Background to the Sunset Revitalization

Neighborhood Background

The Sunset Area is a 269-acre neighborhood with 2,689 residents, located in the City of Renton. The area is home to the former 100-unit Sunset Terrace distressed public housing project and hundreds of duplexes that were built for World War II defense workers. The Sunset Area has a 27 percent poverty rate and is substantially more diverse than Renton overall, with 51 percent of residents with English as their second language and 26 percent of residents Hispanic. The Sunset Area has an average household median income of $42,500, compared to the Renton’s average household median income of $65,223 and King County’s average household median income of $73,035. The boundaries of the area have been a special planning and revitalization zone for more than ten years.

The Sunset Area has a 6.6 percent unemployment rate. Many of the residents lack access to living-wage jobs and career advancement. The area also has twice the City’s average for violent crime and domestic violence.

While the Sunset Area has been identified as having some significant disparities compared with the rest of the City and County, there are existing assets that provide opportunities for residents such as an active business district that includes four grocery stores, diverse retailers, financial institutions, and childcare. The neighborhood also provides local bus services and a state highway that provides access to services and regional job centers. Public facilities in the Sunset neighborhood include the Renton Highlands Library, Sunset Neighborhood Park, Highlands Neighborhood Center and Park, and North Highlands Community Center and Park, plus Renton Technical College is located nearby.

How did we get here?

The Sunset Area of the Highlands has been a focus of the City since 2000 and has been a special planning and revitalization area for more than ten years. In 2005, the City hired a consultant to analyze the economics of revitalization of the Highlands neighborhood. The recommendations suggested that commercial improvements would not be viable without improvements in the surrounding neighborhood. 

Over the next three years, the City convened two community Task Forces, one on zoning and land use and one on neighborhood issues.  

From the efforts of the Highlands Phase I Task Force, zoning and land use changes were adopted in 2007 to increase density and investment opportunities in Sunset. Further, recommendation for an area wide Planned Action Environmental Impact Statement was also proposed, which was completed in 2011. Based on the recommendations of the Highlands Phase II Task Force, the City of Renton commissioned the creation of a Community Investment Strategy in order to maximize opportunities in current and future investments. 

In 2010-2011, the team created the Sunset Area Community Revitalization program with a number of planned public infrastructure and facility improvements to catalyze private property development and create opportunities for new market-rate housing, affordable housing, and retail investment 

In 2014 the City and Renton Housing Authority completed a Renton Community Needs Assessment with a special addendum focused on the Sunset Area. The City and Renton Housing Authority were joined by Neighborhood House and other community partners to use the Sunset Area Community Needs Assessment as the framework for planning additional neighborhood improvements and education and supportive services to better respond to resident and business needs in the Sunset Area.

Building on previous work, the Sunset Area Transformation Plan was developed using the U.S. Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Choice Neighborhoods Implementation (CNI) model whereby a struggling neighborhood with a distressed public housing project is transformed through comprehensive strategies designed to address housing, people, and neighborhood needs. The Sunset Area Transformation Plan was centered on the redevelopment of the former 100-unit Sunset Terrace public housing project located in the center of the Sunset Area as the foundation for the Sunset Area Transformation Plan.

In 2015 and 2016, the Renton team applied to HUD for a $25 million to $30 million CNI grant for implementation of the Sunset Area Transformation Plan. The CNI funds would help provide more affordable and market-rate housing, improve existing housing quality, create neighborhood improvements, and provide wrap-around community services with a well-planned and coordinated Sunset Area Transformation Plan that includes citizens, leaders, and stakeholders throughout and after the five-year CNI grant period.

The principal partners were the King County Housing Authority (the Lead Applicant and the Housing Implementation Lead), the City of Renton (a Co-Applicant and Neighborhood Implementation Lead), the Renton Housing Authority (a Co-Applicant), Neighborhood House (the People Implementation Lead), and the Renton School District (the Principal Education Entity). These principal partners were joined by 23 other community and regional partners for the 2016 Renton CNI application, providing a total of $171 million in contingent leverage for the Sunset Area Transformation Plan.

Although the Sunset Area Transformation Plan was selected as a finalist in 2015, the plan did not receive CNI funding in the national competition in either 2015 or 2016. Rather than give up, the principal  partners agreed to work with the other community and regional partners to continue with the implementation of the plan over time as resources and funding became available. Many of the key project of the plan have been completed or are underway, including the new Renton Highlands Library, the new Sunset Neighborhood Park, the realignment of Sunset Lane, and stormwater improvements through streetscape green connections.