Category: Renter Initiative

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: http://www.brownpapertickets.com/e/2834116 or RSVP on the Facebook event page here

A Poem from Michelle Penaloza

The following poem was shared by Michelle Peñaloza at the #RenterSummit. It’s published here with her permission.

 

michelle penaloza

WE WALK A HEART AROUND LAKE UNION

by Michelle Peñaloza

and you point to buildings and streets
that bear the scars around your own:
the elementary school that taught you
difference and its consequences; the law
firm where twenty-five years later your daily
prayer and hijab reinforced the lesson.
There, the bus stop where you last saw
your brother, out of his mind and out of your
reach, his mouth an open sore.
We’ve talked many times before about
what it means to be noticed, to be
threatening and invisible at the same time.
In this way, we are sisters. We stay close,
two brown women walking together.
This city’s always been very segregated
and it’s true that when you walk north
the prices rise and the faces pale.
We touch the Scotch broom and lilacs
erupted in spring, notice the renegade ferns
growing upon the stumps of old docks.
All along the water’s edge, we note the glorious blue
made bluer by the hulls of gleaming white boats;
upon a hillside suffuse in green, amid artifacts of rust,
people fly kites, edging out over the skyline.
On your left! Bikers zoom past us, their spandex,
the shine of their helmets, rejoicing.
It’s true that people here are different
when exposed to the sun; they crowd
the sidewalks with strollers and wagging dogs.
Sunglasses, then. Smiles and hellos.
We pass condo after condo, clustered houseboats,
marinas of artisan sailboats, luxury yachts.
Who are these people, we ask, looking in.
All day you’ve spoken the landscape of your life
as we walk among places that no longer exist —
neighborhoods reconceptualized and fenced off.
This city does not want me.
What do we do when the ground we claim
as home changes beneath our feet?
Landscape, layered. You can look back,
remember the stories beneath all this shine.
We part ways upon a freshly paved greenspace.
In the shadow of History and Industry, people
play bocce on gravel among orange café seating.
Beneath an awning along the water,
a man carves a canoe from salvaged cedar.

 

From landscape / heartbreak

Republished in The Seattle Review of Books

 

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.

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

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…)

The EcoDistrict is Launching a Renter Initiative

Renter EngagementLate last month, Mayor Murray hosted a cheerleading session for the City’s Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda or HALA. It was a packed room filled with enthusiasm for implementing the 65 recommendations that emerged last July in response to Seattle’s housing crisis. Comments by Sara Maxana, a homeowner in NW Seattle, were a highlight. Referring to the rapidly escalating value of homes like hers and the resulting impacts on renters, Maxana said: “I don’t see why one class of people, homeowners, should be getting a windfall from the same phenomenon that is causing other people in Seattle to struggle,” she said. “I don’t think that’s okay.”

Before closing the meeting, Murray took a handful of questions from the crowd. “Guy in the Striped Shirt” asked an important question: “How will renters be engaged in discussions about HALA?”

The mayor responded very generally, saying that we need to engage everybody: owners and renters, young and old, etc. and etc. I would respond more directly.  Renters must be engaged about HALA. After all, renters comprise nearly half of Seattle’s citizenry and it is renters who face getting priced out of neighborhoods by rising rents.

But engaging renters to address neighborhood issues isn’t easy. There’s a section in Bowling Alone (2000), Robert Putnam’s treatise on the decline of civic engagement in post-war America, about how homeowners, due to their “rootedness,” tend to be more engaged in civic life than renters of similar age, income, and education. Putnam suggests that since renters are more likely to move out of a neighborhood, they are less likely to care about local decision-making. Renters also are less motivated by “exchange value interests”, ie protecting property values, so are less likely to engage in civic activities that may preserve or increase property values (Manturuk).

Generally, renters are less likely to show up for public meetings or participate in local churches and community clubs. But we know that renters do certainly care about their environment. They care deeply about how a neighborhood feels – is it safe, inclusive, clean? They care about its walkability – is it close to services, amenities and open space? And, of course, they care about its affordability.

