Displacement Coalition files amicus brief in defense of city’s “First in Time” tenant protection law; oral arguments heard June 11th before State Supreme Court

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Displacement Coalition (SDC) joins with City Attorney’s Office; says “City’s law barring landlords from skipping over qualified minority tenants is not a taking” and “will eliminate bias in the residential rental process”

Tenants Union, Futurewise, and the Washington State Association of Municipal Attorneys also file amici briefs in defense of city’s groundbreaking tenant rights bill

Earlier this week, the Washington State Supreme Court accepted the Seattle Displacement Coalition’s amicus brief in defense of the City of Seattle’s groundbreaking “first in time” ordinance barring landlords from skipping over qualified tenants.

According to the Coalition, “the law, if upheld, would go a long way toward eliminating racial discrimination and other forms of rank bias in the rental housing market here in Seattle.  Landlords could no longer ‘conveniently overlook’ a household of color when they are otherwise qualified and first to apply for a vacant unit.”

The Coalition joins the Tenants Union, Futurewise, and the Washington State Association of Municipal Attorneys in filing friend of the court briefs.  Specifically, in its brief, the Displacement Coalition “argues that requiring landlords to take a nondiscriminatory approach to renting residential properties does not constitute a taking under Article I Section 16 of the Washington State Constitution” Instead it will serve the critical purpose the law was designed to achieve – the elimination of bias in the residential rental process.  These other organizations filing briefs will underscore other key issues the City Attorney will be raising in defense of the ordinance.

On June 11th, the Washington State Supreme Court will hear oral arguments from the City Attorney’s office in defense of this City’s groundbreaking tenant rights protection law.  Over a year ago, in March of 2018, a King County Superior Court judge ruled against the City of Seattle, finding that the ordinance violated landlords’ property rights, due process guarantees, and protections on commercial free speech. The city appealed directly to the state Supreme Court, skipping the Court of Appeals. The Supreme Court could have chosen to direct the case back to the appeals court, but instead decided to hear it directly.

The Seattle Displacement Coalition is a 42-year old housing and homeless advocacy group here in Seattle with a long track record of fighting for tenants’ rights and for the preservation and expansion of low income housing in Seattle.  Attorney Rory O’Sullivan assisted the Coalition in filing this brief. Rory currently serves as Co-Director of Student Legal Services at the University of Washington (though his assistance here on behalf of the Displacement Coalition is in a volunteer capacity and not associated with his job) and previously served as the Managing Attorney for the King County Bar Association Housing Justice Project and has taught at Seattle University School of Law.

In explaining further why they’ve gotten involved in this case, the Displacement Coalition says, “sadly racial bias along with many other forms of bias is alive and well in Seattle. HUD and the Tenants Union report dozens of these cases each month in our city and this law will help do away with it!”

For more information you may reach us at this address: mailto:sdc@zipcon.net. Information may also be obtained by calling the City Attorney’s office or other groups filing amicus briefs on behalf of the city’s appeal.

Posted in City Hall, Politics, racial justice, Uncategorized

Remembering Alan Justad former Deputy Director of Seattle’s permitting department; one of the victims of last weekend’s crane accident

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Alan Justad (photo courtesy of KING TV)

The following is an expanded version of a “Letter to the Editors” posted May 8th in the Seattle Times by John V. Fox

Earlier this week the Seattle Times reported that Alan Justad was one of the victims of the South Lake Union crane accident.  It’s shocking and a tragic irony that a longtime staffer, who’d retired five years ago from what then was called the city’s Department of Planning and Development (DPD) and in charge of building permits, would fall victim to a construction crane.

Over the years – even decades – I got to know and like Alan through our regular conversations in his various job capacities within DPD, now called the Department of Construction and Inspections (DCI).  Alan became my go-to guy for information and data on housing demolitions and new residential construction. Before they began to post most of their material on line, I just had to give him a quick call and he’d forward me literally spread sheets of information I’d requested with addresses, maps, and more.

