Affordable housing, diversity are draws to White Center

White Center. Not so centered ... not so white! That's what the bumper sticker says.

Given that it is one of the most diverse Seattle neighborhoods — 51 percent white, with Asian-Pacific Islanders and Hispanic/Latino the next largest populations — the joke is fairly obvious.

Shop in White Center — roughly between Highway 509 and Southwest 35th Avenue and between Southwest Roxbury and Southwest 128th streets — and you see it. There's the El Salvadoran bakery, with its leche-stuffed turnovers and lovely fruit-topped cakes.

There are carnicerías and Asian markets that sell fresh seafood as cheap as any in town.

Prudential real-estate agent Jeff Davies says it's typically first-time buyers and investors, followed by Asian families, that shop for houses in the neighborhood. With the 2005 median home price of $239,000, it's no surprise the neighborhood is attracting a new crowd.

"We always said, 'Not White Center,' when we were looking," Krista Peterson said. "But now we love it."

The couple stumbled on their place in 2004 while checking out a list of houses under $200,000. It had a big backyard (6,000 square feet) and was move-in ready.

Now they can't stop naming the things they love about the neighborhood. There's Pacific Rim Brewing, which lets you bring in takeout from the taco cart across the street. There's McLendon, the hardware store that has everything from individual Christmas bulbs to lumber and sales people who actually give advice.

Why were Peterson and her husband, Brian Woodward, initially reluctant to consider White Center?

The commercial district is still a bit rough.

"Think of downtown White Center, and you see why some people say what they say about it," Peterson said. "I grew up with my mom calling it Rat City."

How White Center got that nickname is debatable.

Sara Wysocki, economic-development manager for the White Center Community Development Association, says the name "Rat City" came about during World War II when the Army had a recruiting and training (RAT) center in the neighborhood.

Others think it's because Seattle was a Restricted Alcohol Territory during World War II, but unincorporated White Center is said to have had more lenient liquor laws.

The neighborhood offers some enticing home prices.

Residents in White Center and surrounding affected neighborhoods — known together as North Highline — soon will have to decide whether to be annexed into Seattle or Burien or become a new city.

The North Highline Unincorporated Area Council NHUAC — an organization conducting studies on the issue — has recommended annexation into Burien. Burien must first determine whether it will extend an annexation invitation. If that happens, White Center residents could vote on the issue as early as November.

White Center

This neighborhood in Southwest Seattle is racially and ethnically diverse.

Population: 20,975

Racial/ethnic breakdown: White non-Hispanic, 51.4 percent; Hispanic, 12; Vietnamese, 10.4; black, 6.4; multiracial, 6; other Asian, 5.6; American Indian, 3.6; Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander, 2.6; Filipino, 2.3; Chinese, 1.1; Korean, 0.9 (Hispanics could be counted in other races)

Schools: White Center is served by the Highline School District.

Housing: Of the 7,775 households, 55.9 percent are owner-occupied, 44.1 percent are renter-occupied.

Public facilities: White Center Park, White Center Community Center, Mel Olson Stadium

Staff researcher Miyoko Wolf