Questions asked by Building Ambassadors at the #RenterSummit

questions at SummitAt yesterday’s Renter Summit, small groups were asked to prepare questions for the civic leaders on the afternoon Q&A panel. Serving on the panel were House Speaker Frank Chopp, 43rd District Senator Jamie Pedersen, King County Metro Deputy General Manager Victor Obeso, Seattle District 3 Councilmember Kshama Sawant, and Seattle District 4 Councilmember Rob Johnson.

Here are the questions renters submitted:

ON RENTER EMPOWERMENT

Councilmembers Johnson and Sawant: do you support the creation of a City-wide Renter’s Commission?

ON MOBILITY

  1. What can we do to increase late night transit?
  2. How can we make transit more accessible to kids and families?
  3. How are we incorporating safety for vulnerable populations in plans to expand transit?
  4. Why are we not moving forward with a parking benefit district?
  5. How do we improve last-leg connections for those who don’t live directly near the main transit lines?
  6. Can we make transit passes free or low cost for all people, especially workers and students?
  7. How can we make Metro friendlier, less expensive and easier to use for families, especially single mothers with children?
  8. Where does the money from zoned [RPZ] parking go?
  9. How can we better involve women and minority owned contractors in transit development?
  10. How is King County Metro/Sound Transit working with the City of Seattle and WSDOT to get transit priority improvements on the street?
  11. What are we waiting on to get buses out of traffic?
  12. There have been 2 bike fatalities this week. How can we accelerate the creation of protected bike lanes?*
  13. How much money are we spending on fare collecting and enforcement? Could we better use these funds for transit access and affordability?*

Q&AON AFFORDABILITY

  1. What is the top priority in Olympia for moving HALA forward? Does Frank Chopp support the MHA-R program in HALA?
  2. Why do we have zoning that limits building heights and requires parking?
  3. Can we consider a vacancy tax to disincentivize sitting on overpriced or investment rental units?
  4. Why are urban villages being forced to absorb all of the City’s growth?
  5. When can we talk about the dominance of single family housing in Seattle again?
  6. How can we incentivize the development of unused land?
  7. What does the City do to protect renters from retaliation by landlords?
  8. How can we increase accountability for landlords re: ethics and standards?
  9. Are there non-subsidized solutions?
  10. When are you going to be brave and bold enough to give inter-sexed people the safe affordable house we deserve?
  11. Can the Council implement a capital gains tax that eliminates property speculation?
  12. What are the plans to curb economic displacement due to transit oriented development in Seattle?
  13. What happens when a tenant no longer qualifies for the Housing and Essential Needs (HEN) Program? What is tenant to do in regards to rent payment?
  14. What’s being done to prevent landlords from requiring applicants to have incomes 3x the rent?
  15. Is there a way for renters to apply to new housing before it’s built?
  16. What new forms of public revenue can be made to build more affordable housing quickly? (e.g. land tax, foreign investment tax, parking tax)*
  17. How can we cap/change the laws around rent increases with lease renewals?*
  18. Frank Chopp: We feel a preservation tax exemption would be great for affordability. What would it take to get your support?*

*Question asked of the panel at the #RenterSummit.

Little Collective Creates Whimsical Stormwater Parklet for Park(ing) Day

IMG_1510Whimsical stormwater sounds like a contradiction in terms – but somehow this past weekend it was a reality, thanks to Park(ing) Day Plus+ and the imaginations of four environmentally-minded landscape designers. Extended to a two-day affair in Seattle this year, Park(ing) Day is an international event that temporarily reclaims street parking areas for pop-up “parklets” in the name of creative placemaking, community health and urban design.

The Little Collective’s modular mobile rain garden camped for two days in the street parking area in front of the 12th Avenue Arts building on Capitol Hill. The garden consists of a series of raised boxes, filled with compost and plants, through which simulated “rainwater” flows (generated by pedaling on a stationary bicycle!). The water is then cleaned as it passes through the biofilter base layer of the garden. Moreover, the plant life of the rain garden offers upstream habitat to important pollinators like bees.

