Sound Progress

Research and insights from Puget Sound Sage.


Our People, Our Planet, Our Power—Community Led Research in South Seattle

By Dionne Foster

When Puget Sound Sage came together with Asian Pacific Islander Coalition, Community to Community, Got Green, El Centro De La Raza, Latino Community Fund, One America and Washington Community Action Network to create Front and Centered, we committed ourselves to forwarding the Principles for Climate Justice.

Our principles affirm that solving the climate crisis requires putting racial and economic justice in the center of policies addressing climate change. In order to build resilient communities, we committed ourselves to bringing both economic and environmental benefits to our communities and developing processes that engage community members in a just and transparent manner.

Seeking to put these principles of climate justice into action at the neighborhood level, last year Pugt Sound Sage and Got Green partnered on a community-based participatory research project (CBPR). We interviewed 175 people – predominantly people of color, people living in Southeast Seattle and people with low-incomes. We also interviewed 30 organizations with the goal of determining collective environmental priorities.
hodan jill climate report

Last month we released the findings of the CBPR in a report, Our People, Our Planet, Our Power – Community Led Research in South Seattle, detailing concerns about climate adaptation, decreasing carbon pollution and ensuring equitable representation from the perspective of our base communities in Seattle. Communities named housing, displacement, food access, transit and environmental related heath issues as top-priorities.

This report represents the direction we should be heading as a movement – both in the policy recommendations included in the report as well as the process by which those solutions were developed. What we learned during this process is that when we start policy development with our communities; they lead. And when our movement is led by and centered on the most impacted communities only then can we achieve real climate justice and resilience.

This post is part of a collection of stories keeping Communities of Color “Front and Centered” this Earth Day. To see more of the work our coalition is leading please visit frontandcentered.org/earthday.


Sound Transit 3: Ramping up for an equitable and accessible transit future

By Afrin Sopariwala

The Puget Sound region has seen unprecedented growth of population in the last few years and this trend is expected to continue. By the year 2040, the population is projected to grow by roughly one million people, with a majority of the growth occurring in cities like Everett and Tacoma.

As we continue to grow as a region, we must plan to grow equitably. It’s critical that we are able to match population growth with infrastructure growth by investing in accessible public transit, affordable housing, and good jobs. With that in mind, the majority of the Puget Sound Region will have an opportunity to vote on Sound Transit 3 (ST3): a potential ballot measure that will expand and build out Sound Transit’s long range plan. ST3 will go before voters in November 2016. Sound Transit currently serves the urbanized parts of King, Snohomish and Pierce County and approximately 2.9 million people or 80.3% of the three counties.

In December 2015, Sound Transit released the list of candidate projects, which extend from Lynnwood to Everett; Bellevue to Redmond; down to Tacoma from Federal Way; and connects West Seattle and Ballard to downtown Seattle. This Thursday, the board will deliberate over the final list of projects and additional policy direction included in the ST3 package and then launch into a month of community engagement.

Community Engagement is critical to make ST3 an equitable transit system.

Puget Sound Sage, Transportation Choices Coalition, and OneAmerica – collectively Transit for All—are working with Sound Transit board members and staff to flip the script on community engagement by hosting community-driven conversations on the future of transit service and surrounding communities. Transit for All will host several workshops and forums to develop a community frame for the future of high-capacity transit in the region, to convey to Sound Transit board members and staff.

The first of many community workshops was on Feb 19th. Rebecca Saldaña, executive director at Puget Sound Sage, opened the event by inviting the community to engage in this process. She said, “If you’re not at the table, then you’re on the menu.” Shefali Ranganathan, director at Transportation Choices Coalition, walked the audience through the history of the region’s transit system.

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Shefali Ranganathan, Director of Transportation Choices Coalition

Shefali related the ironic story of how Seattle lost the opportunity to build a regional transit system. In 1965, the federal government proposed Forward Thrust – a project to fund most of a regional train system. Unfortunately, voters did not approve the ballot measure, and the Federal Government sent the funding to build Atlanta’s system instead. We are now playing catch-up. This time, it will cost over $27 billion and will be one of the biggest and boldest investments we will see in this region in our lifetimes.

