Category: Convention Center Public Benefits

Why Can’t One of the Richest Cities in the U.S. Solve Its Homelessness Crisis? Well, It Isn’t Really Trying—and It Won’t Until You Make It

Photo: Ansel Herz

This article originally appeared in the Stranger

By McCaela Daffern

It’s not a new story when a large corporation throws its weight around, devouring public resources and hectoring its way through city government. With the Head Tax decapitated, Seattle’s homelessness crisis raging on, and with King County threatening to minimize its commitment to affordable housing, who will bear any responsibility for investing in this city and its people? Who is writing this story anyway?

Community engagement is the key to leveraging strength against a powerhouse player when it comes to large-scale development. I know this because I was part of a coalition that effectively took on the Washington State Convention Center expansion and came away with a model for winning major community benefits. I believe the model we used in that fight— enlist allies, find a champion, and leverage collective power—can be applied to other struggles over the direction of our city, including the long debate over how to address our homelessness crisis.

The upcoming $1.7 billion expansion of the Convention Center will be the largest real estate project in Seattle history and promises increased tourism revenue and new jobs. But what good will it deliver to nearby neighborhoods impacted by the addition of noise, traffic, and general disruption? Where will new service-wage workers live? The coalition I was a part of asked these questions because we believed that as residents of Seattle, we deserve a better legacy than to become a footnote in a saga of growing pains. Communities need to rewrite this story to be our own.

A vast power imbalance between government, corporations, and regular people does not have to equal futility, though it is rare to have a partner like the one we found in the Washington State Convention Center. It turns out, the folks at the convention center were more than willing to listen. What I discovered in our pursuit to secure public benefits from a powerful, well-funded enterprise is a truth: the privilege of having the connections and resources of an expert organization is undeniable.

I work at such an organization—Capitol Hill Housing. They entered this negotiation to ensure that funding for public benefits would include affordable housing, and at first, the Convention Center put $5 million on the table. Amid a crisis of homelessness in which King County is short up to 14,000 affordable homes, that amount was absurd.

In response, the Community Package Coalition (CPC) formed in January of 2017 and included eight organizations from adjoining neighborhoods: Capitol Hill HousingCascade Bicycle ClubCentral Seattle GreenwaysFirst Hill Improvement AssociationFreeway Park AssociationHousing Development ConsortiumLid I-5, and Seattle Neighborhood Greenways. Using the King County Health Equity Toolkit, we could see that housing was the most significant tool we had to promote health equity in our neighborhoods. In addition to affordable housing, the Coalition pushed for funding for public space like parks and bike lanes. Communities are knitted together through safe and equitable access to meaningful and lasting amenities that make Seattle livable. Our ever-expanding city should grow closer, not farther apart.

The Coalition worked. We secured more than $80 million in public benefits, including funding for bike lanes, sidewalk improvements, open space, a study to lid I-5, and $30 million for affordable housing throughout Seattle.

Without this deep alliance and the support of Speaker of the House Frank Chopp, City Councilmembers Sally Bagshaw, Teresa Mosqueda, and especially Mike O’Brien, as well as the tireless efforts of Seattle City Council staff, this win would have been impossible. As a city, we owe a debt of gratitude to everyone who helped to shape our future with this work.

Together, we proved that community efforts can change the story of large-scale development and put pressure on major developers to be accountable to their neighbors. With the Convention Center’s willing ear, we were able to articulate our vision of what would serve Seattleites rather than take what we were offered.

As a coalition, we must recognize our immense privilege in having the means and connections to bring the Washington State Convention Center to the table. We could make the time, we had relationships with City officials, and we enjoyed an expertise in developing the very assets we were asking the Convention Center to fund. It shouldn’t take such an abundance of resources to stand up for what you believe in or to ask for what you deserve.

Communities of color especially face the brunt of displacement and discrimination when it comes to housing and economic opportunities. Thanks to the work of advocacy organizations like Puget Sound Sage, the City has adopted a process by which groups representing marginalized communities become a central voice in the decision-making process. This is essential if Seattle is to realize its potential as a vibrant, diverse, and welcoming city where real opportunity exists for anyone willing to reach for it.

It is my hope that our success with the Community Package Coalition paves the way for coalitions that follow. As debate over the lodging tax, or “hotel/motel tax”, reaches a fever pitch, now is the time to come together to support funding for affordable housing. Nearly three years ago, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray and King County Executive Dow Constantine declared a state of emergency on homelessness, yet County Councilmembers are currently discussing using the lodging tax to fund $180 million in stadium improvements for Safeco Field, home of the Mariners, with only the minimum amount required by law going toward affordable workforce housing and services for homeless youth. Now, I like baseball as much as anyone. But, as Ethan Phelps Goodman, founder of Seattle Tech 4 Housing, said at a recent hearing on the subject, “Did we declare a state of emergency around stadium maintenance three years ago?”

The Seattle-King County Coalition on Homelessness, Housing Development Consortium (HDC)—of which Capitol Hill Housing is a member—and others have created #TeamHousing as a rallying cry in support of maximizing public investments in affordable housing. As an individual community member, you can take action to center our most marginalized neighbors. Speak at the next public hearing on August 29 or contact your county council member and let them know that you agree – we must do the most we can for affordable housing, not the least.

Get involved. Ending homelessness in Seattle will only be a true government priority if we make sure of it. Join #TeamHousing or connect with the King County Regional Affordable Housing Task Force, and let your voice be heard. It is essential that institutions like the King County Council, the Convention Center, and any corporation or institution residing in our community respect and reflect the values and priorities of their neighbors as well as that of the city and county at large. In the story of Seattle’s growth, its people should be the protagonists. Corporations and large institutions form an important scenery that they and we should get to design together.

McCaela Daffern is the Sustainability Manager for Capitol Hill Housing, a community development corporation and public development authority. Her work includes staffing the Capitol Hill EcoDistrict, a community-driven effort to promote equity, environmental resilience, and cultural space in the most densely populated urban village in the Pacific Northwest.

A Convention Center Redo for the People

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

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

It doesn’t even come close.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


Learn more about the Community Package

In the News: Convention Center Expansion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WSCC Addition


Build More Homes. House More People.

Build More Homes. House More People.

In case you’ve missed it, plans are underway to redevelop the Washington State Convention Center (WSCC). This billion dollar project, dubbed the “Addition,” will double the capacity of the existing convention center and is expected to begin construction in 2017.

Before that happens, the Addition is assembling a package of community benefits that will go along with the project. Why are public benefits on the table?  As part of the project, they are requesting the city vacate three alleys and underground portions of Olive Way and Terry Avenue. In exchange,  the developer has agreed to pay for these rights of way and also provide a package of public benefits.

Next Wednesday, December 7th, WSCC Addition is hosting an open house to present and get feedback on different community benefit concepts. Our friends from the Lid I-5 campaign will be advocating for a feasibility study to figure out where lidding I-5 is most reasonable citywide, what the new land should be used for, and how the freeway can be improved for commuters and neighbors alike.

We’ll be there to make sure that affordable housing is part of the conversation. Check out the graphic below to understand what’s at stake and how the WSCC addition can help us build more affordable homes and house more people.

Make sure to show up on Wednesday to make your voice heard. You can RSVP to the event on Facebook. WSCC has also circulated an online survey where you can vote on which concept you will like to see.

WSCC Public Benefits Open House

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

5-7 p.m.

WSCC, (705 Pike St, Seattle, WA) Room 2AB