How Renton’s effort to support the military developed a neighborhood worth revitalizing

Renton Sunset Neighborhood was founded as the community ramped up industrial WWII efforts.

The story of Renton and the history of the community is one that is inextricably linked to the military, veterans and some of the nation’s best efforts to defend freedom and liberty here and abroad.

Some of Renton’s neighborhoods were shaped and developed during WWII, as our country gathered its best industrial efforts to fight tyranny abroad.

The Sunset Area neighborhood was established as publicly funded worker housing enacted by the Lanham National Housing for Defense Act in 1940. That Act allowed local communities to use federal funds to build public housing and other community facilities for use by defense workers and laid the foundation for the development of housing authorities across the nation, according to the Renton Housing Authority.

A year later, in 1941 as the United States prepared for its entry into World War II, the construction of planes and tanks became a national priority with the City of Renton playing a large role. The Boeing Airplane Company began building more planes than ever before – helping the city grow with it, according to the Renton Housing Authority.

That year, Boeing built a new production facility to house its assembly of the B-29 bomber that would be used throughout the war. Additionally, Renton’s PACCAR Company was contracted to build the Sherman M4-R1 tank. This boom in war-time production brought to Renton an influx of middle and low-income workers, according to the Renton Housing Authority.

In the 1950s most of these affordable units, many of which stand today, were sold to the defense personnel for whom the housing was constructed.

Established just East of I-405, the Sunset Area emerged as publicly funded worker housing to support World War II efforts and grew to include multi-family housing, schools, shopping areas, and civic buildings.

For several decades the Sunset Area was a stable neighborhood, but over time homeownership declined, housing maintenance was deferred, social support systems decreased while environmental problems and crime increased, according to the Renton Housing Authority.

Today, that area is being revitalized, with mindfulness around the neighborhood’s original purpose and character.

In 2006, the city took the first steps in the Sunset Area Revitalization Program by engaging a Zoning Task Force which reworked policies and zoning to create an urban village of mixed income, mixed use housing in a compact, walkable neighborhood. A task force in 2008 furthered the growth vision for the neighborhood with recommendations that included a distinctive neighborhood that would combine parks and recreational facilities, a library, commercial space, and affordable housing.

That vision is coming to fruition today with several affordable housing projects built and more under construction, all centered around the new Renton Highlands Library freshly renovated park.

One of Renton’s newest affordable housing projects, Sunset Oaks, consists of 50 units, with Studios, 1-bedroom and 2-bedroom units, and ADA units from 400-900 square-feet. Just down the street from that is Sunset Gardens, which will include 76 units of varying kinds of affordable housing.

The Solera project, also under construction in the neighborhood, will be comprised of 96 attached townhomes and 590 rental apartments, in addition to 29,500 square-feet of commercial space and 9,000 square-feet dedicated to childcare. About 275 of the 590 units will have rental limits to meet the community’s housing affordability needs.