It is important that the community is engaged in choosing how we connect our region in an accessible, just and sustainable way – focusing investments in historically disinvested in communities and ensuring that low-income communities are not displaced. The first workshop generated some great ideas and input from the community. They are outlined below.

Good Jobs near Transit:

  • Construction and maintenance jobs should pay living wages, and have intentional inclusion for people of color, women, LGBQT and other marginalized communities.
  • After construction, ensure good jobs that are long term and relevant to the community are available and accessible to people most impacted
  • While disposing the land, ST should require that developers provide good jobs to people that are from those communities.

Affordable Housing:

  • It is important that people can work and live near transit — to save a lot of time and cost. Sound Transit should prioritize affordable housing and living-wage jobs near transit.
  • Sound Transit and local governments must play a role in preventing and mitigating economic displacement that happens near transit for both residents and community institutions.
  • It is important to provide adequate benefit for households that will be physically displaced, there should be fair relocation opportunities offered to them in affordable housing without pushing them further out of the urban areas.
  • Surplus land disposition must allow affordable housing that recognizes the needs of the community that already exists to minimize gentrification.

Climate Resilience:

  • Resilience is both being prepared to face disasters and making our communities and social relationships stronger.
  • Transit centers must be designed keeping in mind climate change impacts like increased temperatures and frequent storms, especially to elders and disabled people. Invest in low-impact developments – rain gardens, tree cover, permeable pavements, etc.
  • Existing infrastructure should be retrofitted to be accessible and prepared for climate change impacts.
  • Different modes of transit must be in proximity each other and to community centers, educational centers, faith-places.

Community Engagement:

  • Set up community boards in each area of proposed construction with people that represent the community. Diverse segments of people must be invited to this board — not only business owners but also students, disabled, low-income people. Representation from ST should not just be engagement managers, but designers and engineers to collaborate on solutions.
  • Employ community liaisons from the community, and use easy-to-understand and interactive ways to engage the community in technical details.
  • Publish information in ethnic media outlets that the communities engage in more than just the mainstream media. Meeting should be set to be accessible in different languages and at times that working people can attend.
  • Design simple ways for people to understand the cost impact — cost to use transit, or how it might affect the rent of their homes.
  • Resource community stakeholders to conduct community engagement and organizing.

Accessibility & Safety:

  • We need sidewalks and good lighting not just at the station but 1/4- 1/2 mile from the station.
  • Stations should have activity near them like retail or commercial so that there are lots of people around. This creates a sense of safety.
  • Better bus access to the stations.
  • Bike lanes and lockers at the stations.
  • Better amenities at bus stops near stations (lighting, shelter, seating).
  • Make sure that communities are part of the design process so that they welcome the station and do not oppose it.
  • Good signage to and from the station in multiple languages where it makes sense.
  • Stations should feel walkable and human scale – not like the Mt.Baker station.
  • More security at stations.
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Transit for All is hosting several workshops and forums to develop a community frame for the future of high-capacity transit in the region to convey to the Sound Transit board members and staff.

Ramping up to the next phase:

The Transit for All coalition will advocate for these priorities to Sound Transit board members and urge them to take this community vision for an equitable Sound Transit 3 into account as they make their final decisions over the coming months.

This is just the beginning and it is important that the community deepens conversations and brings more voices to the process of decision making in the next few months. It is critical that we get active in discussions around the impacts and long-term goals that we envision for transit in our region. We will organize phone banking, door knocking and invite people to show up at board meetings and public hearing.

Please sign up to learn more and attend the next People’s Workshop on April 13th at Highline College.


A Vision for Community-Supported Equitable Development in Southeast Seattle

It is not a coincidence that Southeast Seattle has the greatest incidence of people with low incomes and possesses the highest poverty rate in the city.  In Southeast Seattle, affordable housing and quality jobs are increasingly hard to find for low-income people and families, who are disproportionately people of color, immigrants, and refugees as a result of the history of segregation.  However, the face of Southeast Seattle, and the country, is changing.  As of 2012, a majority of the nation’s infants were people of color, which now puts the white population of the country in the minority.