Talks at the parklet site about local stormwater projects clarified our rainwater problem. Christin Hilton of the Nature Conservancy explained that urban stormwater is the #1 polluter of the Puget Sound. When rain flows through the streets and into the storm drains, it draws hydrocarbons, sediment, trash, fecal coliform, heavy metals and other nasty stuff with it. This is bad news for downstream organisms like salmon. Regarding Seattle’s iconic rain, Christin observed: “What makes our city so beautiful and lush is also a problem for us because of all of our impermeable urban surfaces.”

IMG_1506Designer Hilary Ratliff explained that the modular rain garden is an interim intervention and a prototype. In the next phase of their mobile rain garden design, they want it to pick up storm water directly from the street, taking the garden a step beyond simulation and making it functional. The long-term goal would be to permanently integrate bioretention facilities into the streetscape. In the meantime, the modular version offers a means to raise awareness, educate, and above all, to dream. As Hilary put it: “Streets aren’t just for cars – they’re about possibility.”

The trick, then, is to ensure that creative placemaking isn’t something we relegate to one (or two) days a year. What kinds of permanent change might a mobile rain garden inspire? Or a streetside tool library, a tea party on the curb, a public board game station, or any other of the fifty pop-up parklets we saw at this year’s Park(ing) Day? These streets are your streets. How would you like to use them?

Capitol Hill Renters (and Homeowners) Are Like No Other

Seattle Times Renter Owner

Back in August, the Seattle Times created this nice little infographic comparing renters and homeowners in Seattle.  The big takeaways weren’t too surprising.  Overall, renters in Seattle make less money, have smaller households, and live in smaller places.  They are more likely to be young, more likely to be people of color, more likely to have moved recently, and less likely to own a car than Seattle homeowners.

But what about Capitol Hill, where 80% of residents are renters? We broke down the numbers, and the comparisons are fascinating.

 

Owning vs Renting Capitol Hill

          Data for Capitol Hill owners and renters from 2010-2014 ACS

Capitol Hill residents are slightly less wealthy than Seattle overall, and that’s true for both renters and homeowners.  The gap between owners and renters on Capitol Hill is still significant however; the median household income of a renter on Capitol Hill is about $57,000 less than that of someone who owns.

Capitol Hill is also much younger. That’s partly because we have lots of renters and renters trend younger citywide. Our renters are also younger than other Seattle renters; 60% of renters on Capitol Hill are under age 35. The same holds true for our homeowners – nearly twice as many are under 35 compared to Seattle homeowners at large.

When it comes to transit, the differences are stark. 43% of Capitol Hill renters do not own a car, well above the 29% of renters city-wide that forgo a vehicle. Both of those are still light years beyond the 4% of homeowners in Seattle who have given up their car. Living in a dense, transit-rich neighborhood seems to make the difference. 15% of homeowners on Capitol Hill don’t own a car.

We also move less often—a lot less often.  When you don’t breakdown households by tenure (renter/owner) it looks like people on Capitol Hill move a lot.  56% of renters moved into their unit in 2010 or later (but it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re new to the neighborhood). Renters on Capitol Hill are actually far less likely to have moved recently than renters elsewhere. The same is true for homeowners on Capitol Hill.  Only 4% of Capitol Hill homeowners moved into their place in 2010 or later.

Capitol Hill homeowners have much smaller households sizes and smaller homes than their counterparts throughout the city (condos outnumber craftsman bungalows), dramatically closing the big differences between owners and renters we see at the city level. The racial gap is smaller as well.  Capitol Hill has similar racial demographics to Seattle as a whole.  Renters here are more white than renters elsewhere, and homeowners here are less white than homeowners elsewhere.

What does all of this mean for Capitol Hill? It’s an important reminder that the experience of renting on Capitol Hill is a unique one with its own set of challenges and circumstances. And when we talk about the future of Capitol Hill we should be talking about how it affects our renter majority.

