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How gentrification is turning Skyway into a "church mecca"

Gabriel Spitzer
Pastors Carolyn and Maynard Sophor, of New Birth Ministries in Skyway.

This story originally aired on May 19, 2018.  

The rising cost of Seattle real estate isn’t just affecting housing: it’s also bearing down on houses of worship.

The tide of rising rents and gentrification has pushed a string of churches out of Seattle neighborhoods such as the Central District and West Seattle. And that’s had an interesting side effect in nearby Skyway, wedged between Seattle and Renton.

“This is church mecca,” says Carolyn Sophor, co-pastor of New Birth Ministries. She points out storefronts just a stone’s throw from their front door: The former dollar store now hosts at least two churches. Three meet in what used to be the grocery store.

There’s an old dentist office for sale, which Sophor says is being advertised as a great spot for a church.

According to the civic organization Skyway Solutions, there are 42 churches in this area of about 16,000 people.

“This is the last frontier,” Sophor says. “Everything’s been priced out of Seattle … This is King County, unincorporated. They’ve got a lot of these buildings that are vacant, and so churches come here and they rent.”

The movement of churches, many of which serve primarily African American and Latino members, parallels the movements of the population.

“You must understand that many people don’t live in Seattle anymore, especially people of color,” says Dr. Maynard Sophor, Carolyn’s husband and co-pastor. 

“When we moved here there were still quite a few African Americans living in the Central District,” Carolyn Sophor says. “So this seemed so far out. Now, I mean, this is close in.”

Gabriel Spitzer is a former KNKX reporter, producer and host who covered science and health and worked on the show Sound Effect.