known as Three Kings’ Day. The holiday represents the day the Three Wise Men: Melchior, Gaspar, and Balthazar, representing Arabia, the Orient, and Africa, arrived on horse, camel, and elephant, bringing gold, incense and myrrh to the baby Jesus after following what is known as the Christmas star to the town of Bethlehem.

In honor of the Three Kings bringing gifts to the baby Jesus, children in Latin America, and around the world celebrate by exchanging gifts. As tradition, children leave out their shoes on the night of January 5th for the Three Kings and the next morning they awake to find gifts for them. Another common tradition during Día de Los Reyes is to bake or purchase and serve Rosca de Reyes, or King’s Cake. The Rosca is shaped like a wreath and decorated with candied fruit, and the most important part, baked with a small baby Jesus doll inside. Whoever gets the piece of the Rosca with the doll has to have a celebration on Día de la Candelaria in February. In the Mexican culture, the host will serve tamales, and a Mexican hot chocolate or champurrado.

El 6 de Enero marca una celebración simbólica entre la cultura Mexicana y varias partes del mundo, ya que celebramos el Día de Reyes, también conocido como el Día de los Reyes Magos. La celebración representa el día en que los Tres Reyes Magos: Melchor, Gaspar y Baltasar, que representan Arabia, el Oriente y África, llegaron a caballo, camello y elefante, trayendo oro, incienso y mirra al niño Jesús después de seguir lo que se conoce como la estrella de Belén.

En honor a los Reyes Magos que traen regalos al niño Jesús, los niños en Latinoamérica y en todo el mundo celebran intercambiando regalos. Como tradición, los niños dejan sus zapatos afuera la noche del 5 de Enero para los Reyes Magos y la mañana siguiente se despiertan para encontrar regalos para ellos. Otra tradición común en el Día de Los Reyes es hacer o comprar y servir una Rosca de Reyes. La Rosca tiene forma de corona y está decorada con fruta seca, y la parte más importante, horneada con un pequeño muñeco Jesús en su interior. Quien corte la pieza de la Rosca con el muñeco tiene que tener una celebración el Día de la Candelaria en Febrero. En la cultura Mexicana, el anfitrión sirve tamales y un chocolate caliente o champurrado.

Events: December 2022

January 5: Día de Los Reyes

El Centro de la Raza invites you to come celebrate Three Kings Day! Support and meet our local artisans, enjoy a children’s show, and free king’s bread!

We will have two locations to celebrate, one in Beacon Hill and one in Federal Way.

If there are any vendors or organizations interested in participating, please contact Ivette Aguilera at (206) 883-1981 or via email at

We look forward to celebrating with you and your family!

Dates: January 5, 2022, 2-8 PM

Location: Centilia Cultural Center, 1660 S Roberto Maestas Festival St, Seattle, WA 98144 or El Centro Mercado – Federal Way, 34110 Pacific HWY S, Federal Way 98003

January 16th: Martin Luther King Jr Day March and Rally

2023 marks forty years that the residents of Seattle and King County have and continue to honor the legacy and the mission of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. with a rally, march, internships, workshops, youth led programming and job fair.

Dates: Meet January 16, 11 AM at Garfield High School for the rally and march.

Learn more here:

El Centro Skate Rink Now Open! 

Formerly known as Pattison’s West Skating Center, we purchased the rink in early October as part of our on-going expansion into South King County. The newly renamed “El Centro Skate Rink” reopened in November and is available to rent for your private holiday parties. It also hosts a variety of themed skate nights for people of all ages, lessons, skate shop, and a snack bar offering Latino-themed food!

Learn more here:

Events: November 2022

November 20-December 20: Christmas Tree Sale

Support the children, youth, families and seniors in our 43 programs and services by purchasing a fresh organic Christmas tree during our Annual Christmas Tree Sale!

We are pleased to be able to safely offer high quality, locally sourced fresh organic Christmas trees for purchase. Proceeds benefit our all our vital programs and services, which have sustained. You do not need to sign-up for a timeslot to purchase a tree. 

