Plan rendering of the EcoTHRIVE Burien Pilot Village. Multiple buildings next to each other.


EcoTHRIVE: A Conversation with Denise Henrikson, Co-Founder

Rushing’s Sustainability Studio recently had the privilege of interviewing Denise Henrikson, co-founder of EcoTHRIVE Housing. EcoTHRIVE is a community-led community land trust (CLT) that focuses on developing small private homes co-owned by residents through a limited equity cooperative (LEC). Denise shared with us the inspiring story behind the Burien Village, a cooperative that will be comprised of 27 ecoCottages, each with its own kitchen and bath, and a common house and playground, all nestled in a lush landscape of native and edible plants.

Plan rendering of the EcoTHRIVE Burien Pilot Village. Multiple buildings next to each other.

Burien Village Pilot rendering courtesy of EcoTHRIVE.

Uncovering EcoTHRIVE’s Mission and Impact

We began our conversation with Denise by delving into the inspiration behind founding EcoTHRIVE and how its mission evolved to address the pressing issues of affordable housing. Denise highlighted the staggering increase in homelessness from 2016 to the present, emphasizing the urgent need for innovative solutions that serve to fill the gap in the continuum of attainable, financially stable housing, especially at the lower rungs of the economic ladder. EcoTHRIVE’s journey started with engaging communities in Seattle, including many people experiencing homelessness, through art and dialogue, focusing on understanding what individuals need to thrive and what they value. Susan Russell, co-founder of EcoTHRIVE, emphasized the importance of listening to people’s experiences and ideas to foster shared humanity in communities. This grassroots approach, coupled with learning from organizations like Facing Homelessness, Solid Ground, and SquareOne Villages in Eugene, Oregon laid the foundation for EcoTHRIVE’s mission.

In 2017, EcoTHRIVE collaborated with the NW EcoBuilding Guild for a Design Charette. Each design team included someone who had experienced homelessness. The resulting vision emphasized private bathrooms, community gardens, beauty, and connections to nature. All of these elements are incorporated into the pilot village EcoTHRIVE is developing in Burien. In addition to this co-created vision, this collaborative approach laid the groundwork for EcoTHRIVE’s mission, vision, bylaws, and business plan.

Overcoming Challenges in Affordable Housing

Denise shared insights into the challenges EcoTHRIVE has encountered while researching various affordable housing models and developing their own, including zoning complexities and funding hurdles. To navigate zoning challenges, EcoTHRIVE actively engaged with the Burien City Council and leveraged provisions for innovative housing projects in the City of Burien’s Comprehensive Plan. This proactive approach led to approvals with minimal community resistance.

Bridging the gap between development costs and affordability requires fundraising for the one-time capital subsidy that ensures long-term affordability for generations. Over 90% of public funding supports a rental model, which exacerbates income inequality. However, EcoTHRIVE has a steadfast commitment to their vision of permanently affordable homeownership.  Once EcoTHRIVE’s vision for the Burien Village comes to fruition, it will demonstrate a cost-effective permanently affordable alternative to renting, which will help fill some of the gaps in the affordable housing market.

Integrating Sustainability for Community Impact

Sustainability is at the core of EcoTHRIVE’s work. Denise elaborated on how sustainability principles are integrated into their housing solutions, through enacting the concept of #Thrutopia – creating a pathway from an extractive/individualist culture and systems towards a new culture and way of life that centers on sustainability and community resiliency. The plan for the Burien Village embodies this through an emphasis on cooperative, low-carbon lifestyles and incorporating features such as passive solar strategies, edible landscaping, energy-efficient features, and amenities like a shared EV charging station, play areas, and community gathering spaces. These initiatives align with various criteria from the Evergreen Sustainable Development Standard, reflecting EcoTHRIVE’s commitment to environmentally conscious practices.

Future Goals and Aspirations

Looking ahead, EcoTHRIVE envisions expanding its model of LEC villages, emphasizing community engagement and sustainable development. Their goal is to create communities that are not just created for people but actively engage them in the process, fostering sustainability, beauty, and cultural richness.

Book Recommendation from Denise

Denise recommends “Prosocial: Using Evolutionary Science to Build Productive, Equitable, and Collaborative Groups” for its insights into fostering productive and equitable collaborations.