When Alan moved up to Assistant Director of “DPD”, I could call him for all sorts of other information about issues and research they were doing around development of the city and he’d direct me to staff I needed to specifically talk to….  Always… Always he would respond promptly, courteously, thoroughly, and professionally.

After he had retired I’d even run in to him occasionally at the Burke Museum Coffee shop and we’d have friendly informal conversations about this or that, nothing special but which I always appreciated.  He was a genuinely nice guy.

I remember the last time I gave him a call while he was still on the job and he told me he was about to retire.  While this was a few years ago now, I recall vividly thinking to myself at the time – and now I wish I’d told him this directly – that Alan was really one of the last of a now long gone breed or generation of a planners who carried into their job at City Hall notions of public service and a kind of dedication to their jobs at odds with what we are now seeing from most staff at City Hall.

I saw in my numerous conversations with Alan over the years – a deep sympathy for our work and the efforts of all those in the community who took the time and effort to care about and wanted to do something to help their neighborhoods beset by new development and growth.  We were never defined as a nuisance or trouble makers standing in the way of staff “getting their jobs done”. The customer was the community that Alan served, not first and foremost those in suits with blueprints in hand standing at the permit counter for one more master use permit.

Never was I looked down on condescendingly as the lowly citizen going to the all seeing all knowing “expert”.  Too many at City Hall now – not all but darn near all – are simply functionaries looking to get ahead, spinning facts and information to defend the status quo, covering their rear ends, mining their job for pay and perhaps an opportunity later for lucrative position as consultant or work in the private sector.

And when the Times story earlier this week quoted Alan speaking for his department over a decade ago defending increasing amounts of growth in South Lake Union, I don’t believe it gives us a full or even accurate picture of Alan’s role back then.  He never really was a big cheerleader for that kind of stuff – again his sympathies I believe really were with the grassroots. And this deepens both the tragedy and terrible irony here for me that Alan’s life would end this way.

The gods of runaway growth and development that now run City Hall – that nearly all staff genuflect to – it wasn’t enough to push out over time real public servants dedicated to truly objective planning and honest service to the community – they had to stamp out and bring short the life of a good man who believed in those things and put them into practice.

Posted in City Hall, Neighborhoods, Politics, Uncategorized

Central Area residents to hold a “Not for Sale” Yard Sign Making Party and You’re Invited – Saturday 130pm-430pm!

Tired of frequent visits by realtors representing developers, residents of the historic Black community have come up with a novel approach to the problem

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The CD: targeted for upzoning

We learned of this rather unique event residents of the Central Area are organizing for this Saturday afternoon and thought you might be interested in hearing about it or perhaps even joining them for the fun.

Tired of being harassed by realtors representing developers swooping in to take advantage of the recent upzoning and buy out their single family homes, long time lower income, older, and minority homeowners and even a few renters have decided to undertake one of the more novel approaches to the problem;  why not make it real clear to the profiteers up front and with ‘front yard’ signage that their homes and their community, the historic heart of the Black community, “ARE NOT FOR SALE”.  So this coming Saturday from 1:30pm- 430pm they’re hosting a yard sign making party with the aim of covering their neighborhood – maybe yours too – with colorful “Not For Sale” yard signs.  More details are provided below.

One of the organizers of this event is Ruby Holland who grew up in the Central Area.  Here’s a little bit more about Ruby as written and included on one of the announcements for this event.  I don’t think they’ll mind if I crib from it a bit here or at least I hope not:

Ruby Holland grew up in the Central Area and graduated from Garfield High School in 1968.  Life took her to Atlanta where she ran a successful photography business until she returned to Seattle and her beloved Central Area a few years ago.  When Ruby returned to Seattle and the CD she noticed a lot had changed.  Most noticeably there were way fewer black people in the CD than when she grew up here.  Ruby began talking to people and discovered that many of the black people who made the Central Area so vibrant in her youth had been forced out due to gentrification and skyrocketing property taxes.  Never one to sit by and watch Ruby decided to do something.  She’s been working tirelessly educating people about programs available to help them stay in their homes.  She’s created an online community to work on the issue with the goal of helping black people and others stay in their homes in the CD.  Developers have been aggressively targeting people including coming to their doors with completed purchase and sale agreements.  One of the ideas that the online community came up with was to have people put yard signs in their yards indicating that their home is NOT FOR SALE.  So there’s going to be a yard sign making party:

Let the Developers Know What You Think

“Not for Sale” Yard Sign Making Party

Saturday, May 4th

1:30 – 4:30pm

Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd (Basement)

22nd & E. Union

(enter off of the parking lot on 22nd)

There will be poster paint and a staple gun available to use

Bring your own sign making material and a stake

And anything else you’d like to share to help make signs

 Come meet community members and get creative!

Posted in Affordable Housing, Density, Displacement, Gentrification, Neighborhoods, racial justice, Upzoning

Councilmembers Gonzalez and Mosqueda level charges of racism against neighborhoods opposing their pro-density agenda; it’s polarizing and 180 degrees wrong

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Coming to your neighborhood soon.

Especially since those bearing brunt of recently approved MHA upzones are communities of color

Reprinted from our column in Pacific Publishing News – Carolee Colter and John V. Fox

Before voting in favor of the citywide upzones last month accompanying Seattle’s new Mandatory Housing Affordability (MHA) plan, Seattle City Councilmembers Lorena Gonzalez and Teresa Mosqueda both said upzoning predominantly single-family neighborhoods was necessary to remove a hundred-year-old legacy of racist zoning practices.  

Pointing fingers and by inference accusing nearly 310,000 Seattle residents who live in single-family homes of racist intent when they speak up for their communities–and doing so without evidence—may be as egregious and polarizing a statement as any made by a locally elected official in our decades of neighborhood and housing activism. Developers and their self-appointed “urbanist” surrogates seemingly will go to any length to marginalize those standing in the way of their pro-density agenda. But it’s especially disappointing that two city councilmembers would play that game.

There is a tragic irony here in that 28 percent of the city’s renter population lives in a single-family home. About 63 percent of households of color in Seattle rely on rental housing compared to about 47 percent of white households. Moreover, a disproportionate number of larger renter families of color are by city standards severely cost burdened, including extended immigrant families. It’s this group that especially relies on these larger single-family rentals to maintain a foothold in their communities.

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(David Ward with mapping expert plotted all sites that according to city data are likely to be redeveloped under MHA upzone plan – Beacon Hill and North Rainier are blanketed)

As we reported in a story three weeks ago, 60 percent of single family areas city-wide that were recently upzoned under the new MHA plan are located in the Central District and Southend, especially along corridors such as Rainier Avenue, Martin Luther King Way and 23rd Avenue. These are precisely the areas with the city’s highest concentrations of low-income and minority renters, particularly large families renting single-family homes. It’s these areas that will face perhaps the most drastic change resulting from MHA upzones setting in motion redevelopment and demolition driving many minority households out for smaller luxury townhomes and apartments.  

The MHA upzones also will set off more buying and selling and refinancing of properties. If an affordable rental property isn’t immediately demolished, speculators pass on refinancing costs to the renters in the form of $200, $300, or even larger rent increases. Over time upzoning also will lead to increased land values and higher taxes, which inevitably get passed on to tenants in the form of higher rents. Once again, it will be low-income renters, especially families of color, who will be most directly impacted,and gentrified out of their neighborhoods.   Continue reading

Posted in Affordable Housing, City Hall, Density, Displacement, Gentrification, Housing Preservation, Neighborhoods, racial justice, Upzoning

In parting shot at U-District residents and small businesses, Rob Johnson re-introduces legislation to upzone “The Ave”

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University Way: Historic buildings, storefronts, small businesses, affordable housing  all put at risk by City Council

Nearly a dozen other blocks in the University District also are proposed for upzones

“Essentially we’re back in hot water or soon will be, thanks to Mr. Johnson” said a member of the University District Small Business Association, responding to the former councilmember’s decision, only days before he left office, to re-submit upzones for University Way and nearly a dozen other blocks in the neighborhood. 

