Meet the Capitol Hill Renter Initiative Leadership Committee!

In early spring, six neighborhood advocates were nominated and confirmed to join the first Leadership Committee for the Capitol Hill Renter Initiative. This vibrant group of renters come to their new roles with a diverse range of interests and lived experiences and share a united vision for creating a more sustainable and affordable Capitol Hill. Throughout the next year these leaders will provide guidance and strategic direction for CHRI advocacy, shaping our outreach efforts while affirming CHRI’s commitment to elevating the voice of renters’ in Capitol Hill.

As they grow into their role, this group of dedicated renter leaders will play a vital part in advocating for the vision, goals, and future of the Capitol Hill Renter Initiative, help us welcome them into their new roles!

Learn more about each of our new renter leaders:

Ryan (Jonesy) Jones

My name is Ryan Jones (Jonesy) and I have been living in Seattle just shy of two and a half years in the same Capitol Hill apartment.  Living in a micro-apartment has inspired me to better understand the issues surrounding this type of housing as well as other issues related to housing in Seattle.  I really believe in the work that CHRI does and I would be pleased to assist with the strategic direction of CHRI as well as work on some of its specific projects and efforts.  I have always been interested in environmental issues and I view housing, transportation, and planning as being integral to the ecological and social well-being of communities.

Austin Valeske

I’m a software engineer with Socrata, a civic tech company where we help government make data driven decisions and open data to the public. I spend the rest of my time fighting for transit justice, housing affordability, inclusive zoning, and racial justice by organizing with the Capitol Hill Renter’s Initiative, Seattle Tech Solidarity, and the Capitol Hill Neighborhood Action Coalition. Increasing density, access to opportunity, and access to transit is a fundamental piece of fighting climate change and reducing inequity in our city.

Myra Lara

I’m an architectural designer by day and cartoonist by night. I moved to Seattle in 2010 for the sole purpose of living sustainably, growing creatively, and fighting “the man” among like-minded people. My current priorities are housing affordability for all peoples (especially new multifamily affordable housing and re-legalizing the “missing middle” in single family zones), racial justice (learning about, acknowledging our complicity, and actively fixing our segregated cities – to especially have women of color as urban leaders), mass transit and neighborhood connectivity. I live on the hill because I live car-less, bike-full, and thrive on art, living near friends, and weirdness. I’ve been living in this neighborhood since 2010.

Zach Lubarsky

I’m Zach, a ~3-month Capitol Hill/First Hill resident. I lived in Belltown for 3 years, and New York State before that. I’m interested in zoning and how that interacts with community building and affordability. I’d love to give renters a bigger ear to our city wide and district politicians, city, county, and, state.

Noelle Symanski

As a Capitol Hill renter, I feel committed to the Capitol Hill Renter Initiative’s goal of addressing affordability and mobility challenges. Capitol Hill is a vibrant and diverse neighborhood, and I wish to support my community members in building a coalition that gives voice to renters from all backgrounds. I am particularly passionate about recruiting and affirming involvement of Capitol Hill residents that are not traditionally represented in neighborhood groups or state and local government processes.

 Andy Katz

After watching Capitol Hill grow and change over the eight years I’ve rented here, I now have the time to engage more actively with our community and to advocate on behalf of the renters who comprise the majority of Capitol Hill residents, including the most vulnerable and marginalized.  I’m most passionate about affordable housing and transit advocacy, and I’m excited to deepen my understanding of inclusionary land use initiatives like MHA upzones so we can build the best, most affordable, and most equitable Seattle possible.  If time and energy permit, I’d also like to explore connecting our renter livability work group with city and county efforts to address the homelessness and opioid addiction crisis, e.g. by creating supervised consumption sites.  I’m excited about the opportunity to meet and serve alongside my Capitol Hill neighbors.

Thank you to our renter leaders for your dedication and service to the community!