This data gives us an idea of that, but numbers only tell a fraction of the story. To hear from renters directly and engage in deeper conversation about what these numbers mean, come out this Saturday for the first-ever Capitol Hill Renter Summit. Join other renters from the neighborhood along with the Mayor and other local officials in a day dedicated to building the voice and power of renters. The program starts at 11:30 at Miller Community Center. We have over 100 renters signed up, but there’s still room for more! Register beforehand at bit.ly/RenterSummit

Tap ORCA Here: When Transit and Housing Access Collide

It's great, I can't ride my bike everywhere_web

“It’s great, I can’t ride my bike everywhere.”

 

Transit Access Is An Equity Issue

After housing, transportation is the second highest cost for most people.  The Center for Neighborhood Technology estimates that households in the Puget Sound Region spend about 19 percent of their income on transportation.  Living in a central, walkable, transit-rich neighborhood like Capitol Hill can help households save a lot on transportation expenses by driving less or not even owning a car – one of the reasons that Capitol Hill Housing believes it is so important to provide affordable housing in neighborhoods like Capitol Hill. However, for many low income people, the regular cost of using transit is still unaffordable.

In 2014, we surveyed over 300 Capitol Hill households about their transit expenses.  We found that while 42 percent of households in market rate buildings had all or part of their transit passes paid for by their employer and school, only 16 percent of households in affordable housing received similar help paying for transit. We wanted to change this for our residents.  An opportunity came when we learned about King County Metro’s new Multi-Family Passport program that allows property managers to offer the same subsidy and discounts as employers.  Unfortunately, we didn’t have the money to contribute our share to the subsidy.  Luckily, SDOT agreed to step in and cover those costs in 3 buildings as a pilot project.

"We love the light rail and the streetcar and go more places than you would think."

“We love the light rail and the streetcar and go more places than you would think.”

 

How Affordable Housing Providers Can Tackle Climate Change

Promoting transit use has other benefits as well. If affordable transit passes reduce driving, that reduces greenhouse gas emissions.  Driving just recently surpassed power plants as the biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States.  Transportation is an even bigger contributor to emissions in Seattle because we get most of our electricity from hydro power.  If we want to tackle climate change, we need to reduce emissions from driving in ways that also have positive impacts for low income people.

GHGEmissions

Last but not least, transit pass can help reduce housing costs associated with parking.  If transit passes reduce the need for our residents to own cars, we won’t need to build as many expensive parking places.  The average parking garage space on Capitol Hill costs about $33,000 to build.  If our residents no longer need parking in our existing buildings, through our district shared parking program, we can rent out those unused spaces to generate revenue that helps support building maintenance and operations.

How Does the Affordable Housing Transit Pass Program Work?

With funding from SDOT, Capitol Hill Housing was able to purchase transit passes for residents of three of our income restricted apartment buildings, totaling 122 units.  Residents who wish to participate pay 50% of the monthly cost, which is $10, $16, or $17 depending on the building.  This compares with $117 per month for a standard individual pass or $55 per month for a standard individual low income fare or LIFT pass.  Payment for the card is processed along with rent.  Passes completely cover unlimited trips on all local transit including Metro, Sounder Train and Light Rail.

"Please keep doing this. We love it."

“Please keep doing this. We love it.”

Preliminary Results

  • Over 50% of passes sold.
  • 52% of participants previously had a card for which they paid 100% of the cost
  • The small administrative burden is small (less than 4 staff hours per month)
  • We have received anecdotal reports of over $100 in monthly savings by some participating households

Capitol Hill Housing will conduct a comprehensive evaluation of the program in early 2017.

Expanding the Program

Everyone in Seattle should have affordable access to transit.  An expanded Affordable Housing Transit Pass program would leverage affordable housing providers to connect more low income people to low cost transit options.  We hope that by continuing to work with King County Metro, the Seattle Department of Transportation, other affordable housing providers, our residents, and the community at large we can expand this program to eventually serve all affordable housing properties in the city.

