Jorge Marrero leaves a legacy of friendship, affordable housing

The longtime Seattle resident left his estate to the Housing Trust Fund

Jorge Marrero on a day trip to Deception Pass with friends Brionie Williams and Carol Zizzo. (Photo courtesy of Carol Zizzo.)

In the heart of Beacon Hill, plans have been quietly brewing for a new chapter at El Centro de la Raza. The community organization, known for its commitment to civil rights, human services and affordable housing, had envisioned an innovative project next door to its campus. They didn’t realize it at the start of this journey, but they were about to receive an unexpected boost.

With blueprints ready and excitement growing, the one thing they weren’t accounting for was a generous donation of $850,000 from the estate of Jorge Marrero, which they were awarded earlier this year after Marrero’s death. The extra money breathed a little more life into their plans for a new affordable living facility — and marked a historic moment for the Housing Trust Fund (HTF), as the first estate contribution in many decades. The money was earmarked to support affordable housing in the city that had embraced him.

Jorge Marrero was a longtime resident of Seattle and an immigrant. His story began in a familiar way. Born in Uruguay, he grew up alongside three siblings before leaving to chase the American dream at 19 years old. It’s what came at the end of his life — a donation of his estate to affordable housing — that would make this story unique.

Carving out a legacy

He first immigrated to California, then moved north to Seattle to establish himself in a city he’d grow to love deeply. He built a successful career at Washington Natural Gas, owned two homes in Green Lake, and invested in the Seattle community. He was involved in every election and was passionate about the importance of voting. He advocated for public transportation, low-income housing, and access to resources. All these layers built a foundation for where his legacy would one day live.

Jorge’s lifelong friend Carol Zizzo said he wanted to be known as a good friend towards the end of his life. “It was very important to him. That’s the thing he most talked about. ‘I’m a good friend, aren’t I? I want to be known as a good friend,’ ” she said.

Jorge died unexpectedly in 2022. He was in his early 70s. Today, it’s not a question if he was a good friend; now, we know that his dedication to being a good friend goes beyond personal relationships and to the legacy he left behind.

Carol was his executor, and she played a role in the decision-making, alongside Commerce, on where exactly Jorge’s hard-earned funds would go. Several projects that needed funding were proposed, but ultimately El Centro de la Raza was selected to receive of Jorge’s funds. Carol felt that El Centro was most representative of the things Jorge cared about: access to community resources and services to immigrants coming from Latin America.

Transforming the funds into affordable living

Established in 1986, HTF is a program funded by the state to support affordable housing initiatives. It acts as a conduit for Commerce to gather resources, which are then invested in community-based affordable housing projects. HTF provides financial support through loans and grants, with funding decisions made through competitive application cycles.

“We’re just thrilled about receiving a contribution from the estate of Jorge Marrero,” said Nate Lichti, managing director of the Multifamily Housing Unit. “His lifetime and commitment to affordable housing and the health and well-being of the community here in Seattle is just tangible.”

Estela Ortega, the executive director of El Centro de la Raza, was elated to learn it was selected — and touched that the donation came from a Latino man. She felt “very special and very lucky” to have been selected for the generous contribution, she said.

Jorge’s funds will go toward a project El Centro already had in the works. The organization is building a new affordable housing facility with 84 one- and two-bedroom units.

Rendering of the Beacon Ave project Jorge’s funds will go towards. (Photo courtesy of El Centro de la Raza.)

Estela said she sees people of all ages, all races, and all walks of life being able to live there, and in particular seniors. She said it will be home to people the organization already serves.

“El Centro is an anchor in the community — a huge anchor for civil rights, human services, and affordable housing. So, all the stars align to make this one the perfect project for the estate,” Nate said.

Jorge’s key to unlocking personal connection and success

Jorge Marrero and his longtime friend, Carol Zizzo. (Photo courtesy of Carol Zizzo.)

Jorge was “always a happy face and friendly disposition,” said Myriam Mann of her late brother.

The sentiment echoed through the stories of the people who were fortunate enough to grow close to Jorge in his lifetime.

He also took pride in his work, no matter the status of it. He often recounted this story of his early years as an immigrant, when he worked as a janitor, to his friend Carol: “I cleaned the offices and rooms as if I owned the building. I figured if I was going to clean, I was doing to do it with integrity and do it well.”

Carol said this was symbolic of how he approached most things in his life. His happy face and friendly disposition became a bridge with his connections, and his zealous approach to his passions and responsibilities led to his success.

Looking back, Carol believes Jorge would be happy to know his hard-earned money is making a positive impact with El Centro de la Raza.

“He had a super happy, welcoming face and an enthusiasm to talk to just about anyone who wanted to have a conversation. So, I think this community environment and what happens here is very aligned with what he most cared about,” she said.

The smile that laid the foundation for their lifelong friendship is now an essence she sees resonating within the walls of the organization’s building.

El Centro is committed to ensuring their project stands as a lasting tribute to Jorge. His legacy will serve as an homage to finding personal success as an immigrant, and the profound gift of extending that success to future generations.

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Washington State Department of Commerce

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