As we grow into 2017, it’s important for the Capitol Hill Renter Initiative to reflect the diverse interests of renters in Capitol Hill. This includes building a leadership structure that reflects the diversity of the neighborhood. We reserved at least one spot on the Leadership Committee for a renter living in subsidized affordable housing. We are also open to expanding membership to include diverse and intersectional perspectives. We encourage folks from all identities including people of color, and LGBTQ people, women, and renters from all ages and abilities to talk to us about joining the Leadership Committee. No need for previous experience, just an interest in taking on a leadership role and passion for renter advocacy. Contact for more details or if you have questions.  

Build Wisely, Protect the Environment, and Fight for the People

Last Friday, the Capitol Hill EcoDistrict hosted a conversation on climate mitigation and resilience, featuring a panel of local actors and activists committed to combatting the effects of climate change.  Susan Wickwire (Seattle 2030 District), Hodan Hasan (Got Green), Kelly Hall (Climate Solutions), and Edie Gilliss (City of Seattle Office of Sustainability and Environment) joined our steering committee and members of the public to share their perspectives on the work being done in the field, the impact on our region, and what we can do as a community to make a difference.

Much of what was shared was good news: while pulling out of the Paris Accords sent a strong message to the international community about the U.S.’s lack of commitment to combatting climate change, many local organizations had already been working beyond Paris’ admittedly modest goals, and more states and businesses have now felt compelled to step up to fill the gap left by the federal government. Agencies, departments, and organizations are also increasingly working together and sharing knowledge – understanding the interplay and interdependencies of much of their work and project goals.

We also discussed how climate change has/will affect the Seattle area directly.  Here in the Pacific Northwest, we will still see rising sea levels of up to two feet, an increase in temperatures and forest fires, and a dramatic decrease in air quality.  These effects will most heavily affect people already facing other challenges – those with limited financial resources, people of color, and other minorities feeling the push of displacement especially in the south Seattle region. To combat this, Hodan Hasan from Got Green, stressed the need for conscientious planning when addressing climate change mitigation and adaption strategies. For example, while an expanded and improved transportation and light rail system can decrease our carbon footprint and increase connectivity for a community, it can also contribute to displacement by making those same communities more desirable (read: expensive) places to live.

The general tone of the morning was that we are lucky to live in Seattle – a city with so many natural resources, with a progressive stance on climate change issues, and with a culture that so many people want to be a part of.  Yet as we grow, it is our responsibility to preserve these aspects of our city – to build wisely, to protect our environment, and to fight to keep Seattle a place where people of all incomes and backgrounds can thrive.

Local Conversation on Climate Change and Resilience

Today is a bad day for the US and the planet. Donald Trump just officially pulled us out of the Paris Climate Accord, an agreement 10 years in the making at the UN. We’re breaking faith with 194 other countries who signed the accord in 2015.

Only three nations have opted out of the Paris Climate Accord: Nicaragua, Syria, and now the United States. Of those three, guess which has the largest carbon footprint? Give up? Here’s a map that might help. It shows countries by carbon dioxide emissions in thousands of tons per annum, via the burning of fossil fuels (blue the highest and green the lowest).

There is a small group of optimists who believe Trump’s formal departure from the climate agreement may be better, or at least more honest than claiming to stay in the accord, which as Susan Matthews writes for Slate, “is largely a voluntary gentleman’s agreement.” As Matthews points out, “Trump has exhibited absolutely no gentlemanly interest in keeping the light promises America has made under the agreement, regardless of whether we pull out.” She suggests that the rest of the world might be less encumbered without America dragging everyone down by watering down and consistently failing to meet targets under the Paris agreement.

So, we can hope that the rest of the world stays on course and the departure of the world’s biggest cumulative carbon polluter doesn’t create an unraveling effect on the Paris agreement. Here at home, we will need to rely on forces outside the DC Beltway (and those disruptive heroes still embedded in federal agencies) to push toward carbon sanity.

