Monday, 25 March, 2019

Conversation Moves Forward on How To Reduce Displacement in Seattle

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Violet Lavatai, Interim Executive Director of the Tenants Union of Washington State, speaks at True Hope Missionary Baptist Church. Councilmember Kshama Sawant held a rally against displacement at the church, which is located to the Chateau Apartments. Photo by author.

With Mandatory Housing Affordability in place in all urban villages, Seattleites are seeking additional answers for how to decrease displacement of low-income residents.

At the beginning of a recent “lunch & learn” session devoted to the topic of displacement at the City Council chamber, Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda joked that the meeting should have been titled “MHA: now what?”

The ink is barely dry on the legislation Mayor Jenny Durkan signed into law on authorizing citywide implementation of Mandatory Housing Affordability (MHA), but already local political figures and community advocates are clamoring over how to address the problem of displacement in Seattle.

According to the UC Berkley’s Urban Displacement Project, residential displacement is “the process by which a household is forced to move from its residence — or is prevented from moving into a neighborhood that was previously accessible to them — because of conditions beyond their control.”

Commercial displacement, in which small, often minority-owned businesses are forced to relocate or close operations, usually occurs alongside residential displacement.

Largely attributed to gentrification, displacement is attracting nationwide attention these days, with many metro areas, including Seattle, puzzling over how to prevent it from further harming residents and communities. The question of how to create opportunities for people to return to their historical neighborhoods, such as in the case of African Americans displaced from the Central District, is also part of the discussion.

Back in February, Mayor Durkan signed an Executive Order 2019-02 which instructed the City to take action to “increase [housing] affordability and decrease residential displacement.”

Since then Councilmember Lisa Herbold has introduced her Displacement Mitigation legislation and the City Council at large passed a companion resolution to the Mandatory Housing Affordability (MHA) bill calling for the City and its partners to “mitigate displacement and address challenges and opportunities raised by community members during the MHA public engagement process.”

Sunday Video: Why Safe Playgrounds Aren’t Great for Kids

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According to research, the sterile playgrounds that we have come to know may not be that great for children. In fact, less “safe” playgrounds may be a better avenue.

Consistency

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​Just a quick note of thanks today, as only he could say it~

“Listen. Listen,” he said to me.
“Please,” I answered.
“You got to stop!! You just about the biggest player I’ve EVER seen hustlin’ on the street! You a boss player leadin’ the future, man.”
I couldn’t help laughing at—with—his ebullient rush-roar of enthusiasm. “Naw dude, you know I’m just trying to be like you!”
“Hold up. Hold up.” Shaking his head. “No. You… BRINGIN’ that beautiful energy like I ain’t never seen. I don’t even know you but Iknow, I could tell you’s a good kind hearted man with a good soul. Don’t never change that, lil’ bro. No matter what they say, don’t never change that. Unless it’s about the money!! I’m just playin’. Really though. You got to keep it just like you been keepin’ it cause this is special. Ah wanna extend a happy New Year and best wishes to you and all of your family. What’s your name?”
“Nathan. And yours?”
“CJ.”
The firm handshake. The manshake, first to solar plexus afterwards, a thing we somehow knew, giving different voice to the same unstoppable seed. Love. 

He called it out again, and I heeded his call with the gladness and serious weight I would have ascribed the same command were it to come from the Gods of our ancestors, the artists we trust, the philosophers and sages of old, and I felt all their voices in his, now, a gravelly-throated grinning stranger not much different from myself:

​”Don’t change!”

Homeless Bill of Rights Fizzles Out This Session but Advocates Continue to Lay Groundwork

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Tents in Pioneer Square. (Photo by Doug Trumm)

As the affordability crisis in the Puget Sound region pushes more of our neighbors on the street, law makers and advocates continue to search for humane and cost effective ways to end unsheltered homelessness. House Bill 1591, the ‘Homelessness Bill of Rights’ works towards this goal, through protecting the basic constitutional rights of individuals with no alternative besides sleeping in public.