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South Communities Organized for Racial and Regional Equity and Puget Sound Sage organizing for equitable development in SE Seattle

Currently, Seattle is the fastest growing city in the country – average rents have increased even more dramatically in the past year and the trend does not show signs of slowing.  Demographic changes in Southeast Seattle and South King County indicate that people of color have been displaced from their communities as the cost of living in Seattle has become unsustainable for them.  As a result, low-income communities and communities of color are relocating to resource-poor suburbs while a largely white and wealthier population remains in Seattle. This segregative effect in major metropolitan areas are deepening racial disparities in this city – disparities we have long sought to change.

However, smart planning, policy and investments in the community can mitigate or even reverse this trend. The opposite of gentrification-fueled displacement is “prospering in place” – where low-income people and families can afford to stay where they are, access the region’s economic opportunities and deepen cultural roots in their existing communities.

Low-income communities and communities of color in Seattle have known this far too long and all too well.  This past fall, approximately fifty people participated in a convening and survey through the city-sponsored, community-led equitable-development-focused Community Cornerstones program.  Six multi-cultural coalitions, two foundations, four business associations and eight city staff from five departments were convened to share equitable development plans and accomplishments, deepen collaborative relationships and explore opportunities to coordinate ongoing efforts.

Through synthesis of the surveys and convening notes from community coalition participants, several overarching themes emerged that Sage was able to connect to project and policy next steps, in a report informed by community.

Themes:

  • Growth must be place-based and culturally relevant.
  • Cultural anchors and community-supported economic development must be prioritized.
  • Government entities need to understand community vision in order to facilitate positive growth and increase capacity to align programs and funding that make those visions happen.
  • Community leaders need to be part of decision-making processes.
  • Multi-racial, multi-cultural equitable development coalitions have emerged and are currently working directly with the city as a resource. These community organizations must be adequately resourced to take ownership of their vision and actively participate in shaping development.
  • Community organizations expressed a desire for regional cohesion, and that organizations be adequately networked, working across cultures and sectors to become more effective, powerful and farsighted. Only then will meaningful change stem displacement and grow significant economic opportunity in the Rainier Valley.

Click here for the full report. For more information, to get engaged in the community-led equitable development movement as a community leader, or are a foundation looking to resource communities already doing equitable development work, contact the authors of the report, Ubax Gardheere and Lauren Craig .


Downtown Developers Attempt to Sue Their Way Out of Providing Affordable Housing

2014 looks to be an incredible year to be a big shot developer. The Daily Journal of Commerce reports that, “investors are paying premiums to enter core Seattle neighborhoods, while still achieving yields that are better than the San Francisco, Los Angeles and Vancouver, B.C., markets”.  In neighborhoods like Capitol Hill and Eastlake rents have increased by 9.3% in just 12 months. [i]

Photo courtesy of The Seattle Times

Photo courtesy of The Seattle Times

But despite big returns and a sunny horizon, downtown developers [ii] have attempted to rig the system for their own advantage by suing the City over a marginal fee increase that provides money for affordable housing.  Not only does the lawsuit seem absurd given current market conditions, the developers never publically raised their concerns and instead went straight to a lawsuit. Advocates, affordable housing developers, community members and elected officials and many developers have been working hard together to find solutions to the overwhelming need for more affordable housing.  We all want to believe that we have the same goal of building a strong city where everyone can thrive, but this lawsuit signals developers’ main interest: their profits.

Additionally, the lawsuit appears to be an escalation of developers’ scare tactics.  For years developers have been able to operate incredibly profitably while limiting their public responsibility, threatening to sue if City Council asks them to step up their contribution to affordable housing.  Now in 2014, as City Council commits to strengthening its incentive zoning programs, developers sue over a meager fee increase that Vulcan Inc. lobbied for during the South Lake Union rezone.

The pressure on Seattle families and workers to find affordable housing within City limits is growing.   Taxpayers have done their part, and stepped up to the plate through the Housing Levy and MFTE (a program that gives developers a tax exemption in exchange for affordable housing).  It’s time that local developers in Seattle do the same.


