Category: Equity

Reflection and Refraction

Health Equity Fellow Andy presenting survey findings to the LGBTQ advisory committee.

Health Equity Fellow Andy presenting survey findings to the LGBTQ advisory committee.


Andy Post is a Health Equity Fellow placed with Capitol Hill Housing for the summer through Humanity in Action. The fellowship, in partnership with Virginia Mason, focuses on the intersection of health and housing in LGBTQ care in Seattle. This is his reflection. 


I entered Capitol Hill Housing (CHH) at the beginning of the summer, dropped off by the number 49 bus a block away from the turf at Cal Anderson Park. My task, as I knew it then, was to help with pre-development research to support a new apartment building for low-income seniors that affirms the needs of LGBTQ elders in the community. But what exactly is pre-development? I gradually learned the outlines of the process: CHH was working to establish an advisory committee of leaders from LGBTQ community organizers, health care providers, and nonprofits. On my fifth day, we had an initial meeting with some of these leaders. The main topic of conversation: who in the LGBTQ community was not there that should be? Which community groups encompassed by the rainbow of letters L-G-B-T and Q in the King County area, would influence the design, planning, and character of the project?


This question only provokes further questions: why affordable housing for LGBTQ elders? Who needs access to affordable housing the most? What are their needs in the housing process? How can this process be a celebration of care for this community, rather than a divisive struggle for limited resources?


LGBTQ elders face many challenges compared to their heterosexual peers. Thanks to research from Dr. Karen Fredriksen-Goldsen with University of Washington and Generations Aging with Pride, the needs of LGBTQ elders are beginning to be documented. Results show disparities in health, income, and social status that make aging difficult for LGBTQ seniors. 54% of LGBTQ elders in King County suffer from social isolation (linked to higher risk of poor health and premature mortality), nearly half of elderly transgender adults had household incomes at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level, and in 200 nationwide trials testing for differential treatment in seniors seeking senior housing, the tester with a same-sex partner experienced adverse treatment. Based on these national and local surveys, LGBTQ seniors are more likely to be in poverty, are at higher risk for illness, face discrimination when seeking a home, and are less likely to have support of biological children or family.


Data collection in the world of community development and healthcare is political. Data influences our ability to advocate for, legislate, build, and care for different demographics. While the current administration is taking steps to eliminate LGBTQ identity from national surveys, the research from leaders on LGBTQ gerontology is clear: LGBTQ elders need affordable housing solutions and culturally competent care. But the question arrives again: which cohort within the community?


For over 40 years, Capitol Hill Housing has worked to build vibrant and engaged communities by responding to community needs. But who we engage and the extent to which we can incorporate their input will greatly shape the final project. As part of my fellowship, I visited Virginia Mason’s Bailey Boushay House, a care center for people living with HIV/AIDS. Over half of their clientele currently experiences homelessness. That same day, I participated in a focus group with Living Positively, a social and support group organized by Lifelong for HIV positive men, many of whom are living on a fixed income. The differing needs of these two cohorts only begins to illustrate how who we listen to and how we synthesize their input will greatly change the result of the project. For example, if we prioritize the needs of the portion of the LGBTQ community experiencing homelessness, the services and design of the building will look different than if we prioritize fixed or low-income renters. Even these examples are weighed heavily towards older white gay men living with HIV. Our process of community outreach has just begun, but we are committed to employing a race and social justice analysis to our efforts. Our project—and our community—will be best served by a project that acknowledges and confronts structural racism.


The key word in community development work truly is process. Over the summer, I worked to interview seniors who are reflective of the broader LGBTQ community. These interviews provide insight not only into health and aging needs, but the individual stories that inform the tradition of care we hope to participate in. We hope to feature 7-8 of these interviews in a short film that speaks to why LGBTQ senior affordable housing is needed here in Capitol Hill. Yet again, because 7-8 people cannot represent the full breadth of this project, we will continue to work with and expand our Advisory Committee to hear from as many relevant voices as possible.