The text of the bill is straightforward — cities within Washington should stop criminalizing homelessness, allowing them to redirect funds spent on enforcement and incarceration towards investments in evidence-based practices for ending homelessness, such as supportive housing. This approach is based on multiple studies showing that the criminalization of homelessness is counterproductive, as well precedents from around the country and the world. Although so called ‘quality of life’ laws aimed at clearing our streets and plazas of public displays of poverty have recently grown in popularity, they are frequently challenged in court and often struck down as unconstitutional. HB 1591 thus builds upon current judicial decisions and helps protect Washington municipalities from potential lawsuits.

Despite these benefits, the bill has faced pushback. Reiterating the civil rights of those experiencing homelessness requires us to confront deeply seated social stigmas, and ask hard questions about what has forced hundreds of thousands of individuals to live in third world conditions in a region with one of the nation’s premier economic engines. This stirs fears in some that protecting those forced to live in public view could lead to safety and health concerns in these spaces. HB 1591 did not pass out of committee before the cutoff for legislation this session, and the coalition which authored the legislation is now examining how to incorporate thoughtful community outreach and best practices into the next draft.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Mia Gregerson (SeaTac-D), has seen the impact of the region’s affordability crisis for longer than most. As a native of SeaTac, she saw the impact of rising rents and stagnant wages in her largely working class district before more affluent neighborhoods to the north began to feel the pressures of displacement. When King County declared a homelessness state of emergency in 2015 she was already familiar with the human toll.  To address the crisis, Rep. Gregerson reached out to a diverse set of affordable housing and homelessness experts to ask what policies they felt would be most effective. Sara Rankin, a law professor and director of the Homelessness Rights Advocacy Project at Seattle University advocated for a “Homelessness Bill of Rights.”

New Library Levy Proposes Small Steps Forward for Access

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Last week, Seattle got a look at the proposed update to the Seattle Public Library’s capital and operations levy, replacing the one expiring this year. While the new levy proposal expands access, it should go even further.

The proposal is mostly a necessary continuation of vital programs offered by the Seattle Public Library: the expiring levy, approved in 2012 at $123 million over seven years, would need to increase to $167 million just to provide the same amount of services for 2020-2026. The mayor’s proposal would add an additional $45.9 million to fund a small set of additional operating and capital projects, or less than $7 million per year. That extra funding is getting devoted to a few different areas of focus.

Added Operating Hours

Currently several Seattle Public Library branches are closed on Fridays, one last vestige of an earlier period of austerity at the library. The levy would reopen the New Holly, Green Lake, Delridge, and Wallingford branches on Fridays.

Every library would get some hours boost–albeit small in some cases. (City of Seattle)

In addition, several branches have abbreviated hours compared to larger ones: South Park, International District, and High Point would see additional morning hours (some days those branches open at 1pm) and evening hours (some days they close at 6pm).

MASS Coalition Urges Transit Priority Along All of Third Avenue

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On Thursday morning, the Move All Seattle Sustainably (MASS) Coalition–which includes The Urbanist as a member–issued a statement urging the City of Seattle to extend Third Avenue bus lanes through Belltown. Currently, the bus lanes stop at Stewart Street. The call comes on the eve of the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel converting to rail-only operations to make way for the Washington State Convention Center Addition and light rail expansions to the Eastside, Northgate, and eventually Lynnwood, Federal Way, and beyond.

This operational change means more buses will move to highly congested Downtown surface streets during the Period of Maximum Constraint, or otherwise known as the Seattle Squeeze. MASS warned that this could spell trouble:

On Saturday, buses will permanently move out of the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel (DSTT) leading to 830 new bus trips on already crowded surface streets in Downtown Seattle. The city has made important improvements with the new 5th/6th Avenue bus lanes and implementation of all door boarding on 3rd Avenue. But given the need to further prioritize transit, today the MASS Coalition is calling on the City to extend bus priority on 3rd Avenue from Stewart Street to Denny Way. It works well south of Stewart, and should be extended the length of downtown.

