These were the words uttered by Professor Henry McGee describing the demographic changes in Seattle at a recent meeting of the Seattle Neighborhood Coalition. He said two words describe Seattle: wealthy and white. He has studied both Portland and Seattle and found that black communities are a bellweather. He cited the Central District as an example; it was once a segregated black community, but as younger well-to-do groups lost their fear of blacks and wanted convenience (proximity to work and to urban amenities), they looked for housing that met their needs regardless of segregation status. The Black community was moving southward for a number of reasons: the younger generation wanted more house for the money and what they felt were better schools. The older generation followed as the community changed and they no longer felt a part of it. The new center of the black community is in Renton, Kent and Tukwila.
Professor McGee’s talk came after the HALA (Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda) presentation, but seemed to belong before it. McGee spoke of the lower incomes being forced out of the city and the HALA approach seemed designed to alleviate that….slowly.
Geoffrey Wentlandt represented the Office of Planning & Development. He listed the identified problems: 4,000 persons go without any shelter at all; 45,000 pay over half their income for shelter, and the average rent for a 1-bedroom apartment has increased 29% over the last 5 years.
HALA’s overall goal is to build 50,000 new units of housing: 20,000 for lower incomes and 30,000 market rate units. Developers will be allowed to build an extra floor if they include 5-7% affordable units or pay into a fund, which serves to finance a lower income building. There was some push-back from the audience as including affordable units would be faster than waiting for the fund to pay for an additional building.
While Wentlandt did not go over all the strategies, he did focus on the supports that would be offered to current renters or seekers of units:
Preservation Tax Exemption: incentives to preserve existing affordable housing.
Strengthening Tenant Protections: Ban any increase of rent for apartment with any substandard issues and require 60 days notice if there is a planned increase of over 10%.
Expand source of income discrimination protections (such as Section 8 vouchers, child support income, SSI).
Concerns were expressed during the Q & A period: no focus on families with children, no focus on neighborhoods, some concern about make-up of the HALA group and one person said there should be a goal that enables those who work in the city, to live in the city. This struck home with me; I feel strongly that our teachers, firefighters, police staff, baristas, grocery clerks, etc. should be living in the neighborhoods where they work. I also felt the percentages for affordable units were very low; at the rate of 5-7% for affordable housing, we’ll be facing the same issues in another 10 years, as we are now with homelessness. That percentage is just too low!