"It's an amazing deal. Thanks for setting this up."

“It’s an amazing deal. Thanks for setting this up.”

 

 

Vanquishing Source of Income Discrimination in Seattle

 

From a 1964 protest in Seattle against discrimination in the housing market

From a 1964 protest in Seattle against discrimination in the housing market. Photo, Item 63893, Courtesy of Seattle Municipal Archives

After years of trying to find safe and stable housing for herself and her daughter,  Naomi was thrilled to receive a Section 8 voucher to help pay rent.  Yet to her dismay, her struggles continued as landlords refused to accept her because of her voucher (Watch Naomi’s story).

She had a legitimate, stable way of paying rent, but was denied housing because of the source of her income. Unfortunately, this is not an uncommon story.

On August 8th meeting at 2pm, the City Council will vote on a piece of legislation proposed by Mayor Murray that would help protect people like Naomi  from discrimination when trying to find a safe, affordable home. 

Why is this change necessary? We currently have laws on the books that protect renters from discrimination on the basis of race, religion, national origin, sex, color, disability, familial status, marital status, sexual orientation, age, gender identity, political ideology, veteran or military status, or use of Section 8 vouchers. (Though Section 8 vouchers are protected, the law is often disregarded, as Naomi’s story illustrates). However, left out are a wide range of income sources that people use to pay rent such as Social Security Income, veteran’s benefits and child support payments, and even those protections already in place are not always enforced, as is clearly highlighted by Naomi’s story.

Other equity issues stem from source of income discrimination. As explained by the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance (WLIHA), “this [discrimination] has a significant impact on communities who disproportionately need to rely on housing subsidies to make ends meet:  households of color, seniors, people with disabilities, and single parent households with young children.” Furthermore, there is evidence suggesting that municipalities which have adopted similar policies are experiencing lesser degrees of poverty amongst people who use vouchers. According to WLIHA, Martha Galvez’s 2011 study, “Defining Choice in the Housing Choice Voucher Program…” found that average neighborhood poverty rates for voucher holders were lower in areas with source of income discrimination laws in place. People shouldn’t be evicted for paying their rent with Social Security or any other legitimate source of income or financial assistance. If you can pay your rent in full and on time, you should expect to be treated fairly by your landlord.

You can make your voices heard by testifying on August 8th at City Hall before the City Council votes on the legislation. Public comment begins at 2pm, but it’s good to get there early to sign up for your two minute speaking slot. Another great way to get involved is to email your Councilmember to share your thoughts on the proposal. The office of Councilmember Lisa Herbold, who brought the legislation to committee, has posted more information about the policy. Our next monthly meeting of the Renter Initiative will follow shortly after on Wednesday, August 10th.

Our Capitol Hill Renter Initiative

 

Since March 22, the Capitol Hill Renter Initiative has steadily gathered momentum, growing from 25 renters at our first meeting to a mailing list of 132 today. And Seattle is taking notice.

We have made our voices heard, testifying in front of City Council in support of the Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda (HALA), Mandatory Housing Affordability (MHA), the Seattle Comprehensive Plan Update (Seattle 2035), and the Carl Haglund Law. We have written letters to the City Council and met with some of them in person, including Councilmember Sawant at the Gearshift Community Forum and Councilmember Gonzalez at the June meeting of the Renter Initiative. Hours after partnering with the Mayor to announce the City’s break with the District Council system, Kathy Nyland—Director of Seattle’s Department of Neighborhoods—sat down with about 40 of us to discuss how the City could reform its community engagement program in order to give renters and other underrepresented communities greater access to local policy discussions.

