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Thawing the Seattle Freeze from a Ballard apartment building

When residents of the Odin Apartments go looking for fun, they don’t have to look far.

That’s because Stephanie Carrillo, who manages the 301-unit Ballard building, makes it her business to put on monthly events that get her tenants together. Like the Catalina Wine Mixer in September, complete with chair massages, wine tasting, and an acupuncturist. Or “Dogtoberfest,” an event for tenants and their pets that featured a costume contest, a photo booth, and partnerships with Mud Bay, Sunset Hill Veterinary, and Seattle Fetch Club. They brought the doggie treats.

People talk about how there’s no sense of community in their [apartment] buildings,” Stephanie said. “Not in the buildings I manage.”

The Catalina Wine Mixer — a reference to the movie Step Brothers, if you’re wondering — was a hit among residents of the Odin Apartments in Ballard, which opened in August 2015. (Photo by Stephanie Carrillo)

 

Stephanie’s company, Equity Residential, named her its Seattle property manager of the year last year in part for the effort she puts into organizing creative events for her tenants. She does it for a couple reasons. One, it’s good business.

“It’s harder to move when you’re friends with each other,” she said.

But Stephanie mainly gets her tenants together, she said, because it’s just good.

Before she managed the Odin Apartments, which opened in August 2015, Stephanie spent six years at the Uwajimaya Apartments in the International District. Two people who met at an event she organized there ended up sharing a house together.

They’re going to have a lifelong friendship, and I did that,” Stephanie said. “That brings me an enormous amount of joy.”

Stephanie is going to talk about the monthly events she puts on for her building residents — and the philosophy she brings to community building overall — at Town Hall Seattle on Thursday, when she takes the stage to give one of 16 five-minute talks at Ignite Seattle.

She’s also going to talk about that thing that sometimes seems to get in the way of people building meaningful relationships here: the Seattle Freeze.

How you define the Seattle Freeze depends on your experience. But essentially, it’s when someone you’ve met tells you they’d love to get together, but never follows through. And it seems typically “Seattle” to people because, well, Seattle people are nice. And sometimes when you’re nice, you’re not always honest.

“I think the Freeze is legit when people just let themselves consume themselves — they let themselves be consumed by their day-to-day,” Stephanie said. “I don’t think we do it intentionally. I think we’re just busy.”

Her advice to thaw the Freeze? Say yes to invitations. Start conversations. And don’t be afraid to be bold.

Some years ago Stephanie saw a woman sitting by herself at a barbecue. She started talking to her, then invited her out to dinner with friends. Now the woman, who had just moved here from Chicago, is one of Stephanie’s closest friends.

The Seattle Freeze aside, Stephanie doesn’t just want to connect tenants to each other, but to their city. Her company, Equity Residential, operates 34 apartment buildings in the Seattle area. Some of them are new, and part of the boom that’s making some locals uneasy about how fast the city’s changing. Stephanie looks for ways to involve local businesses in the building’s social events, and organizes some charity drives for tenants.

“My building’s a very expensive community to live in,” Stephanie said. People have disposable income, “and that income should go back into our neighborhood.”

Stephanie is a member of the board of the Ballard Alliance, and is getting to know a lot of people in the neighborhood herself.

“My company really just pays me to build relationships with people,” she said. “I love that I have a platform to get people together just to do life together.”

By Mónica Guzmán
Mónica is the cofounder and editor of The Evergrey. She's been a Seattle journalist for a decade and adores this city.