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Profiles in Privilege

The Covid-19 pandemic has brought many other issues to the forefront, particularly “Racial Equity” and its corollary, White Privilege.

Leschi is a model community in many respects with a diverse history and unsurpassed “lakeside village” ambience. But it also demonstrates how hard it will be to meet the Founding Fathers’ aspiration to achieve an “ever-more perfect union.”

The online real estate site Zillow currently shows only a handful of homes for sale in Leschi. I thought I’d found a bargain at $500,000—but that was an empty lot.

The principal culprit? SF5000.

Leschi, along with its neighbors Madrona and Mt Baker, is largely zoned SF5000-Single Family homes on a lot of at least 5,000 sq ft. The new Accessory Dwelling Unit regulations ease this constraint marginally, but the minimum lot size is unchanged—and your new “backyard cottage” may well cost you around $250,000 by the time you’ve met all the code requirements.

Covid-19 plays a role too: As part of the Federal Covid-19 Relief efforts, interest rates have been driven down to historic lows—and folks are spending much more time at home. If they work for Amazon, Microsoft or any of the other local tech companies who have seen their share prices climb rapidly, then there may also be big (share option) bucks to spend.

So, after a brief pause, Seattle home prices are on the rise again.

Which brings us back to half a million dollars—a lot for a Lot.

A million dollars and up for a family home in a nice neighborhood is a lot too. There may be lots of folks (many newly arrived) in Seattle who can get a million-dollar mortgage, but they’ll often come from a different background—racial, financial and educational. That may be good for some models of diversity, but as Ira Gershwin wrote for brother George’s opera Porgy & Bess, “It Ain’t Necessarily So.”

So, if you’re interested in your “Privilege Profile” here’s a simple test:

  • How long have you lived in Leschi?

  • How much more is your home worth than when you bought it?

  • Who do you see when you look in the bathroom mirror?

  • What do you see when you look out the window? (nice yard? lake view?)

  • Which vehicle are you and your neighbors more likely to own: A Tesla or a truck? (if you own both—maybe a Prius too?—ignore the other questions!)

If you’d like to share your privilege, “affordable housing” is a good place to start. But that inevitably means SF5000 must go. “Preserving the character of the neighborhood” is a worthy objective—but if it effectively means excluding folks of modest means, then we need to figure how to make this objective less obstructive.

~Malcolm Harker

(local resident for almost 30 years and mostly a cyclist—though Sarah sometimes lets me borrow her Mini if it’s raining)


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