Fortunately, there are many smart people in the public, private and nonprofit sectors who remain committed to work at various scales and across sectors to move our economies towards lower carbon emissions and adapt to the changes (e.g. higher temperatures, bigger storms) that are already here or coming. We’ll have a few of these smart people on hand next Friday for a discussion of what WE can do as an urban community to help pick up Trump’s slack on addressing climate change.

The Capitol Hill EcoDistrict Steering Committee will host a small forum on climate mitigation and resilience with panelists from the University of Washington, City of Seattle (OSE), Got Green and the Seattle 2030 District. EcoDistrict staff will outline the strategies we’re currently working on and host a conversation about what else we could and should be doing and how YOU and others can help. We’ll also discuss a pledge from the EcoDistrict to address climate resilience as central to its purpose going forward.

We invite you to join the conversation. Here are the details:

June 9: 9-10:30am, Pike Pine Room, 12th Avenue Arts

Please RSVP on Facebook: We’ll host as many people as we can fit in the community room at 12th Avenue Arts.

A Convention Center Redo for the People

With a $1.6 billion price tag, the Washington State Convention Center (WSCC) addition will be the single largest real estate development in Seattle history — more costly than Safeco Field and CenturyLink Field combined. This project is to be built on public land, by a public agency and financed with tax dollars. As a city, that means we have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to invest in what the community needs most: public open spaces, safe routes for people walking and biking, and homes affordable to working families.

In February, the convention center proposed a package of public benefits in exchange for repurposing 1.28 acres of aboveground and underground streets and alleyways owned by the public. The package of benefits is supposed to be proportional with what the WSCC is asking the public to give up as well as the permanent impacts of the project.

It doesn’t even come close.

The expansion will forever transform a part of our city center. The project will result in years of construction, require the permanent removal of public rights of way and contribute to our housing shortage by adding thousands of low-wage jobs to Seattle. We ask that these challenges be acknowledged and be treated as opportunities to address our city’s most pressing needs head on.

A group of nine community organizations has come together to speak with a unified voice for an alternative to the convention center’s benefit proposal: The Community Package. It represents up to $86 million of investments in projects with meaningful and lasting benefits for our city.

The Community Package creates new parks and open spaces in our dense city center. It makes this highly trafficked area safer for people walking and biking in the neighborhood. It mitigates, rather than worsens, our housing shortage by helping build 300 affordable homes for working families.

In total, the Community Package includes investments in 11 projects. It includes safety improvements for people walking and biking in the Pike-Pine corridor and around the Interstate 5 interchanges. It also includes an expansion of Plymouth Pillars Park with a small lid over I-5 and funding for a feasibility study to explore lidding other parts of the freeway in the future. It creates new people-friendly public spaces on First Hill and in the Denny Triangle while improving existing spaces like Freeway Park to make them safer and more accessible. Critically, the package includes funding to construct affordable housing close to the expansion to ensure families of all backgrounds can enjoy these investments.

The Community Package puts the public on the path to a fair deal. It matches the scale of what the WSCC is asking the public to give up, and is comparable to other benefits packages for recent large, multi-block developments.

More importantly, the investments are interrelated and ensure that the expansion will improve the surrounding neighborhoods, and help the area remain livable as we welcome the many new visitors, staff and traffic the project will bring.

The convention center project team has stated admirable principles: benefiting the city at-large, creating rich mixed-use neighborhoods and strengthening our urban framework. The Community Package offers exactly the type of community-identified projects that get the expansion closer to its own stated objectives.

We want to see our downtown businesses and hospitality industry succeed. We also want to ensure the convention center provides a public benefits package that reflects the massive impact this project will have on our city. With the Community Package, we have a chance to demonstrate how developers and civic projects can build a legacy of positive, long-term improvements in Seattle’s central neighborhoods.

With the next meeting of the Seattle Design Commission set for April 20, the convention center has plenty of time to revise its initial proposal. This is the beginning, not the end, of a conversation with the public. The Community Package should be the starting point for the design commission and City Council in further discussions of proposed benefits.

At the February design commission meeting, an official representing the project remarked that when it came to community benefits, the convention center didn’t want to “spread the peanut butter too thin.” Perhaps it’s time to add more peanut butter.


