Worries of gentrification as first ever luxury high-rise breaks ground in Chinatown-International District

SEATTLE - It’s a first of its kind project for one Seattle neighborhood and it's causing a stir: A luxury high rise condominium will be built in the Chinatown-International District.

People who are concerned about gentrification and a lack of low-income housing protested on Thursday. The two sides were separated by a fence.

Koda Condominiums will be built at the corner of Main and 5th Ave S where a parking lot now sits.

The 17 story high-rise will bring 201 luxury units by 2020.

“We are going to stand and fight back,” Jacqueline Wu with the Chinatown-International District Coalition said.

But for the people behind the project it means new opportunities.

“It’s really a neighborhood that has had a lack of development in the last 20, 30 years. This is a good opportunity for us to put investment back into the community and really help bring it forward to compete with other areas and neighborhoods,” Executive VP of Dali Development USA Thomas Doig said.

Doig says they chose to build condos instead of apartments so people can invest and buy into the area.

After 11 public meetings and years of planning Dali broke ground on Thursday.

“In the last two years we’ve been working with the city of Seattle and the International Special Review District to solicit input, exactly the same people who are here today, and we have incorporated their input into the design of the building,” Doig said.

Doig says the development will come with retail space.

The celebration inside the fence was matched by anger outside.

“We are anticipating in the last 5 years about 7 to 10 high rise luxury developments with no affordable housing,” Wu said.

Wu says 69% of the residents in Chinatown-International District are elderly and many of them low income like Liu Yu-Qiong.

Liu says her monthly income is about $700. She lives in subsidized housing paying $200 for rent and $400 for food.

“With these new luxury developments that’s going up I see gentrification, I see displacement,” Liu said.

Liu worries her cost of living will go up with Koda condo units selling between $450,000 to $1.2 million.

It’s a sharp contrast to the building right next door.

“This building is 100% low income,” Real Estate Development Director of Interim CDA Leslie Morishita said.

Morishita, a developer herself, is behind the low-income housing next door.

“They can better respect the culture and history of this neighborhood,” Morishita said.

“Our company certainly respects that and what we try to do is incorporate our project into the history,” Doig said.

Doig says they gave $4 million to the City of Seattle to invest in affordable housing but opponents are not sold, worried about the bigger picture of what’s to come.