[i] Daily Journal of Commerce, State of the Market: Multifamily rides Seattle’s strong job market,” By TRAVIS ANDREWS and ERIC SMITH  Paragon Real Estate Advisors

[ii] The complaint appears to be brought in part by Clise Properties, Inc and  Second & Pike LLC owned by Seattle developer Greg Smith who is also the founder and principal of Urban Visions


Mayoral Election Analysis: What a Murray Administration Will Mean for Building Communities that Thrive

“Economic opportunity should be the promise of Seattle. Good jobs, equity, fair wages, worker protections, affordable housing and a livable city for the diversity of people who should be able to call Seattle home – these are values I have fought for all my career.”

 – Candidate Ed Murray

The mayor’s race has ended and Mayor-Elect Murray is planning his transition to move into Hizzoner’s chair.  What will a Murray administration mean for issues like equitable development, access to affordable housing, quality jobs for Seattle’s service sector workers, and dependable access to transit?

Although the Murray and McGinn campaigns focused on different areas, progressives in Seattle will have plentiful opportunities to work with the new Mayor’s office.

During his four years in office, Mayor Mike McGinn provided leadership on developing good jobs in the green economy for young workers, promoted a city-wide local hiring policy to help neighborhoods with high unemployment, supported living wages, and opposed selling city property (the legal term is a ‘street vacation’) to developers for use by retailers like Whole Foods that don’t provide living wages and good benefits.

How will Ed Murray be different?  Not much, but a few distinctions remain.

Overall, Murray says he’s committed to “strengthening and protecting the working and middle class,” and “ensuring that Seattle does not become a city where only the very wealthy and the very poor live.” Murray has pledged support for $15 minimum wage for Seattle, phased in first for city employees, fast food and retail workers, and then for most workers “by the end of his first term.” Murray, like McGinn, is also committed to enforcing Seattle’s wage theft and paid sick leave laws.

When it comes to ensuring that communities receive real benefits from development projects, a Murray administration will likely be hesitant to employ some policy tools community groups deem important. In statements this summer, Murray opposed McGinn’s decision to deny a request from Whole Foods for a street vacation for their proposed West Seattle store. Sage, along with many community groups and unions, has found street vacation permits a useful way to get developers to agree to better environmental and labor policies.

Like McGinn, Murray says he supports inclusionary housing policies in growing neighborhoods like South Lake Union. His Economic Opportunity Agenda states that future development should include maximum benefits…including increasing the number of public housing units that developers must provide.”

Under McGinn, the City embraced policies to prevent displacement of immigrant and communities of color from southeast Seattle near light rail development. The City’s Community Cornerstones Project is focusing on supporting immigrant businesses and cultural institutions, along with affordable housing near light rail.  Murray proposes “building a small-business incubator service for assisting new immigrant-led small businesses,” and more affordable housing in general.

All of this means progressives can continue look forward to opportunities to work with the new Mayor’s office on policies that build thriving communities for the next four years.


Inclusionary Zoning: A Crucial Tool for Seattle’s Next Mayor to Address the Housing Crisis

Ed Murray appears poised for victory in Seattle’s mayoral election. As KPLU reporter Ashley Gross asserted in a recent story, Seattle’s new mayor will be challenged to address an affordable housing crisis in the city.

The challenge is a big one: Seattle is one of the top ten metro areas in the nation with the most dramatic increases in rental costs in 2012, and homelessness in the city is also on the rise.

At the same time Seattle is a city segregated by both race and income. In order to effectively address the segregation of opportunity that lies within Seattle’s housing crisis, inclusionary zoning is an important tool that must be on the table.

Inclusionary zoning arose out of the civil rights movement. Civil rights leaders advocated for inclusionary zoning as a housing policy to fight racial segregation and the economic attack on communities of color in the United States. But they weren’t just concerned about housing. They sought to ensure that people of color had the opportunity to share in the benefits of living in high opportunity neighborhoods, like strong schools, access to good jobs and safe streets and sidewalks.

Communities fought a long and uphill battle to win inclusionary zoning. One suburb Mt. Laurel in New Jersey fought particularly long and in the face of racism and marginalization by local government. But today, the fruits of their organizing have resulted in measurable outcomes for the families that eventually were able to live in this high opportunity suburb. A recent NY Times article profiled their experience and the work of Princeton sociologist Douglas S. Massey to compare the outcomes of families that were able to live in Mt. Laurel versus families that were constricted to low-income redlined neighborhoods.