This piece was originally published in the Seattle Times Opinion Section, 10 April 2017. It was written by McCaela Daffern, Sustainability Manager at Capitol Hill Housing; Alex Hudson, Director of First Hill Improvement Association; and Blake Trask, Senior Policy Director at Cascade Bicycle Club.  Click here to read the full article.


Learn more about the Community Package

Do Small Businesses Also Need a Renters’ Commission?

The City Council Affordable Housing, Neighborhoods, and Finance Committee voted yesterday to move legislation to create the nation’s first Renters’ Commission. The legislation will go to the full City Council for consideration on Monday, March 20th.

During Committee discussion, members expressed excitement for the new Renters’ Commission and discussed another group that might similarly benefit from direct engagement with City Hall. CM Johnson pointed out that, like households that rent, commercial tenants face a high risk of displacement by rising costs.

CM Herbold suggested revitalizing the Economic Development Commission (EDC), which was decommissioned about nine months ago, to represent the interests of small businesses operating out of rented space. This would represent a major shift from the past incarnation of the EDC, whose former roster was dominated by multinationals, venture capitalists, big institutions and property interests, including Amazon, the Port of Seattle, 360° Hotel Group, the University of Washington and the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce.

According to former EDC member and Columbia City developer Rob Mohn, the EDC focused on how to keep Seattle economically competitive by addressing broad issues like quality of life, education attainment, work readiness, and the built environment. His focus was on the City planning process and believes EDC findings and recommendations informed last year’s restructuring of Seattle’s planning office into its current two departments.

When asked if the EDC addressed issues of commercial affordability for small businesses, Mohn responded, “No, not at all. That wasn’t on our radar.”

Mohn, who serves on the board of the Columbia City Business Improvement Area and participates in the Columbia City Business Association, wonders how the City can help struggling businesses short of providing subsidies to help with rent.

Last year, Mayor Murray empaneled a Commercial Affordability Advisory Committee to address this very question. Following the Committee’s September 2016 recommendations, the Mayor delivered his Commercial Affordability Action Plan, which involves earmarking Community Development Block Grant dollars for technical assistance, tenant improvements to commercial spaces, and microbusiness loans. The Mayor didn’t establish a means for small business renters to provide ongoing consultation to the City on their emerging issues.

It’s not entirely clear why the Mayor disbanded the EDC. Re-organizing it to address the needs of commercial renters is an idea worth exploring. Healthy small businesses, as well as nonprofit organizations who tend to rent commercial space, are an essential part of what makes neighborhoods like Capitol Hill livable.

Renters’ Commission Will Be Good for Seattle Neighborhoods

Last month, affordable housing developer Mercy Housing completed a large new building with a total of 108 1-, 2- and 3-bedroom apartments, a block from my home. I live with my wife and daughter in a small single family home in the Othello neighborhood of the Rainier Valley. We’re close to a light rail station and our block is part of a proposed expansion and upzone of the Othello Urban Village. Not all of my neighbors are happy about the Mercy Housing project or the development of more apartment buildings expected to follow. Some people worry about losing the parking in front of their homes. Others argue that renters don’t take care of things as well as owners, that they are transient. Others think that owners and long-time residents have earned a louder voice in the decisions affecting our block. After all, they have more at stake.

Thankfully, not all of my neighbors feel this way. Some recognize that “folks have to live somewhere” and buying a home is out of reach for most of the people they know. In fact, half the 2,100 applications to live in the affordable units at the Mercy Housing buildings are from our neighborhood. At a recent community meeting, I even heard some of my neighbors advocate for a bigger expansion of the urban village. Some locals know that renters can be great neighbors, just as some property owners can be assholes.

