Taking back the neighborhood


It’s been several years since a dead dog was found in one of the garbage cans near Carrie Hamby’s home.

The memories are still there, but things are improving in the Westway neighborhood, said Hamby, 49.

Hamby bought a home in Federal Way’s Westway neighborhood 27 years ago. It wasn’t such a bad neighborhood at the time, she said. Mostly, Boeing employees lived there.

Slowly though, things grew sour.

Crime rates soared in the neighborhood. Hamby watched constant traffic go in and out of known drug houses. It was widely known that illegal dog-fighting was going on. Many of the neighbors owned pit bulls — and sometimes the dogs wound up bloodied and dead in garbage cans.

Hamby watched the house behind hers burn down about six years ago. Rumors circulated that the fire was a result of a drug deal gone bad. One person died in the flames.

Drug dealers, gangsters and known felons ruled the neighborhood, Hamby said. She recalls driving down the street toward home and being stuck when they refused to get out of her path.

Many of the neighbors simply hid in their houses, held hostage in a neighborhood overridden with crime. Children in the neighborhood were doing poorly in school.

Then, in 2002, city and community leaders decided to take action. They formed the Build the Bridge Community Coalition. Police set up a substation at the entrance to the neighborhood and began to weed out the bad apples that were ruining the neighborhood. AmeriCorps crews set up after-school programs for the children. City crews installed lights in darkened streets, prompting criminals to go elsewhere.

Habitat for Humanity got on board with a goal to end substandard housing in the Westway neighborhood. The community was selected because of a high crime rate in the neighborhood at the time, and homeowners brought in very low income, said Diane Gallegos, associate director of Habitat for Humanity.

“There were just a number of issues,” Gallegos said. “It was a neighborhood that was really in a distressed situation.”

Thirty-six of the 136 homes in the neighborhood will be renovated under Habitat for Humanity’s plan. The homes renovated are occupied by the homeowners. So far, 10 houses have received minor repairs and two houses are undergoing major rehabs.

Habitat is also working with landlords in the neighborhood to connect them with resources to make needed renovations.

Hamby is one of the happy homeowners to see her home rebuilt with help from Habitat for Humanity. On Saturday, she began to move back into her home with assistance from volunteers from Brooklake Community Church.

For six months, Hamby’s home underwent transformation. Habitat for Humanity volunteers tore the house down to the frame and did major renovations. They rebuilt the roof and the front entry. They built storage units out front and added windows to make it brighter and increase air circulation. They landscaped the backyard, reframed the interior and expanded the kitchen.

Hamby put in hundreds of hours helping the cause.

“It’s still unreal to me. It doesn’t look like my house at all,” said Hamby, who lives in the home with her 25-year-old daughter. “It’s really exciting. They did a great job.”

Hamby said in the past few years, things have really begun to improve in the Westway neighborhood.

Remodeling homes will help decrease crime because residents will feel more pride in their neighborhood and be encouraged to work to keep it beautiful, Gallegos said.

“I would say that the Westway neighborhood is a model for other communities,” she said. “It’s this community taking their neighborhood back.”

Contact Margo Horner: or (253) 925-5565.

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