Their recent book found that Mt. Laurel families have more economic success and their kids are doing better in school than families not able to afford the neighborhood. “Two-thirds are working, compared with just over half of the nonresidents, and a third as many, 4 percent, are on welfare. The sizable earnings gap, $19,687 versus $12,912 from wages, helps push the tenants living in the new housing out of poverty. The longer they stay in Mount Laurel, the better jobs they get and the more economically independent they become.”

The children of families living in Mt. Laurel, “study twice as many hours and spend more time reading.”

Inclusionary zoning creates these types of outcomes because it begins to dismantle barriers to affordable housing and then shares the benefits of high investment neighborhoods with families and households that have been historically shut out from opportunity. “I would go as far as to argue that what is truly American is not so much the individual but neighborhood inequality,” concludes the Harvard sociologist Robert J. Sampson in his landmark 2012 book, “Great American City.”

It is time for Seattle to address the segregation of opportunity in our city and our elected leaders will need this valuable policy tool.


Growing Income Inequality is Hurting Seattle’s Global Competitiveness

TR007241Income inequality is a growing problem in Seattle. Many of us don’t need statistics to tell us that, because we can feel it and see it happening. However, it helps to quantify a problem in order to address it.

Just over a week ago, I attended the annual Regional Leadership Conference sponsored by the Seattle Metro Chamber of Commerce, courtesy of the Bullitt Foundation. The conference featured a report by the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) on Seattle’s global competitiveness. Their report highlighted growing income inequality as a key issue affecting the region.

BCG compared Seattle to eight global competitors, including San Francisco, Boston, Singapore, Amsterdam, and Hamburg, using almost 50 different economic and social indicators. Overall, Seattle was right in the middle of the rankings.

They also pointed out Seattle’s growing economic inequality as measured by the Gini Index (a measure of income distribution). BCG predicted that in the next 20 years Seattle will pass New York City in inequality. Why? Middle class jobs have been disappearing in our region, leaving a big gap between top income earners and low-wage jobs.

But something important was missing from the discussion: BCG did not suggest raising the standards for low-wage industries to create more middle income jobs, but focused instead on bringing employers that offer middle class jobs to the Seattle area.

Workforce standards play a vital role in creating living wage jobs. This is an especially prescient issue given the near strike of grocery workers in Seattle this week, the uprising of food service workers throughout the city and the presence on the ballot of Proposition 1 – the Good Jobs Initiative – in SeaTac.

It is short-sighted to neglect workforce standards. Washington’s Employment Security Department projects that the fastest growing industry in the Seattle area from 2011 to 2021 will be the Employment Services sector, which is principally temporary and contract jobs. Half of all projected jobs by 2021 will be in low-wage occupations like retail sales, food preparation, and janitorial services.

According to BCG, transportation infrastructure and the education system are Seattle’s biggest competitive disadvantages, with the worst scores for traffic congestion, transit utilization, and some education measures. BCG’s John Wenstrup noted that South Lake Union already is suffering from heavy traffic congestion, with three million square feet of additional office space still to come, (not to mention the Hedreen mega-hotel development right down the street at 9th and Stewart). Several conference speakers also noted that Washington’s education system is struggling to train workers for the good jobs of the future and reduce high school drop-out rates.

Let’s juxtapose those facts against this: BCG concludes the costs of doing business in Seattle are among the lowest of the global cities—Seattle’s average wages are third lowest out of the nine cities, at a average of $21.00 an hour, and office and industrial rents are lower than average.

Of interest to the debate over living wages at SeaTac: Delta Airlines Vice President Mike Medeiros told the conference that Delta is expanding in Seattle, in part because international routes from Sea-Tac Airport to Asia are shorter than flying from San Francisco or Los Angeles, meaning Sea-Tac will continue to grow as an international airline hub.

What we need to remember is this: Living wage jobs and higher workforce standards need to be at the center of our attempts to address economic inequality in the region if we are to make a significant impact on our regional competitiveness.