Renter households now outnumber homeowner households across the City, and as with Seattle homeowners, “Seattle renters” comprise a large and diverse group. They are families and individuals, professionals and students, queer and straight, young and old, white and people of color, low and middle income, long-time renters and people saving to buy a first home. They live in studios, 1-, 2- and 3-bedroom apartments, single family homes, townhomes, dormitories, mother-in-law apartments, SROs and aPodments. Groups of roommates share space while some individuals live alone either by choice or circumstance.

The Capitol Hill Renter Initiative (CHRI) was started a year ago to engage local members of this diverse group to advocate for things renters seem to universally want, the very same things I wanted 20 years ago when I rented a little studio on Fremont Ave: affordability, mobility (i.e walkability, bikeability, transit access), public safety, and access to nearby amenities and necessities, like groceries and green space. Green space is critical, since most renters don’t have a backyard to relax in, garden, raise chickens or barbecue ribs.

The renters engaged in the CHRI are motivated, insightful community leaders who care deeply about the neighborhood and care deeply about keeping it livable for the many residents who want to live in a dense urban setting. They are the opposite of the stereotypes some owners like to throw out as arguments against empowering renters to affect local and municipal governance. CHRI members show up to testify for affordability and livability legislation, they show up to support greenways and protected bike lanes, they show up to advocate for better transit access, they show up for green space.

Last week, City Councilmembers Burgess, O’Brien and Herbold announced their plan to introduce legislation that will form the first Renters’ Commission in the country. It will address development and affordability issues, as well as transportation, open space, education, and public health. This bodes well for Seattle’s neighborhoods and should be welcomed by all of Seattle’s renters and owners. Through the CHRI, we have found that with a bit of education, coordination and encouragement, renters can be motivated, insightful and effective advocates for the very things that make Capitol Hill, and all of Seattle, great.

This post originally appeared on the Capitol Hill Seattle Blog, 2 March 2017.

In the News: Convention Center Expansion

In case you missed it, the Convention Center expansion was the subject of last week’s Community Post over on the Capitol Hill Seattle Blog.

Our Sustainability Manager and Planning Director look at the affects of the project and lay out the case for investing $57 million in affordable homes for WSCC workers: “We are in the midst of a housing shortage. We can no longer afford to boast how many jobs a project will bring to our city without thoughtful consideration of where these new workers will live.”

Read more over on the Blog, or follow the link here.

Housing Justice Movie Night

The Capitol Hill Renter Initiative is excited to be partnering with Latino LGBTQ nonprofit Entre Hermanos for a Housing Justice Movie Night to raise awareness for diverse affordable housing options in Seattle. The team is also proud to have a growing list of co-sponsors signed on including Futurewise, CASA Latina, Three Dollar Bill Cinema, LGBTQ Allyship, and Sierra Club Washington State Chapter! Representatives from each of these organizations will be in attendance to share what they are working on and how renters can get involved.

This movie night will feature the 2006 award-winning drama Quinceañera. The film’s story line centers around a young Latina teenager, growing up in LA’s Echo Park neighborhood, who finds herself pregnant and kicked out of her home before her 15th birthday, forcing her to move in with her great grand uncle. She is joined by her cousin who has been kicked out of his house for coming out as gay. Under the roof of a small backyard cottage, they each face their own challenges and find support in one another. Through these personal stories Quinceañera tackles issues of affordability, gentrification, and tenants’ rights, all major challenges facing Seattle today.

This event was created in response to the recent decision by the Seattle hearing examiner to indefinitely delay an ordinance that would make it easier for homeowners to build backyard cottages (legally called Detached Accessory Dwelling Units or DADUs) like the home the main characters share in the movie. The hearing examiner decision came after a legal challenge by the Queen Anne Community Council, a neighborhood group that hired attorneys in order to delay these low cost housing options from coming to their neighborhood.

After the film, representatives from each organization will lead a discussion on the how renters can address the issues highlighted in Quinceañera including how to take action on backyard cottages and other housing justice campaigns!

The event will be held on Wednesday, February 8th at 7pm at Northwest Film Forum (1515 12th Ave). There is suggested donation of $3 to help cover costs. However, this is a free event and everyone (ages 18+) are welcome.

