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.


Any Carbon Policy Must Meet the Equity Test

Revenue Investment is a Key Component to Socially Just Climate Policy

Puget Sound Sage advocates for a strong carbon pricing policy that re-invests revenue from a carbon-pricing mechanism (whether it be a cap and trade or a carbon tax) into targeted communities that need it the most. A cap and trade or a carbon tax offer both upsides and downsides for the environment and equity, which you can learn more about here. In Sage’s opinion, the merits of each policy comes down to how well it is implemented and whether or not there is a targeted approach to supporting people of color and people with lower incomes.

A targeted investment approach would create massive opportunity to:

  • Identify which communities are the most in need
  • Target those investments to communities who are impacted first and worst by climate change and environmental degradation

We looked towards California’s policy SB 535 – which first commissioned a study to understand environmental hotspots in California. Based on the findings it then had community and policy experts work together to reinvest 25% of the revenue into smart investments that simultaneously address poverty and environmental challenges. This policy has resulted in the largest investment in environmental justice communities in the country. California has already moved millions of dollars to create green jobs, build affordable housing, build up transit centers and invest in clean trucks (which is vital for the health of communities living along heavily polluted truck routes).

How do we evaluate any carbon pricing policy? We start with equity and look towards investing in communities with the most need – but we should be clear about what equity means. This chart can be helpful to explain the difference.

equity-vs-equality

Does Carbon WA’s proposal meet the equity measure?

Carbon WA’s proposal is to tax carbon and use the revenues to 1) reduce the sales tax by 1%, 2) give tax breaks to specific industries, and 3) put the rest towards funding a working families tax rebate. On the surface, this seems like good policy. But let’s examine their approach through a social justice lens.

Ultimately, the core concept to Carbon WA’s carbon tax proposal is “revenue neutrality,” where we greatly increase tax on one thing (carbon) but reduce taxes on other things (general sales). The problem with this is what the revenue neutral approach is about giving everyone the same via a tax reduction. Even at a 1% lower sales tax, this policy solution does not address the severe regressivity of our state’s tax policy – people with lower income pay more in taxes in Washington than any state in the country.

To their credit, Carbon WA included a portion of the revenue to the Working Families Tax Rebate a good policy similar to the Earned Income Tax Credit that gives working families larger refunds at tax return time. However, this solution does not take into account the fact that some communities live in closer proximity to environmental degradation and thus bear worse consequences. In addition, it leaves out large swaths of people with low incomes: specifically, people who lack documents to work in this country, single people, and people on fixed incomes.

For the future of our planet and for the people already experiencing the consequences of climate change, any policy must reduce carbon pollution. A successful and socially just policy will include revenue investments that create good jobs, prepare our region for climate change and incorporate the needs and input of communities of color and communities with lower incomes. We believe Carbon WA’s revenue neutral approach falls short of this measure.


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 .


State Senate Transportation Package Weakens Transit Access and Environmental Protections

Seattle Times Photo

Seattle Times Photo

Washington State Senators will be holding a work session today on their latest transportation proposal.  The legislature was called back into a special legislative session by Governor Jay Inslee .  The proposal, from the GOP-led majority coalition, could be voted on by the legislature by the end of the week.

The Senate package will disproportionately impact people with lower incomes, immigrants, refugees and people of color.  It would do this in two ways: 1. It will result in cuts to transit services that people with lower incomes rely on, and 2. It will take funds away from toxic clean-up projects that affect the public health.

Despite raising revenue for transportation, the package would still lead to cuts to King County Metro that threaten transit access for low income communities. Service cuts are detrimental to those for whom public transit is their primary source of transportation to get to jobs, schools, day cares, and grocery stores. These residents are most likely to be people of color and low wage workers.

WarningSign-580x435

Duwamish River Clean-Up Coalition

The proposal will also weaken environmental laws necessary to address public health concerns in communities near toxic waste sites. The Senate proposal diverts $280 million away from a toxic waste clean-up fund to the direct benefit of oil and gas corporations.

The diversion of funds comes at the direct expense of waterways like the Duwamish River. Residents of the Duwamish Valley are predominately low wage workers and people of color. A recent study has already demonstrated that Duwamish Valley residents face disproportionate diesel exhaust pollution. Failing to clean up toxic sites will compound and prolong the environmental hazards which place the health of lower income households at risk.

The package is essentially a doubling down on a failed transportation system that doesn’t adequately provide for transportation alternatives. The $12 billion package will spend less than 2% on alternatives to cars. For more information about their proposal view the proposal’s bills and balance sheet.

The Senate work session will take place on Thursday at 1:30pm in Olympia, Senate Hearing Rm 4 in the J.A. Cherberg Building; Olympia, WA. They will be taking public comments between 1:30-5:30pm.


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.


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.


Transit Cuts Jeopardize the Environment and Low Income Communities

King County Metro is planning for a 17% reduction in bus services beginning in 2014 during a time when ridership is at its highest point since `08. Unless state lawmakers take up transit funding during the upcoming special session in November transit riders can expect cuts to 600,000 service hours, 65 routes eliminated, and 86 routes reduced or altered.

That will mean longer walks to stops, longer waits, more difficult transfers, and more crowded rides. To some, it will mean total loss of public transit options. To find out the details about what routes are at risk, visit King County Metro online.

Transit riders and city residents will have an opportunity on Monday October 14th to make their concerns heard when State Senators will be making a stop on their “listening tour” in Seattle at First Presbyterian Church. The Transit Riders Union is planning a rally outside the church beginning at 5pm.

They are likely to get an earful. Here is why:

Transit riders who have a car are likely to go back to driving, adding between 20,000 to 30,000 vehicles (according to the office of County Councilmember Larry Phillips) to already congested traffic conditions in Seattle. Not only will commutes become more hectic, but the city’s environmental goals for transit will be undermined.

For those who rely on public transit – most likely to be people of color and low wage workers – service cuts represent more than an inconvenience. A disruption of transit at this scale can be detrimental to those for whom public transit is their primary source of transportation to get to jobs, schools, daycares, and grocery stores.

According to Got Green’s Community Survey – Young Workers in the Green Economy – roughly 1/3 of young people don’t have access to or can’t rely on a car for transportation. Claira, an 18-year-old retail worker, recounted how a lack of viable public transit has meant the loss of a job. “Where I work, there is only a bus every hour. . . . I lost a job once because I missed a bus. Because I was late, they passed my time slot to someone else. It’s devastating sometimes.”

For more information about the cuts visit KIng County Metro online.