Category: Climate Change

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.

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.


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.”