Recently, while on the campaign trail, I had a conversation with a retired federal worker in the city of SeaTac who has become homeless because the rent on his apartment increased almost 25%. While I was heartbroken by the specifics of this man’s story, I was also disappointed because his situation was entirely preventable if the current city council had taken more aggressive action to preserve and advocate for more affordable housing in our city.
In 2017, the City contracted with a private consulting firm to do a human services needs assessment. Through this project, residents identified safe and affordable housing as the number one priority for the city. The current council, however, rejected the consultants’ findings and has done nothing to preserve and develop affordable housing.
The retired worker I spoke with was just one example of a disturbing trend. We know that young families, seniors, immigrants, and the working class–communities that have already been pushed out of many other cities in King County–are increasingly finding it difficult to afford to live in SeaTac. We need to stop the displacement of working families and seniors by implementing robust renters’ protections in SeaTac. We also know, however, that affordable housing is a regional issue that goes beyond any one city. That is why it is inexcusable that the current city council passed up the opportunity to join South King Housing and Homelessness Partners, a new coalition of cities in South King County that are working together and sharing resources to preserve affordable housing and prevent homelessness. As a council member, I would push for SeaTac to join SKHHP.
Beyond safe and affordable housing, there are a range of other issues where the current council has failed the city’s residents. Picture these scenes: A mother is worried about letting her kids walk to school because there are not enough sidewalks in their neighborhood. Seniors fear walking to visit their neighbors because of cars speeding down the road. A family has trouble sleeping because of the increase in aircraft noise over their home. A small business owner wonders how she will continue to do business after being displaced.
These are all stories that I have heard while walking the campaign trail in SeaTac this year. And they are representative of issues that we can fix if we choose to focus on the needs of our residents, rather than the needs of large businesses.
We need to invest in things like sidewalk construction, which will make the city more livable while also making it safer and more attractive to families. The current council has planned sidewalk improvements on only four city blocks per year. As a council member, I would double that investment to eight blocks per year.
There is also a need to address growing safety concerns in our community. Slowing traffic down on our neighborhood streets will be one of my biggest priorities. We also need to build a bridge between our diverse community and first responders to foster positive relationships and build trust. I believe that by investing in community crime prevention programs we can greatly improve the safety of our neighborhoods.
I have heard from our neighbors that a couple of other resources in our community need more attention from the council as well. We have several beautiful, well-maintained parks and open spaces. We need to build on these by improving parks that have been overlooked for too long. We can also improve our relationships with the public schools in SeaTac. I have a daughter who just began kindergarten at Bow Lake Elementary School. As a council member, I commit to engaging in conversations with school district leadership and board members about how the city can be more supportive of all our schools.
Finally, despite the resources that the airport brings to our city, we also recognize the challenges that come with the airport’s significant growth in recent years. In my conversations with voters living under the SeaTac flight paths, I have heard repeatedly that people feel the need for strong advocacy on this issue. And while it is true that the city council has limited jurisdiction when it comes to many airport issues, the council can be a powerful advocate and ally, using its influence to work with the Port of Seattle and the Federal Aviation Administration on new noise reduction strategies for the airport. As a council member, I would do just that.
The City of SeaTac is a beautiful place. Home to almost 30,000 people, we have a wealth of resources in the diversity of our residents, including long-time renters, homeowners, and immigrants who came here seeking opportunity and wanting to contribute. We have the beginnings of a good public transportation system, with three light-rail stations. And we benefit from the energy and dynamism of the international airport that is our namesake.
And yet, if current trends continue, we risk leaving behind so many residents who contribute to our city’s richness. SeaTac is at a crossroads: with new leadership we can make sure that SeaTac leads the way in creating an equitable and inclusive city for all residents.
Takele Gobena is a candidate for SeaTac City Council (Position 5). Visit Takele Gobena’s website here.