“Buy” your free ticket to reserve a seat here: or RSVP on the Facebook event page here

Where will the new Convention Center workers live? Behind the numbers.

As our region booms, we are adding far more jobs than housing units. From 2010 to 2015, Seattle added 49 jobs, but only 12 homes per day.

Our city and region is particularly behind on providing housing for people who make 50% of the median income or less, people like hotel desk clerks who average $12.32 per hour. The Washington State Convention Center projects that their new expansion will create 2,300 jobs in the hospitality industry downtown. As our country continues to climb out of the Great Recession, we need more jobs.

Unfortunately, many of these jobs will not pay enough to afford low wage workers the opportunity to live in Seattle. When these workers and their families cannot afford housing near work, they are forced to endure long commutes, commutes that add to traffic congestion, hurt our environment, and take away time from family and community. Luckily, the Convention Center can do something about this by providing affordable housing as a public benefit.

Based on data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics for our region, and on similar findings for recent downtown Seattle hotel projects, we expect that 60% of the jobs created by the Convention Center expansion will make less than 50% of area median income (AMI). Thanks to the income of other family members, only half of the workers making 50% of AMI or less live in households that fall below 50%. We assume that some of these workers will have a roommate, partner or children, with an average household size of 1.33 people.

This combination of figures leads us to a simple equation for calculating the need for affordable housing (50% of AMI) created by the expansion:

2,300 × 0.6 × 0.5 / 1.33 = 519 affordable homes needed

It costs about $110,000 in local subsidy to create one home that will remain affordable for at least 50 years. So, 519 homes multiplied by $110,000 results in about $57 million in needed funding.

WSCC Addition


Capitol Hill Arts District: An answer to Displacement?

Capitol Hill Arts District: An answer to Displacement?

Photo:  OneReel Execuitve Director Chris Weber shares his feelings at the closing parting for V2, a temporary arts space on Capitol Hill (December 8,2016)

When neighborhood community groups and artists started the Capitol Hill Arts District, we thought of it as a tool to promote the arts on Capitol Hill and strengthen an arts ecosystem which has organically formed on Pike and Pine.

The last two years have shown that we are really working on an anti-displacement strategy.   In a neighborhood where so many arts organizations rent, their future on the hill is only as secure as the number of years (or months) left on their lease.

How do we keep the soul of the neighborhood when so many businesses and buildings are changing and space for the arts is becoming unaffordable?  The solution needs to be large investments to create new space and safely preserve what we already have.

A recent (albeit small) survey showed alignment about the greatest need.  The top three priorities named by artists: affordable homes, affordable studio space, and racial equity.

As rents continue to rise in Seattle, artists are more dependent than ever on older buildings. Often, the older buildings in the neighborhood are more affordable, and so it’s no surprise that they are homes to most Capitol Hill arts organizations.  Most of these are well loved homes, with character and rawness newer buildings have trouble matching.

The Ghost Ship warehouse fire in Oakland demonstrates the risk in relying on under resourced spaces for the arts. Make no mistake: it’s rising rents that led to the Ghost Ship fire.  Artists without an affordable place to live or work are often driven underground, and into unregulated dangerous spaces.

The response to the tragedy of 36 lives lost in Oakland cannot be a witch hunt to close down arts spaces not in compliance with every regulation.   Thankfully, the city has already shown strong leadership in a more collaborative solution, one that works with artists. “I am born and raised in Oakland,” said Mayor Libby Schaaf. “I can’t tell you what a personal commitment I have to preserving and lifting up that unique and creative energy that makes Oakland, Oakland.”

Though in the works well before the fire, this week’s announcement about deeper investments in Oakland arts spaces is a model response that Seattle should consider.  The City of Oakland is working with local funders to create long-term solutions for affordable art space.  Seattle would be wise to further invest in anti-displacement and public safety initiatives in the arts.  Be they shiny new concert halls, or old warehouses, spaces that have city investments and proper funding are going to be safer, more secure homes for artists and audiences.

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