Here is why: 3rd Avenue is the busiest bus corridor in the country. Even before coming additions from the DSTT, bus routes carrying more than 100,000 riders use 3rd Avenue every weekday between Stewart and Denny. Yet this section of 3rd Avenue still prioritizes single-occupant vehicles and parking–even though it carries only 7,300 cars a day. Slowing down the 100,000 commuters that use 3rd Avenue is needlessly costing their time and squandering King County Metro service hours.

This improvement may be the most impactful of the 20 specific bus priority projects that the MASS Coalition outlined in its plan for the Seattle Squeeze. By adopting this proposal, the City can demonstrate that it is prepared to continually improve city streets for transit over the five years of the Seattle Squeeze.

Several coalition members explained why they support this effort.

“For people working downtown who can’t afford downtown housing or parking, how about treating them like we really value their contribution to our city?” said Katie Wilson, General Secretary of the Transit Riders Union. “Bus riders deserve a fast ride into downtown.”

Mayor Durkan Signs into Law Mandatory Housing Affordability Rezoning 27 Urban Villages

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Mayor Jenny Durkan displays the signed bill to an enthusiastic crowd of supporters at Capitol Hill Housing. Photo by author.

The bills’ signage marks the end of a long fight by housing advocates to get affordability requirements enshrined in Seattle law.

Before a crowd of enthusiastic supporters, Mayor Jenny Durkan signed legislation authorizing “citywide” implementation of Mandatory Housing Affordability (MHA) into law yesterday March 20th, 2019. MHA changes zoning laws in Seattle’s 27 City-designated urban villages to allow for larger developments with more housing. It also requires that new development include rent-restricted affordable homes (ranging from 5% to 11% of units depending of the intensity of the upzone) or contribute to a City fund for affordable housing. The Seattle City Council passed the legislation unanimously on Monday.

The bill will take effect in thirty days.

Instead of Seattle City Hall, the signing ceremony was held at 12th Avenue Arts, an arts center and nonprofit housing development built by Capitol Hill Housing that offers 88 apartments affordable to working families.

One of the original residents of 12th Avenue Arts, a Russian immigrant whose fashion designer wife immigrated to the US from Korea, spoke of the importance of affordable housing for preserving Capitol Hill’s culture of creativity and diversity. “Here we have a lot of musicians, artists, and… writers,” he said. “All these people would not be living here without this building. The very reason why this area is interesting is because it attracts these people… without us, we would not have Capitol Hill.”

The importance of increasing both housing capacity and contributions to affordability in order to retain diversity in Seattle was also referenced by Mayor Durkan, who said:

We make sure we do what we need to do create a city that is welcoming, increases diversity, pays attention to racial diversity, focuses and is centered on community, and [MHA] is a big step forward for doing that. If we want to be an equitable city, that city of the future and opportunity, we have to make sure that all people are not just welcome here, but can live here.

Open House Kicks Off Station Area Planning for 130th and 145th Street Light Rail

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Councilmember Debora Juarez asks everyone to be on the same team during this process, in response to an attendee’s attempt to monopolize the introductions with a specific concern. (Photo by Laura Loe)

Light rail is coming to North Seattle and in transit-years, 2024 is just around the corner!

The City of Seattle’s Office of Planning and Community Development (OPCD) hosted an open house on March 13th at Ingraham High School in North Seattle. For two hours, the room was buzzing with discussion as residents imagined what they want the future to look like for the neighborhood.

The event was also attended by Councilmember Debora Juarez, Sound Transit, King County Metro, Seattle Department of Neighborhoods, Seattle Parks and Recreation, Seattle Office of Housing, and Seattle Department of Transportation representatives. Community members had opportunities to provide feedback about transit connections, sidewalks, future development and express concerns about parks and equity. There were more than one hundred people in attendance.

The term “station area” typically refers to the area around a station that is accessible within a ten-minute walk. On flat terrain, this roughly correlates to a half-mile walk. OPCD will also study a larger area to understand how the new stations can be accessible by bus, bike, people on wheels, and, of course, cars. (Credit: City of Seattle)