Seattle & King County, Washington


Excerpt from Lessons for Leaders:

Two housing authorities in King County and Seattle worked to promote cross-cultural exchange among residents and addressed necessary social and cultural factors that influence behavior, such as traditional prohibitions of Muslim women to exercise in front of men.

For more information, read the full story.

November 2013

Seattle and the rest of King County, WA, are home to an increasing number of immigrants from a wide range of countries. This is especially true in the low-income neighborhoods at the center of the Healthy Kids, Healthy Communities (HKHC) project.

As part of their HKHC initiative, the King County Housing Authority (KCHA), in partnership with the Seattle Housing Authority (SHA) and King County Health Department, focused on improving policies and systems that support healthy eating and active living for children in four public housing sites (Birch Creek, Greenbridge, High Point and NewHolly).

Incredibly diverse populations live at these sites. At one, for example, more than half of the 1,100 residents are 18 years old or younger. Nearly half of the families do not speak English at home, with Somali, Vietnamese, Russian/Ukrainian and Cambodian as the most prevalent languages.

The HKHC partnership’s goal was to link public housing residents, housing authorities and community organizations to build new social and physical environments that promote healthy lifestyles and combat childhood obesity. One of the housing authorities’ greatest strengths is its partnership with on-site, community-based organizations. These service providers have established rapport and trust with residents and have in-house staff who provide language and cultural interpretation.

Despite the challenges of highly diverse cultures and geography (two are urban, one is suburban and one is in an unincorporated part of King County), the HKHC partnership leveraged lessons learned from individual sites for the good of the whole and had significant results.

Key accomplishments include:

  • More than 70 community garden plots were developed and/or supported through environmental and policy changes at KCHA’s two sites. Resident youth now garden together, and a garden mentor program supports new gardeners of all ages.
  • 3,000 residents of High Point now have access to healthy food within walking distance because a local Walgreens store, which now sells fresh produce, and a mini-market, which now carries halal food, responded to strong resident advocacy.
  • Healthy vending options dramatically improved now that SHA requires a minimum of 50% healthy vending snacks and beverage in all its sites, serving families living in more than 5,000 low-income public housing units.
  • KCHA developed and implemented childcare physical activity and nutrition guidelines, now written into after-school youth provider contracts and agreements with in-home childcare providers. SHA also adopted them for use in their summer youth programs, and a toolkit was developed to support the expansion and successful implementation of these policies in other family home childcare settings.
  • Physical activity options also improved when a new on-site fitness center opened at Greenbridge in a mixed-retail space. Also, with a grant from KaBOOM! and the Windermere Foundation, more than 600 children have a new playground in their neighborhood at High Point’s Bataan Park.

The work of the HKHC partnership has rippled far beyond the four housing developments. “The Board of Health passed a resolution on vending guidelines for all of King County,” said Joyce Tseng, co-project coordinator for HKHC, who testified before the board on the need for strong vending policies.

“And KCHA institutional practices have been formalized, recognizing the link between housing and health,” said Elizabeth Westburg, co-project coordinator for HKHC.  “They adopted a resolution to consider factors that influence resident health, such as access to foods, parks and transportation, when developing or acquiring housing properties,” she explained.

Seattle & King County, Washington