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.”



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.

EcoDistrict Index Update – Transportation

Bike Photo

Bicyclists crossing paths at 12th and Pike in mid-March.

This is the second post in a series on the EcoDistrict Index Update for 2015.  The first post can be found here.

As we celebrate the opening of the Capitol Hill light rail station, new transportation data from 2015 show that transformations in the way we get around the Hill are already underway.

There is no shortage of data points for transportation.  We’ve got survey data, payment data, police data, manual counts, and counts with different types of sensors.  There’s data on driving, walking, biking, taking transit, and more.  In all but one area, we are seeing big progress, and even the bad news might be good news in disguise.

Big Progress

2015 was a much safer year on the streets in Capitol Hill.  There were no traffic-related fatalities and serious injuries declined from 12 in 2013 to 10.  These numbers experience some natural fluctuation year to year, but combined, the two year comparison indicates a 23% decrease in serious injuries and fatalities.

Safer streets generally correlate with less driving and we are seeing that too.  In our baseline data, a 5-year census survey covering 2007-2011, 31% of Capitol Hill residents drove to work, already low by Seattle standards.  In the new 5 year survey covering 2010-14, that percentage fell to 28%.

We also see big increases in bicycle and pedestrian traffic at key intersections.  At the 6 major intersections where we counted bicycles in both 2013 and 2015, bicycling is up 36%, 12% of the way towards our goal of tripling bicycle traffic.  The biking changes were visible across the board – in the morning, in the evening, and at all major intersections – with particular growth at 15th and John and 12th/Madison/Union and the slowest growth at Pike and Melrose and Broadway and John.

Walking Photo

Capitol Hill has some of the busiest pedestrian traffic in Seattle and it’s getting busier.

Pedestrian traffic was up big too, 18%.  Because walking on Capitol Hill has always been common, we only expected pedestrian volumes to increase by 33% by 2030.  In just two years, we are already 54.5% of the way towards our goal.  We may need to raise our sights.  Again, there is some natural fluctuation in these numbers, which are conducted in the morning and evening of one mid-week day in late-September or early-October, but the weather and other obvious variables are consistent across these years.

Good news in disguise?

At the same time, transit use appears to be down by 0.4%.  This small decline is likely related to Metro service cuts in late 2014, including temporary elimination of route 47 through west Capitol Hill.  These service cuts were then reversed by the passage of Proposition 1, which not only restored route 47, but also added frequency to Capitol Hill routes 10, 11, 12, 49, and 60 in June and September of 2015.  Unfortunately, our most recent boardings and alightings data date from February 14 through June 5, 2015, marking a low point after the service cuts and before the restored and expanded service.   With bus service added in the second half of 2015, and streetcar and light rail service starting now, we can expect to see a substantial increase in transit ridership in 2016.

Station Photo

Capitol Hill Station a few days before opening to the public.

Diving into the Dumpster Problem on Capitol Hill: PART 1 of 2

dumpster picDumpsters. They’re as commonplace on Capitol Hill streets as dogs and tattoos. The straight garbage dumpsters are maintained by Recology CleanScapes, which has a contract with the City at least until 2017. Customers pay for this service through their bill from Seattle Public Utilities. Recycling and compost collection is a bit more complicated. Different haulers, including Recology CleanScapes, Waste Management, Cedar Grove, Republic Services and Allied Waste, compete for contracts with individual businesses or building owners. You might see their different company logos peeking out from under graffiti on the many containers on our sidewalks, in our alleys and even parked semi-permanently in street parking spots in Capitol Hill’s commercial corridors.

Some residents may shrug or not even notice the many dumpsters, so familiar are they within the fabric of our neighborhood. But there is reason for concern as the neighborhood continues growing. More people means more trash and it has to go somewhere. In new buildings, code requires the inclusion of a trash room that is off of the street, but older buildings, especially those being retrofit for much denser occupation, don’t have trash rooms. There, the de facto trash room becomes the curb, alley or sidewalk.

During the summer of 2015, we worked with Seattle Public Utilities and haulers to document the challenges posed by dumpsters in Capitol Hill’s commercial corridors. In January, Capitol Hill Housing issued a report that names 9 specific problems associated with the many dumpsters.
1. Dumpsters block sidewalks and on-street parking spaces;
2. Dumpsters attract graffiti and illegal dumping;
3. Spills and liquids drain from dumpsters to the street and storm drains (violation of Seattle Municipal Code 22.803.030);
4. Dumpsters are a source of fire and litter from overflows and scavenging;
5. Dumpster odors detract from livability;
6. Dumpsters attract public urination, defecation, vomiting and illegal drug activity;
7. Private storage of dumpsters on sidewalks and in streets is an inappropriate use of public space;
8. Unenforced regulations of dumpsters create an impression that the issue is unimportant to the City;
9. Dumpsters create blind spots that exacerbate nighttime safety concerns.

This is a growing challenge, but not necessarily new or unique to Capitol Hill. About four years ago, Seattle Public Utilities approached Capitol Hill businesses to propose that Capitol Hill join Pioneer Square, the International District and Columbia City as a “Designated Clear Alleys neighborhood” and move off dumpsters to a pre-paid bag service with more frequent collection. Business leaders protested that the shortage of alleys in Capitol Hill made the Clear Alleys Program untenable up here.

We searched for alternative solutions in other US cities. In Downtown Denton, Texas, the City encourages screening dumpsters behind 6 foot tall masonry walls with steel doors. The Iowa City Downtown District recommended testing consolidated waste hauling contracts in a small pilot area to reduce the number of haulers. The Paseo District in Oklahoma City focused on enclosures, right-sizing containers, and installing compactors to improve efficiency, and in Portland, Oregon, the City settled on phasing in tougher enforcement of existing illegal dumpster storage and some financial assistance to smaller businesses to aid compliance.

Following our work to document the issue and research solutions, we offered 15 mitigation strategies to be considered for Capitol Hill. These strategies are grouped into 4 categories:
1. Enforce rules and assist compliance
2. Increase the frequency of service (to allow the reduction of container sizes)
3. Screen and beautify dumpsters
4. Improve sharing of infrastructure among businesses.

You can read more about these strategies in our report linked HERE.

EcoDistrict Index Update

In 2014, we selected an initial set of 15 indicators to track progress in 8 performance areas, set targets, and collected baseline data (mostly from 2013).   These indicators became the EcoDistrict Index (more background on the Index here).  At the close of 2015, we conducted our first update and can start to see how the neighborhood is changing and how we are succeeding or failing in moving towards our goals.  The table below gives a summary of progress towards each target.

2015 Update 6

In just 2 years, we have seen dramatic progress in a few areas. The Capitol Hill Farmers Market is going gangbusters.  They are almost a quarter of the way towards doubling both all shoppers and specifically shoppers using EBT and WIC through their Fresh Bucks program.

Farmers Market Index Highlight

Our transportation system is also shifting swiftly towards more walking and biking and away from driving (our post dedicated to these exciting transportation changes can be found here).

At the other end of the spectrum, Capitol Hill is backsliding when it comes to recycling and composting.  Already the problem child neighborhood of Seattle waste diversion, people here seem to be sending more and more stuff to the landfill.

Waste Diversion Index Highlight

The top line information for each of these indicators just scratches the surface.  In future posts we will delve deep into specific indicators to shed more light on the neighborhood changes they reflect, and illuminate opportunities to capitalize on success, pay more attention to neglected areas, and recalibrate poorly performing strategies.

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