Dates: November 20 through December 20, 2022 (or while supplies last) Monday-Friday 3:00-7:00 PM and Saturday-Sunday 10:00-6:00 PM

Location: El Centro de la Raza’s North Parking Lot, 2524 16th Ave S, Seattle, WA 98144

Learn more here:

November 1-January 15: Washington Health Plan Open Enrollment: 

It’s time to turn the page in your health care story. We can help you write your next chapter. Open enrollment, the time of year when Washingtonians can enroll in a health or dental plan through the state’s insurance marketplace, is here from Nov. 1 through Jan. 15. Washington Healthplanfinder has the tools to help you navigate health coverage and find new health plan options like Cascade Care. These plans cover primary care visits, mental health services, and generic drugs all before meeting a deductible. Start your next chapter off right by enrolling in your 2023 health plan at

Enroll here:

Staff Corner: Mari Rico Promotion to Director of Cedar Crossing JMCDC

We are excited to announce that long time El Centro de la Raza teacher Mari Rico was promoted to Director of our new Jose Marti Child Development Center at Cedar Crossing! This year marks Mari’s 25th year with us! The new 6,443 SF multi-cultural, bilingual affordable child development center will serve 68 children at Cedar Crossing. Congratulations to Mari for this well deserved honor!

While working full-time, Mari obtained her Child Developmental Associate’s (CDA) degree at Seattle Central Community College, and her Associate in Applied Arts and Sciences (AAAS) with a specialization in Bilingual/Bicultural Education at Shoreline Community College. She then completed a Bachelor of Arts in Human Development and Education from the Praxis Institute, and a Bachelor of Arts in Education and Master’s Degree from Goddard College.

Under Mari’s supervision, the Luis Alfonso Velásquez Afterschool Program achieved accreditation from the National Afterschool Association in 2008. In 2018, School’s Out Washington recognized Mari with its Champion Award. As a STARS state-approved trainer and Early Childhood Education coach, she also trains other teachers in the field.

When asked how she manages to teach and find time to learn, innovate, and contribute to her field, she said it makes her job easier. Teaching as a profession is constantly evolving; everything from toys to technology is continually changing, and staying ahead of the curve is important to meet students where they are.

Events: October 2022

October 24-26: National FIELD School Conference on Incubator Farming and Food Systems

Join your fellow land-based beginning farmer trainers, ag service providers, incubator farm program staff, apprenticeship mentors and others in Seattle, WA at El Centro de la Raza. Back in person for the first time since 2019, plan to be there and network with your peers across the country. New Entry Sustainable Farming Project looks forward to joining the community and reuniting to learn, share, and gain new skills and connections to improve their incubator and apprenticeship training programs.  

Dates: Monday, October 24, 2022 to Wednesday, October 26, 2022, 8am – 4pm

Location: Seattle Center, 305 Harrison Street, Seattle, WA 98109

Register here: 11th Annual National FIELD School – Seattle, WA | New Entry Sustainable Farming Project (

October 27: Grand Opening of Si Se Puede Academy: 

Join us as we celebrate the Grand Opening of Sí Se Puede Academy, with food, fun, music, and entertainment for the entire family!

Date: Thursday, October 27, 2022, 4-7pm

Location: 1625 S 341st Place, Federal Way 98003

Register here:  

November 5: Día de los Muertos | Day of the Dead

We invite you to enjoy our traditional exhibition of ofrendas, variety of vendors, delicious food, and a spectacular catrinas fashion show. Let’s celebrate the memories of those before us!

Date: Saturday, November 5, 2022, starting at 11am

Location: Plaza Roberto Maestas, 1660 S Roberto Maestas Festival St, Seattle, WA 98144

November 3: Poquitos Dia de los Muertos Day After Fundraiser

Keep the celebration rolling! Join Poquitos for dinner Thursday, November 3rd and help raise money for El Centro de la Raza with every margarita you drink! Poquitos will be donating 20% of the evenings sales to help fund our vital programs and services.

Date: Thursday, November 3rd, starting at 4pm

Location: Poquitos Capitol Hill, Bothell and Tacoma

PRESS RELEASE: Nonprofit El Centro De La Raza to Save Beloved Skating Rink in Federal Way as Part of South King County Expansion Purchase

Contact: Maria Paguada | Email: | Phone: (206) 957-4605 |
For immediate release – Oct. 4, 2022

The purchase is part of a grand master plan to build a community center, affordable housing and other services in the area

SEATTLE—Nonprofit El Centro de la Raza has bought Pattison’s West Skating Center in Federal Way as part of a planned expansion into Federal Way that will bring a community center, affordable housing, a child development center and other services into the area.

The $6.5 million transaction has been finalized today.

Pattison’s West Skating Rink was slated to close, but El Centro de la Raza, which already has an office at the site, bought the venue because of the positive impact it has in the community.