Johnson’s decision to do so, without any consultation with those whose homes and businesses are affected, epitomized Johnson’s three-and-a-half year tenure on the City Council. As one resident of the district said, “there were many ‘up yours’ moments that came from Johnson. He routinely and arrogantly favored developers and other special interests over his constituents.”

To bring folks up to speed, the Seattle Displacement Coalition proved to be correct when it stated in a letter to the City Council that they would be on very thin legal ice to include upzones for the Ave in the Mandatory Housing Affordability MHA plan.  That was because the zoning changes along the Ave were not originally included as part of the MHA plan – only added later – and as a result never were subject to study in the environmental impact statement (EIS) for the plan.

While most councilmembers ignored our letter, the City’s Law Department did not.  While we were not privy to their specific legal opinion – it’s not disclose-able to the public –  we were told by several sources their opinion was in sync with ours – going forward with these upzones for the UDistrict was a “no-no” without first some level of environmental review preceding it. Only then, did Johnson and his Council colleagues remove the upzone for the Ave from the city-wide MHA plan.   

This begs the question why this zoning change was inserted at all into the MHA plan and without knowledge or notice to the neighborhood.  After all, as one small business advocate pointed out: “We were promised by Johnson and other councilmembers after the University District was hit over two years ago with MHA upzones, that the Ave would not be rezoned until the needs of small businesses could be identified and measures put in place to prevent small business displacement and preserve historic buildings. It was the whole reason why the Council didn’t upzone the Ave back then in the first place.”  These commitments to the neighborhood also were embodied in resolution form and passed unanimously by the Council at that time. 

As it turns out, Johnson sneaked into the MHA plan upzones for other parts of the University District as well – nearly 12 blocks – that also were not studied in the EIS and added only after it was completed.  And, again, upon advice from the City Attorney they were removed from the MHA plan.  This too left the community scratching its collective head. Why were they secretly added by Rob Johnson at all?  

But the community barely had time to breath a sigh of relief.  Less than a week before he left office and only a few days after the Council approved the MHA city-wide upzones, sans UDistrict upzones, Johnson turned right around and re-introduced separate legislation to upzone the Ave and these other areas of the University District.  This time however, these upzones will have to go back to the planners for some level of environmental review pre-requisite to bringing it back to the Council for a formal vote.

Johnson apparently couldn’t resist aiming one more shot at the community and just days before he left office.  What’s especially mystifying, there seems to be no particular local constituency actively lobbying for these zoning changes.  We only can see vocal opposition to them from the University District community and not just the small businesses. Yet Rob Johnson and other Councilmembers – especially Mosqueda and Gonzalez – seem hell bent on ramming them down the community’s throat.  And now that Johnson has left office, apparently these two other councilmembers will be carrying, at least as high as he did, the pro-upzone pro-developer banner.

Planners may bring back proposed U-District upzones to the Council for a vote as early as June

So how long will this environmental review take and when will these upzones for the U-District finally work their way back to the City Council for a vote? We spoke with the planner in charge of the environmental review w/in the Office of Policy and Community Development, Geoff Wendtland.  He told us that they hoped/expected to finish their review by the end of May or there-abouts and bring something back to the Council soon after that. He made sure to emphasize as well that there would be opportunities provided for public comment.

