Sound Progress

Research and insights from Puget Sound Sage.

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.


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.

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.


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.


  • 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 .

Seattle’s Incentive Zoning Policies Require Less from Developers than Other Major Cities

Last week we posted about Seattle City Council’s decision to raise “in-lieu” fees for developers designed to ensure that Seattle keeps up an affordable housing stock to meet the city’s growing need.  Publicola picked up our post.  Passing an increase in the fee to bring it into line with recently approved fees for South Lake Union development, is a step in the right direction.

Yet more needs to be done. When you compare Seattle to other cities’ inclusionary policies, Seattle requires considerably less affordable units to be built (less than 5 percent of the total building).  All the cities* in our analysis have Set Aside requirements two to five times that of Seattle’s.

That means that when Seattle collects fees from developers, even those cities with “in-lieu” fee rates similar to ours, the city is bringing in one half to one fifth less money to put toward building affordable housing stock.

Here is a comparison to other cities’ inclusionary housing policies:

A Comparison of Inclusionary Housing in U.S. Cities – 2013

Below is a summary of inclusionary housing policies from cities throughout the U.S.  Although most of the policies represent mandatory programs, nearly all cities provide value in return to developers through density bonuses, fee waivers, expedited review or subsidies.  The policies all underwent feasibility analysis in their respective markets and some have been in place for a decade or more.

Jurisdiction Set Aside (of total bldg) Income Targets Incentive
SEATTLE  5% For rent:  80%For sale:  100%
  • Bonus density depending on difference between base and max height
Boston, MA 15% For rent:  70% AMI[i]For sale:  80% AMI[ii] (half of units)

100% AMI (half of units)

  • None, only required for projects that need zoning relief
Boulder, CO 20% For rent:  60% AMI[iii]For sale:  70% AMI
  • None
Cambridge, MA 15% 65% AMI 
  • 30% density bonus
Davis, CA 25-35% if rental25% if sale For rent: 50% AMI (half of units)80% AMI (half of units)[iv]

For sale: 80% AMI (half of units)

120% AMI (half of units)

  • 25% density bonus
Denver, CO 10% For rent:  65% AMIFor sale:          80% AMI  (< 3 stories)

95% AMI  (4+ stories)


  • $5,500/unit cash subsidy
  • Expedited review
  • Additional incentive for lower affordability or more units (10% density bonus, reduced parking requirements, more cash)


New York, NY 20% 80% AMI
  • 33% density bonus
Sacramento, CA 15% 50% AMI  (2/3 of units)80% AMI  (1/3 of units)


  • 25% density bonus
  • Fee waivers or deferrals
  • Expedited review
  • Reduced land use limits
  • Less expensive finishes allowed
  • Gap financing
San Diego, CA 10% in most neighborhoods20% in other neighborhoods[v] For rent:  65% AMIFor sale:  100% AMI
  • Expedited review
  • Reduced water and sewer fees
San Francisco, CA[vi] 15% (20% if off-site) For rent (onsite): 55% AMIFor sale (onsite):  90% AMI

For rent (offsite): 55% AMI

For sale (offsite): 70% AMI


  • None
Santa Fe, NM 15% if rental20% if sale[vii] For rent: 40% AMI (1/3 of units)50% AMI (1/3 of units)

65% AMI (1/3 of units)

For sale:          65% AMI (1/2 of units)

80% AMI (1/2 of units)

  • 15% density bonus
  • Fee waivers
  • Reduced water fees for affordable units only
Washington, DC 8-10% or as high as 15% in some neighborhoods if density bonus is used 50-80% AMI depending on construction type and zone
  • 20% density (FAR) bonus
  • Expedited review

[i] Based on 100-120% of Boston median income in 2008.

[ii] Based on 130-160% of Boston median income in 2008.

[iii] Boulder targets based on actual AMI not HUD AMI.

[iv] Davis set aside based on size of development.

[v] San Diego’s ordinance is structured with the default option being a fee and the inclusionary requirements being an                                           alternative.

[vi] San Francisco varies slightly with neighborhood, in some neighborhoods that were up zoned, set asides went higher at the same time.

[vii] Santa Fe scheduled to revert to 30% in 2014 unless it is extended.

*The mix of cities we highlighted above is a cross section of the estimated 400 municipalities[1] that have some form of inclusionary zoning.  This list was selected in an effort to demonstrate the diversity in population size and real estate development climate of U.S. cities with inclusionary policies.

[1] Hickey, Robert, “After the Downturn: New Challenges and Opportunities for Inclusionary Housing,” Center for Housing Policy, February 2013, .