“The rink brings the community and families together and creates jobs for area youth, so we saw it as an essential piece of our plans,” said Estela Ortega, executive director of El Centro de la Raza. “It is not just about the community center and affordable housing. The rink is a local cultural fixture that we see as part of our overall efforts to bring services to the area.”

Ortega stressed that the development in Federal Way will support all small businesses to set up shop at the location. Plans also include social services and the development of a mercado, or market, for small businesses and entrepreneurs to sell their products.

The complex will be built in phases, which will include construction of a total of 208 affordable housing units. The community center will include youth services and space for artists. It is located at the intersection of Pacific Highway South and 16th Ave. S.

Funding for the development is expected to come from the state of Washington, federal funds, a loan from the Washington State Housing Finance Commission, and other sources. Construction is expected to begin in 2025.

The Federal Way project is not the first large project El Centro de la Raza has undertaken. Plaza Maestas, a mixed-use building in Seattle containing 112 affordable housing units, an early learning, and office and retail space, was built in 2016.

The organization is also getting close to completing fundraising for another affordable housing development in Columbia City. That $58-million, family-oriented building will have 87 apartments, most of which will be two-and three-bedroom units. It will also provide community services and will have murals by local artists.

“Affordable housing development is new to community-based organizations and communities of color,” Ortega said. “When community-based organizations develop affordable housing and services, it creates stability for the organizations, communities, and other good things begin to happen.”

Estela Ortega is available for interviews.

About El Centro de la Raza

As an organization grounded in the Latino community of Washington State, it is the mission of El Centro de la Raza (The Center for People of All Races) to build the Beloved Community through unifying all racial and economic sectors; to organize, empower, and defend the basic human rights of our most vulnerable and marginalized populations; and to bring critical consciousness, justice, dignity, and equity to all the peoples of the world. We envision a world free of oppression based on poverty, racism, sexism, sexual orientation, and discrimination of any kind that limits equal access to the resources that ensure a healthy and productive life in peace, love and harmony for all peoples and our future generations. Learn more at

La Coperacha: September 2022

Our Navigation Program Team assists families by providing a variety of resources to meet their needs. If you can donate any of the items below, that will help our Navigators assemble basic needs kits ready for families in our Navigation Program who are facing housing uncertainty. Please see the list below or place orders via our Amazon List:

Ultimamente, nuestras familias se enfrentan con gran incertidumbre en encontrar alojamiento. Si puede donar algunos de los siguientes artículos, sería una tremenda ayuda!

Vea la lista aquí o en Amazon:

Our Navigation Program has about 20 families this month with the needs below.

Recibimos pedidos de 20 familias cada mes de los siguientes artículos.

The Navigation Team appreciates you and your efforts. Please contact Daniela Lizarraga for donation coordination at (206) 957-4647 or

Judge Vargas: Celebrating Latin@ Excellence & Compassion

Today, Judge Vargas oversees a department of over 110 employees, including attorneys, supervisors, investigators, social workers, paralegals, and legal assistants. She made sure the department made major changes to be able to continue to serve the public virtually during the pandemic. In fact, King County Court emerged as a national leader in adopting technology to maintain access to justice

Part of her success was logistical- she communicated internal changes as they unfolded with her teams. Another part of her success was cultural, according to her colleague, Judge Veronica Galván, who went to the same high school as Judge Vargas. She describes it as the belief that with effort, anything is possible. The work ethic that says, Echale ganas. Give it your all.

Judge Vargas gave it her all for 18 years as a public defender. She gravitated towards cases with families involved in the At-Risk Youth/CHINS/and Truancy system. She knew first-hand how people in under-resourced communities can fall through the cracks. These cracks were amplified during the pandemic, especially for families who already had less access to childcare support, healthcare or typical 9-5 jobs.

To Judge Galván, a critical factor to succeeding as women of color in a field where they are the minority is to occupy these paces as themselves. This also means bringing an enormous amount of compassion cultivated from seeing what can happen when under-resourced communities do not have support.

“Public defenders have to wade through the morass of allegations and find their humanity and come to face with your own [when you are doing the work of a public defender].” Many times they are working with clients on the worst days of their life, watching the consequences of personal trauma unfolding in the legal system.

We are grateful for the tireless work of bringing compassion to the justice system and celebrate the dedication and excellence of Latin@s like Judge Vargas and Judge Galván.