July Renter Initiative Meeting with Kathy Nyland, Director of the Department of Neighborhoods

July Renter Initiative Meeting with Kathy Nyland, Director of the Department of Neighborhoods

The Renter Initiative Facebook page has been a great community building forum, with members discussing posted articles and videos, organizing and sharing events such as monthly meetings and community outreach opportunities.  On September 24, we will hold Capitol Hill’s first Renter Summit (RSVP now!), bringing together renters from 100 different buildings across our neighborhood to exchange ideas, refine and organize behind a collective political voice, and build a set of policy recommendations that renters can continue to rally behind as the City moves forward in its pursuit of affordability and livability.

According to figures from the most recent Census data, renters make up a majority of Seattle residents and over 80 percent of people living on Capitol Hill.  However, if an outsider were to look at the demographic profile of the current participants in Seattle’s debate around affordable housing, they would most likely guess otherwise. To have any sort of successful discussion and debate on HALA and MHA, we as a city must make sure that the people affected by rising rents are central to the conversation.

CH Renters Summit VideoWallGraphic 072216

 

Reforming Seattle’s Broken Neighborhood Engagement System

These community members have overcome the barriers to participating in the current system to make their voices heard. Now, the City is trying to reform its outreach to bring everyone into the conversation.

These community members have overcome the barriers to participating in the current system to make their voices heard. Now, the City is trying to reform its outreach to bring everyone into the conversation.

 

Since the late ’80s, District Councils have been the City’s primary means of implementing citizen participation in the political process. The Councils are responsible for recommending local projects to the Mayor and City Council for Neighborhood Matching Fund grants. These District Councils also receive the lion share of DON staff support from 8 district coordinators.

As Director of the Department of Neighborhoods (DON), Kathy Nyland recently facilitated an evaluation of the City’s current engagement strategies—chiefly the district council system—and found a profound gap in representation. The demographics of the people currently serving on Seattle’s 13 District Councils are in remarkable contrast to the actual make-up of their communities (explained in this article from Seattle Met summarizing DON’s findings).

In her evaluation, Nyland explains that “Seattle’s population demographics are changing and DON needs to re-envision our approach to public engagement; re-think how to best connect with underrepresented communities; and retool our strategies to reach a broader cross-section of Seattle’s population, including ethnic and cultural groups, seniors, youth, home-owners, and renters.”

Nyland recognizes that the voices of many communities are not being heard under the current methods of outreach. “Many District Council members choose to define “community” as neighborhoods that are geographically based, leaving out those who build and experience community around non-geographical concepts, like language, ethnicity, religious affiliation, or issue-based interests.”

This is an important finding, because if the City’s current system of community engagement is taking recommendations from groups of people that do not speak for the breadth of voices in their neighborhood, then it is failing its fundamental objective to “promote, support, and involve citizen participation at the neighborhood level” as stated in Resolution 27709, the legislation that created the District Council system.

 

Mayor Murray will sign an executive order today to retool the Department of Neighborhoods’ community outreach strategy and ditch the District Council system in favor of what he is calling the “Community Involvement Commission” (covered here by Josh Feit). This is a great time to get involved and help shape the new systems from the ground up.

For other perspectives on the current system: here is a piece by local blogger Erica Barnett that discusses District Council power dynamics in relation to HALA; here is an article by former mayor Michael McGinn touching upon a bit of everything; finally, here is information from the City about the structure of the neighborhood involvement system in Seattle.

Your Community Forum CliffsNotes

Your Community Forum CliffsNotes

On Thursday, May 26, more than a hundred community members gathered on Capitol Hill for Gearshift 2016: Capitol Hill Housing’s 11th annual forum on issues affecting the neighborhood. Deviating from the format of years past, this Community Forum offered rapid-fire presentations by local leaders on five separate projects to advance community interests as the Hill continues its explosive growth.

The speakers were just a catalyst for the most interesting part of the evening: small group discussions among attendees to determine the community’s priorities. Kshama Sawant, Lisa Herbold and other city officials joined the discussions, gathered feedback and reported out to the larger group.

