Did the Office of Housing answer my question? I don’t think so…

The Office of Housing has reiterated their policy in response to the last post and the post about it on the West Seattle Blog, without really addressing the underlying question that I asked, which perhaps I need to ask more clearly:

Does this area of Delridge contain more than 20% of households earning below 30% of the area median income? If so, I don’t think it meets the INTENT of the Comprehensive Plan. The intent of the Plan, as I understand it, is to avoid concentrating extremely low-income people in one place.

I’ll say it again – I’m not a demographer. I welcome fact checking of my research. I went into the Delridge Forum with an open mind, leaning towards support of the project. I spoke in favor of the project at my small group discussion. After hearing anecdotal stories from residents who live closer to the area than I do, I decided to check the census data for my own peace of mind. I really didn’t expect to find the level of poverty that I did.

Honestly, I live far enough from the site that this project won’t really have much of a direct impact on my daily life. But I care enough about my neighborhood and I care enough about social justice that I wanted to share what I learned. I have a deep belief that it’s just not right to put all the poor people in one place. Our community and our world is a better place if wealth and amenities are distributed.

I believe that DESC, the Office of Housing, and all of the other public agencies involved in this are sincerely trying to do the right thing. They are good people, working hard to create housing for the vulnerable and less fortunate of us. It is a hard job, both to develop affordable housing and to decide how to best spend precious public taxpayer dollars. I honestly believe that everyone working on this has good intentions.

Unfortunately, there is no agency to speak for our neighborhood. Usually organizations developing affordable housing are familiar with and working in the best interest of the neighborhood. They do market studies, rent surveys, and census research to make sure that the project makes sense. That doesn’t even apply here. I don’t know if any of that type of background neighborhood-specific research was done.

DESC doesn’t care about our neighborhood. I don’t mean that in a bad way, just that their heart and passions are with the people they serve.  All of the public funders are working to meet goals for ending homelessness, which is a good thing. It sounds like every DESC project meets significant neighborhood resistance, so I can imagine that it is hard to tell truth from NIMBYism.

Who speaks for the neighborhood? Who checks the facts? And are there better sources of economic information than what I researched? The Delridge Neighborhoods Development Association (DNDA) might once have played that role, but that organization is sorely stretched at the moment just trying to weather the bad economy. I spent 10 hours trying to get to the truth in the census data. I welcome others to check it or tell me if it’s wrong.

Although funding decisions are being made, it’s not too late to change the project. It could be built in an area with less economic distress. It could be moved – the land hasn’t been purchased yet. The concept could be changed to be more responsive to the neighborhood. It could be smaller. It could be part of a mixed-income project. It could bring a positive community amenity to the site, such as a grocery store. I can picture a cool project that combines the DESC units with a FareStart restaurant and café. It could respond to the community in any number of ways that would be better for our neighborhood and better for the residents. Is there even any organization that could facilitate that? The Office of Economic Development? The Office of Housing? DNDA?

What doesn’t make sense to me is to bring 75 severely stressed people into an already stressed community without any sort of plan for mitigating the stress. For anyone not familiar with the site, I encourage you to walk around, to see the beer-laden convenience stores across the street, to see the boarded up school building, to see the empty storefronts and dilapidated houses. I encourage the decision makers and those who write this off as NIMBYism to actually visit the site if you haven’t. It’s clearly not the “amenity-rich” environment that the writers of the Consolidated Plan described in the Siting Policies:

One goal is to ensure that housing for Seattle’s lowest-income and most vulnerable populations is available throughout the City, including in our most amenity-rich neighborhoods in terms of transit, schools, parks and retail.

I believe that it is our duty as citizens to raise questions and to hold our public agents accountable. Good intentions do not necessarily mean that this project is well conceived. It appears to me from my census research that this project will serve to further concentrate extreme poverty in this one area. Can we fix this?

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2 responses to “Did the Office of Housing answer my question? I don’t think so…

  1. While I think you’re raising important questions… I don’t think the Office of Housing is incorrect. It reads to me like they’re required to look at the demographics of an area, but the number of (government-) subsidized rental units. You might both be correct….

  2. Yes Michael, my hope with this blog is to raise awareness that this project appears to be putting very economically stressed people into a very economically stressed area. The Office of Housing has probably followed the letter of the policies (I can’t verify this but I have no reason to believe otherwise), but my “wake up call” was seeing the extreme poverty reflected in the census data. I was hoping that this information might factor into their decision-making because it doesn’t seem to meet the intent of the policies. At the very least, it gives neighbors some data to back up their intuitive feelings that the area is in severe economic distress.

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