However, and this is where we may take issue with the their analysis, he said they’d likely be issuing only an addendum and did not foresee the need for issuance of a Continue reading

Posted in City Hall, Displacement, Gentrification, Neighborhoods, University District, Upzoning

Council discussion of CM Herbold’s anti-displacement bill originally scheduled for next week has been postponed

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Demolition begins in University District: Why aren’t developers held responsible for replacing low cost housing they destroy? Herbold’s bill addresses that shortcoming

Community leaders say “without passage of Herbold’s bill, our city can’t begin to manage, let alone overcome, homelessness;  our shortage of low cost housing can only grow”

Originally scheduled for next week’s City Council Land Use Committee Meeting, April 17th, a discussion among committee members with opportunities for comment on CM Herbold’s anti-displacement bill has been postponed.  A later date when it will be taken up has not yet been set. 

Councilmember Herbold’s bill would require developers to replace low income housing they demolish.  Specifically, it would substantially raise the mandatory housing requirement for developers who destroy existing low income rental housing.  The ordinance as currently written would apply only when developers demolish housing in particular areas of the city where there is a “high risk of displacement” as defined in a 2015 “Growth and Equity Report”, but advocates would like to see it apply to other areas of the city, if not all of Seattle.  As one advocate said recently, “someone displaced in Lake City or the University District or Ballard, or West Seattle is is just as displaced as those in the neighborhoods now covered by the ordinance.”

Advocates also are saying that the the developer’s replacement obligation must be increased in the bill to guarantee that at minimum, developers replace ‘1 for 1 and at comparable rent’, the units they destroy, not just a fraction. 

When the City Council finally does get around to considering and voting on CM Herbold’s proposal – and it won’t be too soon say advocates – it could very well determine the fate of a large chunk of what remains of the city’s existing stock of naturally occurring low cost rental housing.   It also will determine whether the city, for the first time in decades, is willing to pass a law establishing the principle that developers must share in the cost of replacing existing low income housing they destroy.

In just three years, 2016-2018, developers tore down 2699 units of housing; most of it affordable naturally occurring rentals and applications are pending for removal of another 900 units.  Recent upzoning has greatly accelerated these losses. It means, say advocates, that “for every unit of taxpayer subsidized low income housing that the city adds to its inventory (about 500 per year are added at a cost of about $50 million) – developers will destroy about twice that amount to demolition alone.  It’s one step forward and two steps backward.”

More low cost units are being lost to speculative buying and selling of existing unsubidized apartments.  The new owners pass on refinancing costs to the tenants pushing up rents and low income tenants out – a trend also made worse by recent upzoning.  Upzoning over time also drives up property values and taxes – costs of which are passed on to the tenants forcing more low income people from their homes.

Advocates also point to data showing that areas most likely now to be redeveloped given recent city-wide “MHA upzones”, will be sites containing the highest concentrations of the city’s remaining low income rental stock and disproportionately affecting communities of color.  

Councilmember Mosqueda, an ardent backer of upzoning, says development (and developers) don’t cause displacement

At a recent meeting of the city council, CM Mosqueda actually questioned the notion that developer induced displacement was even a problem, attributing gentrification to “other economic factors”.  Mosqueda then followed that up, sponsoring her own “lunch and learn” on displacement, carefully orchestrating it to preclude discussion of developer induced displacement.  How it’s possible to hold a hour-long discussion on displacement without delving into the role of zoning and development, the impact of higher rates of growth on housing demolitions and other developer actions that force people from their homes, is beyond me – but Mosqueda managed to accomplish it.  Herbold wasn’t even given time to describe her anti-displacement measure which she’d already introduced and also should have been front and center in the discussion.

Advocates say that passage of Herbold’s bill has become even more important now that the city has approved city-wide upzones affecting especially low income and minority communities. They are urging all their supporters to call and email all the councilmembers and then, when the hearing and committee meeting are set, “to attend, come early and sign-up to speak. Finally it’s our opportunity to lay out in general and very strong terms to the CM’s how displacement is affecting our communities because many CMs just don’t understand – to educate and strongly impress upon all how much demolition is ravaging our housing stock and that developers must pay their fair share.”

