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How the Market Foundation is Combatting the Affordability Crisis

Posted November 17, 2023

The raise in social security did not match overall inflation, the COVID extra food stamps are now gone. Food prices are WAY higher than pre-COVID. – Market resident  

As income inequality skyrockets to unprecedented levels in our region, it is clear that Seattle’s boomtown prosperity past and present has not been spread equally. While a select group has benefitted from rapid growth and profit, historically marginalized neighborhoods have been destabilized by unemployment, lack of affordable housing and food insecurity. “Rents citywide have increased greatly, it’s very challenging on a fixed income, expressed another Market resident. 

Inflation is also severely impacting the cost of housing and basic needs – which disproportionately harms our downtown neighbors on low and fixed incomes. Although the Pike Place Market has no doubt faced these external pressures, there is something decidedly different, and successful, about our neighborhood’s approach to addressing these gaps.

Protecting the People who Make the Market
Pike Place Market has long been a haven for the working class and those living on low incomes, beginning with the sailors, loggers, and itinerant laborers in its boomtown days, and later senior residents finding affordable permanent residency in single room occupancy hotels around the neighborhood.  

“This is one of my favorite places in all of the United States of America,” said Joe Martin, housing advocate and Pike Market Medical Clinic social worker for nearly 45 years. “It’s a thriving sea of humanity out here. Working class people are essential to the fabric of the Market, and this is the only public Market in the country to mandate housing and services for them.”  

When the Market was saved from the wrecking ball in 1972, the Market’s governing charter committed to expanding low-income housing and services for senior residents who were vital to the Market’s unique community. Today, the Market is home to hundreds of residents living on low incomes, artisans pursuing their passion and a livelihood, farmers carrying on generational legacy, and community members contributing to the health and vitality of their downtown neighborhood – despite the rising cost of living downtown. 

Market resident Ken Crawford chatting with housing advocate and clinic social worker, Joe Martin. 

Our Healthy Community Model

Based on our model for a healthy community, the Pike Place Market Foundation has developed a comprehensive approach to address these challenges. Within this model, we work with service partners to promote the Social Determinants of Health: non-medical factors that affect our health and well-being.   

Financial stability greatly affects peoples’ health, because when we do not have the income to meet our basic needs, we may experience unstable housing situations, food insecurity, lack of medical care, and chronic stress. On the other hand, when barriers to economic stability are reduced or eliminated, our neighbors are able to meet their basic needs, focus on care to support their health, and overall improve their lives. 

A Comprehensive Approach 

Our program staff at The Market Commons are distinct in that their approach is fully comprehensive, proactive, and based on building trusted relationships. While numerous programs in Seattle offer rent and bill pay assistance, navigating them is often inaccessible, exhausting, and time-intensive for individuals in crisis. The Market Foundation’s unique model provides continuous support, guiding individuals through the entire process. The Commons’ two resource navigators serve as advocates, helping clients access resources, navigate applications, and develop sustainable solutions tailored to their specific needs.  

“You know, I’ve been to a lot of social service agencies and none are as comprehensive as The Commons,” said one Market resident. “And who smiles when they go to an agency? Who has this much fun? This place really works.” 

Mason Lowe, Deputy Director of the Pike Market Senior Center and Food Bank, and Velma Chaney, The Market Commons Resource Manager. Staff at The Market Commons work hand-in-hand with Market service agencies to provide wraparound support for our community. 

The Market Foundation’s Programs 

As part of our commitment to removing barriers to economic stability, the Market Foundation facilitates the Market Community Safety Net, a fund available to people working, living or accessing community services in Pike Place Market, who are facing a sudden financial crisis and need support to regain stability. Unlike many other programs that require last-stop eligibility, like an eviction notice to qualify for funds, this safety net operates proactively to anticipate financial challenges before they become insurmountable.  

“This program helps you get ahead of the current crisis not only to make sure you can make rent that month, but make sure you can pay rent going forward,” says Crystal Dixon, Director of Strategic Impact. “Our process triages and recognizes that people can have a lot of shame and often don’t share until it’s way too late. That’s where the trust and relationship building is important, we can get a sense of their full situation so we can anticipate other issues that may arise.” 


“Mother of the Market” Sharon Shaw combined forces with the Market Foundation to found The Market Community Safety Net in 2013. A Market crafter and community advocate for 35 years, she actively raised funds for the Safety Net up until the day she passed away on May 2nd. Read Sharon’s story and hear her call to support her Market family. 

The Market Foundation also promotes economic stability through the Small Business Fund, which was launched during the COVID-19 pandemic and offers recovery and investments in small farms and micro-businesses.  

 “My biggest fear was how to keep up with the rising cost of seeds, bulbs, and rootstocks and have produce to keep my business going this season,” said one Market farmer. “The funding definitely helped me offset my expenses and instead of trying to figure which flowers to stop buying, I am able to continue and buy my regular flowers and add more variety with the hope to expand my business.” 

“Responding to the needs of small businesses is important to the overall health of the Market community,” explains Crystal. “If someone’s livelihood is dependent on their business, an emergency will impact their personal finance.”  

Both the Safety Net and Small Business Fund are unique in that the outreach is crafted to fit the individualized needs of Market community members: those working shift to shift, seniors on fixed and low incomes, and others who might otherwise fall through the gaps in a one-size-fits-all approach.  

“Both of these programs evolved from Market community pass-the-hat efforts,” said Crystal. “Now, instead of responding at the end of the emergency, we’ve built a sophisticated approach that allows us to build outreach, get upstream of the crisis, and help with the emotional toll as well as the financial toll,” says Crystal.  


Xee Yang-Schell used a grant from the Small Business Fund to offset costs of tulip bulbs, eucalyptus, and seeds to grow flowers for her signature dried bouquets. “I’m so grateful for the help, it’s huge for many of these very small farms,” says Xee. “We have a lot of challenges, but every little bright spot helps. Things like that make us feel like we do matter, that we are an important part of the Market.”  

A Call for Collective Effort 

In the face of growing economic inequality, Pike Place Market Foundation’s model for a healthy community has proven to be not just effective, but essential.  

“It allowed us to respond nimbly to the COVID-19 pandemic, and is continuing to inform our program staff’s response to neighbors facing rising housing costs and inflation,” says Crystal.  

Fifty years ago, Seattle voted to save the Market and safeguard it as a place for working-class residents, artists, small business owners and seniors who make it “the Soul of Seattle”. Today, the Market Foundation is prepared to help fulfill this promise and respond to increasing inequities, but we need everyone’s help to support the neighborhood we love.  

“With inflation and other mounting pressures, we are ready to respond to these emerging needs and fill in the gaps,” emphasizes Crystal. “Our model for a healthy community will continue to guide us to ensure that we people have access to food, education, safe housing, and the social context to remain supported.”  

For over 100 years this Market has belonged to the people, a testament to the intentional vision of those who have fought to preserve it as an accessible and affordable place for all. By breaking down economic barriers in our neighborhood, we can help pave the way for a more equitable future at Pike Place Market now and for the generations to come. 

Join us today in promoting economic stability for our community members! 


Thank you to our sponsors  Delta Air Lines and tms for supporting economic stability in our neighborhood!



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