In addition to the short film, we are planning a queer gathering; an event to invoke our muses in LGBTQ care and include the larger public in this community development process. On September 21st, we will convene stakeholders and community members to illuminate the tradition of caring for LGBTQ elders in Capitol Hill. Queer art, delicious food, and music, featuring artists such as Storme Webber and Michael Woodward, will bring generations together to create a strong foundation for CHH’s project. You can register for the event here, or on Facebook.

refraction diagram


Process, process, process. I stalled over whether to use this clichéd symbol, but I looked up the physics of forming a rainbow this morning. A layer of water droplets forms a medium of different opacity that disperses white light in a particular way. What results is a refraction of the visible light spectrum, each color appearing as distinct in an arc of light. The task of pre-development and community development is to be the water droplets: those who absorb incoming light and help align internal and external reflection.


This summer I have had the opportunity to meet with over thirty members of the LGBTQ senior community in King County, and over twenty organizations that fight for LGBTQ rights throughout the state. Their stories and openness to share are a testament to the strength of this community—and the necessity of creating a central home and gathering place on Capitol Hill.


My experience began with a solitary morning walk through Cal Anderson. And so it continues. A few weeks back, I visited the Cal Anderson House, and interviewed two wonderful men who shared their history as residents of the building named after Washington state’s first openly gay legislator. Hearing about the resilience, struggles, and continued advocacy of these community members reminds me what is at stake in this work.


Andy Post is a Health Equity Fellow placed with Capitol Hill Housing for the summer through Humanity in Action. The fellowship, in partnership with Virginia Mason, focuses on the intersection of health and housing in LGBTQ care in Seattle. 

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.”



Reflections following PolicyLink’s Equity Summit

I just turned 45, so I think I can officially claim the label: Middle Aged White Guy. I am okay with my age and I like to think I own my white guy privilege, which I carried along with a small overnight bag to Los Angeles for the PolicyLink Equity Summit.

PolicyLink is a national institute advancing economic and social equity. The 2015 PolicyLink Equity Summit was the first gathering they’ve hosted since 2011. The driving theme was “Equity is the Superior Growth Model.”

At the opening plenary, Stanford economist Raj Chetty offered up an uneasy laugh line: “The chance of achieving the American Dream is 2x higher in Canada. Angela Glover Blackwell, the president of PolicyLink, urged the 3,000+ crowd, saying we need to “harden our commitment to being in the struggle…to achieve equity.”

For the past couple of years, Capitol Hill Housing and our partners on the EcoDistrict Steering Committee have been working to deepen our commitment to social equity in our ecodistrict work. We added a performance area for equity and consulted a wide range of experts and community members in development the following goals:


We formed an Equity and Engagement Working Group from members of the steering committee and other community volunteers to create an “equity lens” through which we’ll examine and evaluate every new EcoDistrict initiative.

The working group created a questionnaire that asks several key questions: Who is included in shaping and leading the project? Who does the project benefit and who is left out? And finally, how does the project strive to address oppression, both overt and systemic. The Equity and Engagement Working Group also will lead the planning for the EcoDistrict’s first major equity-focused project, the EcoDistrict Renter Engagement Program. More details soon!

At the Equity Summit, Blackwell read PolicyLink’s Equity Manifesto where equity is defined as “just and fair inclusion into a society in which all can participate, prosper, and reach their full potential.” Will you join us in the struggle to achieve equity on Capitol Hill?

Rent Control, yes or no and why?

[This blog post was originally published July 10 in the CHS Seattle blog HERE]

How do you feel about rent control? We want to know. Participate in the online dialogue.


Kshama Sawant and Nick Licata are squaring off against Smart Growth Seattle Director Roger Valdez (and a player to be named later) on the topic of rent control. Scheduled for July 20th, this free-to-view cage match (kidding about the cage) promises to be bloody.

Both sides are passionate and articulate advocates from opposite sides of one of the most hotly debated topics in Seattle. Rent control, love it or hate it, is a possible intervention being considered for addressing the skyrocketing rents in Capitol Hill and across King County.

Where do you stand?

Mr. Valdez contends that we don’t need rent control; that rent control feels good (“who doesn’t want to the cost of rent to just stop?”) but actually makes housing prices go up and is, by the way, prohibited by state law.

Councilmember Sawant wants tenants, unions and community organizations to organize to pressure the state to remove its ban on rent control. Councilmember Licata agrees.

There are thousands of people in Seattle already living in rent controlled apartments, also known as affordable or subsidized housing, like the 47 buildings operated by Capitol Hill Housing. But there are far more apartment buildings that are not subsidized where rent rises and falls with the market.

How do you feel about rent control? Do you believe the City of Seattle should institute rent control as a partial solution to skyrocketing rents?