Here are numbers for all the councilmembers you are urged to call and/or email: 

Posted in Affordable Housing, Density, Displacement, Gentrification, Homelessness, Housing Preservation, racial justice, Uncategorized, Upzoning

MHA upzones: 60 percent of lots the city identified as “likely to be redeveloped” are located in lower income areas of the Central District, Southeast Seattle, and other Southend neighborhoods

Map of the city’s list of vulnerable sites shows communities of color face potentially the greatest change due to MHA upzoning: 85 percent of the 1000 largest upzoned single-family lots are in Central District and South Seattle

There’s some startling information longtime housing and neighborhood advocate David Ward uncovered as a result of a public disclosure request he recently submitted to the City of Seattle  After seeing a very hard-to-read map contained on page 50 of the City’s 2016 Growth and Equity Report, he asked for the source data that was the basis for the map.

The map PSX_20190403_180643shows small clusters of teeny green specks scattered across Seattle indicating parcels “likely to be redeveloped” under current zoning; “underutilized” lots where small older brick apartments or single-family homes may now sit but where much higher density development could be built.

Ward asked for specific information about each of the identified parcels on the map including their addresses and amount and type of housing currently on those sites.  And since the information was dated, he also requested an updated list of every parcel likely to be redeveloped as a result of city-wide upzones accompanying the “preferred alternative” studied in the environmental impact statement (EIS) for the new Mandatory Housing Affordability (MHA) plan.  These are the upzones recently approved with only minor changes a month ago by our City Council.  Ward knew there was such an updated list of parcels likely to be redeveloped because such a list was the basis for some of their analysis in the EIS for the MHA plan.

After some time and a lot of patience, Ward obtained the information he was seeking.  And with the help of a mapping expert put together his own set of updated maps.  And his maps are a revelation.  They are far more detailed and you can blow them up revealing in a very graphic way, every block and lot the city has identified as likely to be redeveloped under the new MHA upzone plan.  The maps also distinguish single family zoned sites (in blue) from other sites, commercial or existing multi-family apartment areas (in red) that the city identified as “likely to be redeveloped”.

PSX_20190403_181558And what especially leaps out; you can clearly see the disproportionate impact the MHA upzones will have on Southeast Seattle, South Park, Georgetown, Westwood Village-Highland Park, Beacon Hill, and Central District neighborhoods – specifically areas that just happen to contain the city’s highest concentrations of low income renter and homeowner households and households of color.

Working from the lists of addresses reflected on his maps, Ward found that about 6200 of the 10,400 or 60 percent of the lots the city identified as likely to be redeveloped city-wide under the new MHA upzones are located in these Central District and South Seattle neighborhoods.  He also pulled from this larger list 1000 of the largest formerly single-family zoned parcels and found that fully 85 percent of these are located in the same CD and South Seattle areas.  Of all sites the city identified as likely to be redeveloped these perhaps have been placed at greatest risk.  That’s because after upzoning, these larger sized sites that likely held a single-family home on it, they can now be redeveloped to much higher density.  These sites too are where low income renters and people of color now live – especially larger low income families that rely on these larger units to rent.

Other areas that have been upzoned with concentrations of sites now “likely to be redeveloped” include Fremont, Ballard, Crown Hill, Lake City, and areas along Aurora Avenue North.  Census data indicate that most of these areas also contain high concentrations of lower income people and renters.  

So yes, with these maps, we can see rather clearly there are indeed racial and economic justice implications accompanying the new MHA plan.  And they are tied directly to the conscious decision by our elected leaders to upzone without regard to how it will affect low income people and communities of color – those most likely to be displaced and gentrified out of their communities.

To view a map of your neighborhood and other areas of the city, click on this link:  https://drive.google.com/file/d/1FYOEPpijQKGLCEXOHkRT4VPLySuuDnzv/view

Posted in City Hall, Density, Displacement, Gentrification, Housing Preservation, Neighborhoods, Upzoning