Couldn’t make it? Don’t worry – here’s the Cliffs Notes version of each presentation and breakout group discussion. (more…)

Diving into the Dumpster Problem on Capitol Hill: Part 2 of 2

dumpstersHere it is, the long anticipated part deux of 2 posts on dumpsters. Back in March I posted a copy of the report we produced with funding through the Office of Economic Development where you can read the 15 mitigation strategies we offered to the City for consideration.

The City considered our recommendations and then decided to ignore most of them. The good news, they are moving forward with a plan to address the problem.

Seattle Public Utilities (SPU) is leading the implementation of a very hands-on program that includes “reviewing polices on storing trash and recycling in the right-of-way and performing site reviews of businesses that have dumpsters stored on streets and sidewalks, with the goal of removing all dumpsters and carts from the right of way.”

In April, SPU began reaching out to impacted businesses to review alternative solid waste service options and costs. The utility is providing information on solid waste service types as well as recycle and compost service information and education.

We support SPU’s very high-touch approach. Each business has unique site characteristics that makes a one-size-fits-all solution untenable.

We also plan to stay connected to the implementation process. Capitol Hill Housing is partnering with the Capitol Hill Chamber’s Clean and Safe Committee to monitor SPU’s progress and participate in a six-month evaluation to see just how many dumpsters and totes are removed. We also will help develop a follow up strategy to the City’s outreach and education effort.

Thinking Outside of the Bin: Seattle Food Rescue & Capitol Hill Housing Team Up

Walking through your local grocery store at the end of the day, have you ever wondered what they do with all the food that didn’t sell? The sad truth is that most of it will be discarded. Americans throw away 37 million tons of food each year, nearly 1/3 of what is produced.

That is the kind of needless waste that Seattle Food Rescue (SFR) aims to prevent.Seattle Food Rescue

A completely volunteer-run organization, Seattle Food Rescue partners with local grocery stores to get those perfectly good, about-to-expire sandwiches, salads and produce into the hands of hungry, homeless and low-income Seattle residents. The best part? They do it all on bikes, reducing the environmental footprint of transporting the goods.

Until recently, SFR used a “hub and spoke” model, delivering to community organizations like food banks who would then distribute the food to individuals. But a new partnership with Capitol Hill Housing (CHH) has afforded an opportunity to pilot a direct distribution system.  Approximately twice a week, SFR volunteers haul a load of packaged perishable food and fresh produce on their bikes straight to the front door of three CHH buildings with particularly low-income residents.

SFR founder Tim Jenkins explained that the benefits of this model are numerous:
“In addition to building a sense of community, there are logistical benefits,” he shared.

Whereas at a food bank, goods near the end of their shelf life may sit for an additional day or two, direct delivery ensures that the food gets consumed immediately. Furthermore, donors enjoy the idea that they are supporting their own neighborhoods, and since the food is from nearby, the options are more likely to be culturally appropriate for the recipients.  As Jenkins put it, “We wanted to make [our service] a little more personal and keep it even more local than at the zip code level.”

CHH and its residents are thrilled. Elliot Swanson, CHH Resident Services Manager, noted that low-income residents often eat highly processed foods, since they usually provide more caloric “bang for your buck”—an important consideration for poor families,
who on average already spend almost a third of their income on food. The fresh foods delivered by SFR fill a nutritional gap left by other hunger relief organizations that rely on shelf-stable but more processed foods.

food_waste_headerBased on the overwhelmingly positive feedback from residents, both Jenkins and Swanson would like to see this pilot program expand to more CHH buildings. Eventually Swanson would
even like to coordinate cooking classes for residents, helping them to make the best use of the fresh produce.

Reducing waste, getting resources to people in need, using sustainable transportation, and  building community—Seattle Food Rescue offers a surprisingly simple solution to some of this city’s most pressing priorities.

If you’d like to get involved with the Seattle Food Rescue, email them at seattlefoodrescue@gmail.com.

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