We also know that residents living in the heart of Capitol Hill, 80 percent of whom are renters, are not apathetic or disaffected. The voter turnout from the 43rd legislative district was higher than most Seattle districts this past cycle (though that’s admittedly a low bar) and we re-elected the first socialist on the Seattle City Council in a hundred years– a second-term city councilmember who last Thursday sent out a blast email with a now-familiar tone:

“Seattle is a very wealthy city, and is experiencing an economic boom. But this is a boom that is primarily benefiting a small wealthy elite. Economic inequality has expanded, with the city’s middle class shrinking rapidly.”renter vs homeowner net worth

This message decrying inequality should resonate with the renters living in Sawant’s district. According to the Federal Reserve Survey of Consumer Finances, homeowner net worth ranges from 31 to 46 times that of renters, and that inequality is growing. Economics prodigy Matthew Rognlie made waves in 2015 by showing that “surging house prices are almost entirely responsible for [the] growing returns on capital” identified in Thomas Piketty’s best-selling Capital in the 21st Century as the source of the wealth gap in America.

At the meeting last month, a small group of angry Wallingford homeowners showed up with placards protesting the greed of developers and demanding time at the microphone to speak against the HALA agenda. Reminders that this wasn’t a public hearing didn’t deter them.

As Josh Feit points out in Publicola, it’s pretty rich for single family homeowners to protest getting shut out of a conversation. Since this nation’s founding, property owners and their rights have been at the center of politics and power. John Adams declared property rights “as sacred as the law of God,” and Hoover urged homeownership, believing that “if one had an equity stake in the country, they’d less likely fall under the spell of Communism.” As recently as the Clinton and George W. Bush administrations, homeownership was touted akin to civic duty.

American housing policy has favored homeowners for some time (providing federal mortgage insurance, the mortgage interest tax deduction, and other benefits). The MacArthur Foundation recently reported that: “While roughly 35 percent of Americans rent and the other 65 percent own, the federal government spends approximately three times as much to support homeownership as it does to support renting.”

Even as governments continue to push homeownership, the social bias towards homeownership appears to be shifting. Three in five adults (61 percent) believe that “renters can be just as successful as homeowners in achieving the American Dream.” This shift correlates with a broader shift in opinion towards ownership in general. According to Janelle Nanos (and many others who have heralded the arrival of the sharing economy) at Boston Magazine:

A startling number of young people… have begun to question one of the central tenets of American culture: ownership. It’s a change that has arrived thanks to a confluence of developments. Times are tough. … Simultaneously, rapidly evolving technologies are enabling a new kind of connectedness and sharing, just as more of us than ever before are moving to urban areas. And more and more of us are at last awakening to the terrifying idea that our quintessentially American drive to own and consume more is bringing about dramatically harmful climate change. As a result, many of us are starting to rethink what it means to own something [emphasis added].

I suggest that it is time for renters, Capitol Hill’s majority population, to assume ownership for the health and livability of the neighborhood.

Besides voter turnout, there are hopeful signs of renter engagement on Capitol Hill. Top for me is the Capitol Hill Community Council under the leadership of President Zachary Pullin, a self-described YIMBY = “Yes in My Backyard,” and a committed board of mostly young renters. Their agenda is both progressive and action oriented. They hosted one of the first community meetings in the City about HALA, are leading on addressing homelessness in the neighborhood, improving walking, biking, and transit service, and starting important neighborhood conversations about criminal justice reform and services to address mental illness and substance abuse.

Capitol Hill Housing plans to build upon this foundation and create a solid base of renter leadership. Our 2016 renter initiative will invite more renters to assume leadership roles in defining and addressing the topics of greatest interest to renters. We will recruit and support “ambassadors” from buildings across the EcoDistrict and host a Renter Summit in September focused on the HALA agenda.

Recruitment for the renter initiative has begun, so if you’re looking for a way to own what’s happening in the neighborhood, here’s your chance. Email Alex Brennan at abrennan[at]capitolhillhousing[dot]org or call 206-204-3803.

Civic engagement takes time and investment. Not every renter will choose to make this commitment, but we hope that many will. Communities with a high level of civic engagement have fewer social problems, lower crime rates, and are more cohesive. And if the HALA agenda is to succeed in Capitol Hill, it will require renters getting involved.