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.


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 .


Seattle City Council Committee Approves $15 Minimum Wage

A Seattle City Council committee unanimously voted today to pass the Mayor’s proposal for a $15 minimum wage.  The ordinance passed out of committee will phase in the minimum wage over the next three to seven years.  Specifically, it will require large businesses (500+ employees) to pay $15 by 2017 or 2018, and small businesses (less than 500 employees) to pay $15 by 2019 or 2021.

This historic vote represents a huge victory for workers, communities of color, and progressive leaders through the U.S.  The final vote in Council is expected to occur next week.

$15/hour minimum wage proposal passes through Seattle City Council's committee with a unanimous vote.

Seattle’s $15/hour minimum wage proposal passes through City Council’s committee with a unanimous vote.

In the end, City Council did not make some of the dramatic changes recently rumored in the media, but they did make some modest amendments that alter the deal struck by the Mayor’s Income Inequality Advisory Committee.

Below, we highlight and explain some of the most significant changes:

Amendments that support workers:

Council strengthened the power for the City to enforce the minimum wage throughout the ordinance.  The City of Seattle is undergoing a separate stakeholder process that will determine how the City handles all labor enforcement strategies; however, the amendments passed today allow for stronger mechanisms than in the Mayor’s proposal.  They include:

  • Extending the period a worker has to report a violation after it has occurred, from just 180 days to three years, which dovetails Washington State law.
  • Ensuring that, if wage theft occurs, employers must not only pay back wages to wronged workers, but they may be subject to a penalty up to $500 for first time violations, $1000 for second time violations, and $20,000 for subsequent violations.

Councilmember Sawant successfully inserted a provision that codifies the City’s intent to identify additional funding for non-profit organizations.

Amendments that weaken the ordinance for workers:

Council pushed back the effective date to April 1, 2015 from January 1, as originally proposed.

The City will allow employers to pay a sub-minimum wage (85% of the minimum) to 14 and 15 year old youth, people with certain disabilities, and apprentices.  Employers must apply for a waiver granted by the Department of Labor and Industries – a practice already done under State law.  This provision will potentially allow for discriminatory wage practices that are currently allowed under State law.  However, the employer will also have to apply to the City for a permit as well.  Between the two permits, the requirement for a waiver will create transparency for workers and the public about which employers are requesting and have received permission to pay sub-minimum wages.


Implications of the Mayor’s Proposal for a $15 Minimum Wage

What is the Income Inequality Committee’s proposal to raise the minimum wage?


If the Council approves the Mayor’s proposal to raise the minimum wage, low-wage workers in Seattle and our local economy will see significant economic gains.

  • 46% of Seattle’s low-wage workforce, who work for large employers, will make $15 by 2018.
  • Local small businesses and small non-profits will have 5 to 7 years to phase in the minimum wage to $15, and will reach parity with big businesses in 2025.
  • After all businesses have phased-in the minimum wage, the minimum wage standard will be equivalent to roughly $14.30 in 2015 dollars.

Table 1. Mayor of Seattle’s Minimum Wage Proposal

Table 1. Mayor of Seattle’s Minimum Wage Proposal

The Mayor’s proposal phases in the minimum wage in four separate tiers: A, B, C, D.   As of January 1, 2015, the minimum wage for most businesses in Seattle will be $11/hr.  The minimum wage standard will be tied to inflation starting on January 1, 2018.  By the end of 2025, all businesses in the Seattle will pay the same exact minimum wage:  an estimated $18.13/hr with a 2.4% adjustment for inflation.

Table 2. Phase-In Tiers For Proposed Minimum Wage

Table 2.  Phase-In Tiers For Proposed Minimum Wage

Who Will Benefit from the Mayor’s Income Inequality Proposal (And When)?


Who will see a wage increase, and when, depends entirely on who you work for and what types of benefits you receive.  Combining government data with a report produced by the Center for Economic and Policy Research, we estimate that nearly half of Seattle’s 102,000 work for large businesses, and 26% receive health-care coverage.  For exact breakdowns of workers for each tier of minimum-wage phase in, see Table 3.

Table 3. Number Workers affected by Tier of Minimum Wage Phase-in

Table 3. Number Workers affected by Tier of Minimum Wage Phase-in

How much more money will workers earn?


Over the next 10 years, low-wage workers will earn nearly $3 billion dollars more than their current wages (assuming current wages rose in line with inflation).  Our recent report shows that Seattle’s low-wage workforce earns an average of $11.95 per hour and works roughly 32 hours per week.  We estimated their new earnings based on the difference between the proposed minimum wage and the current average wage of a workers making less than $15 an hour.  The table below shows that  how much more in earnings workers affected by the policy will make in each year of the phase-in.  For example in 2017, when large businesses who do not provide health insurance reach $15 per hour low wage workers will earn nearly 150 million more in 2017, than if their wages had only increased with inflation.  Over the 10 year phase-in period, the cumulative earnings for affected workers would be $2.9 billion dollars.

Table 41 Our recent report showed that roughly 102,000 workers earn below $15 an hour. Using Economic Census data to estimate that 46% of workers are employed by large businesses with more than 500 employees anywhere in the nation.  A national report, from the Center for Economic and Policy Research, indicates that only 26% of low wage workers receive healthcare coverage, and our own analysis of Census MicroPUMS data indicates that there are nearly 10,000 tipped workers in Seattle.


New Study: $15 Minimum Wage – Single Best Option to Reduce Seattle’s Gender and Race Pay Gap

A new study by Puget Sound Sage concludes that a $15 minimum wage would create large scale benefits for women and people of color in Seattle, and effectively narrow our city’s gender and race pay gaps.  In a policy brief released today, Puget Sound Sage examines the potential outcomes of a $15 minimum wage on the local economy, assesses outcomes by industry sector, and demonstrates that a $15 minimum wage (with a phase-in only approach) is the single best option to reduce Seattle’s gender and race pay gap.

 Key findings from the policy brief include:

  • $526 million dollars will be added to the paychecks of Seattle’s lowest wage workers: a wage increase that is significant for low-income families trying to make ends meet, but represents only 1.7% of Seattle employers’ total payroll costs. 
  • This infusion of new earnings will result in worker spending and re-spending, creating a total ripple effect of $625 million dollars to the regional economy.
  •  Women and people of color living in Seattle currently earn between 44% and 71% of what white men earn.
  • The over-representation of women and people of color in low-wage industries, such as food services, likely explains much of this pay gap.
  • Raising the minimum wage is the fastest and most targeted policy option to narrow the gender and race pay gap.

The brief concludes that well-crafted, phased-in increase in the minimum wage can support a thriving economy.

You can find the full report on our website www.pugetsoundsage.org.