The Chinatown-International District Coalition fights against 1,600 market-rate residences and hotel rooms flooding their neighborhood
By Cliff Cawthon, Contributing Writer
On November 19, the Chinatown-International District (CID) Coalition (also known as Humbows Not Hotels) hosted a community meeting about developer-driven displacement in their neighborhood. Forty community members came to the meeting, co-sponsored by former Seattle City Councilmember Kirsten Harris-Talley, to discuss their concerns.
The CID Coalition was founded a year ago after Cynthia Brothers, an activist and creator of the Vanishing Seattle website, wrote a piece in the Seattle Globalist about the rapid pace of development in the neighborhood and how it might lead to displacement. The Coalition includes residents of the neighborhood, people who are connected to the neighborhood and other concerned allies who have been keeping an eye on development.
The CID, the historic heart of Seattle’s Asian American and Pacific Islander (API) community, is home to 5,000 residents. While Seattle’s overall median income has shot up to $80,000, the CID’s average median income is only $40,000. Twenty-five percent of the neighborhood lives below the poverty line. According to the city, “95% of the area population are renters.”
Now, due to a new streetcar line and the proximity to downtown and Sound Transit light rail, the CID is facing a perfect storm of gentrification. Over 1600 units of market-rate residences and hotel rooms are in some stage of development in the neighborhood—including some fully completed projects. Members of the Coalition are concerned that these developments will erase much of the neighborhood’s cultural character and affordability. Many CID residents may have to move out of the neighborhood and be cut off from longstanding support networks.
Since the Coalition formed, the organization has been building its base in the neighborhood by organizing community meetings and staging numerous protests at city hall.
City upzone will increase development pressure
In July, the Seattle City Council approved an upzone for the neighborhood that will further increase development pressure. The upzone increased maximum building heights to 270 feet on some blocks, 170 feet on other blocks and 95 feet on still others.
The upzone was part of the Mandatory Housing Affordability plan that allows developers to build taller, bigger buildings. In exchange, the builders must include seven percent affordable housing in their projects or pay into a low-income housing fund managed by the city.
The Coalition proposed that new developments include 25 percent affordable housing, but the city council refused to budge.
At the November 19 meeting, the Coalition provided information about 10 specific developments that are of concern in the neighborhood.
Then, the meeting broke up into groups. Each group included youth, elders, residents and advocates. The organizers posed questions to each group about their connection to the CID and their vision of where the neighborhood should go from here.
[My grandmother] “likes to walk around and play mahjong in the neighborhood,” says Tiffany Chan, a Coalition activist. Chan, like others, is afraid that the CID will become less affordable and lose its identity as a cultural center for the API community.
The loss of cultural and social anchors is also very important to Matt Chung, one of the older Coalition activists. Chung highlights the importance of the Coalition being led by young people and mentioned how the neighborhood gives the API community a central voice and sense of cultural place. Says Chung, “When I was a kid, Chinatown was where we’d always go. This is still the most important part of the city to me. Without Chinatown we have no say” [in Seattle].
Community members returned from the breakout groups and identified their priorities: protecting and expanding affordable housing and addressing labor inequality, anti-Blackness and language/ translation services.
The latter often poses major obstacles to many members of this community, according to TW, the Cantonese translator for the event. TW shared his story of discrimination and exclusion while renting an apartment in the neighborhood. According to TW, hot water was unavailable at his residence for a prolonged period. He struggled to exercise his rights as a tenant because while the law was readily available in English, he wasn’t proficient enough to understand Seattle’s rental statutes.
The Coalition brought the meeting to a close by presenting a vision of more community ownership of property. The Coalition’s Brothers says, “Get land out of the speculative market and get [those] resources back into the community as a way for the community to set the agenda.”
The Coalition will hold another community meeting on January 25th to discuss how they intend to further delay and defeat those market-rate developments that are currently in the permitting stage.
Questions, comments, tips?
Cliff Cawthon is a freelance contributor to Outside City Hall. He is not a member of Seattle Displacement Coalition, nor does he speak for the organization. George Howland Jr, longtime independent Seattle journalist, is his editor at Outside City Hall. Cawthon is a south Seattle-based educator, organizer, politico and writer, originally hailing from Buffalo, NY. He’s currently an Adjunct Professor of Political Science at Bellevue College. Cawthon has been working in politics for the last 15 years. For the previous four years in Washington state, he has worked, most notably, as a workers’ rights and housing justice organizer and leader. He’s been involved in major campaigns, such as the Fight for Fifteen in Tacoma and statewide, and the Seattle Progressive Income Tax. In his down time, he’s the Co-Chair of the Tenants Union Board of Directors, a Commissioner on the Seattle’s Renters Commission, a freelance writer and a community radio host on Rainier Ave. Radio He holds an M.A. in Human Rights and Political Science