The strange thing about building housing is that, almost by definition, the potential buyers and renters don’t yet live in the neighborhood, and therefore don’t get a say in how said housing gets built. Instead, the city, the developers, and existing residents decide.
This leads to conversations like this CHS comment thread, where it’s generally agreed that “everyone on Capitol Hill” is against small apartments. Of course they are – they already live on Capitol Hill! The apartments aren’t being built for them.
As a homeowner near Capitol Hill*, I wish more people who live on Capitol Hill — people whom I generally believe to be pro-social justice — would take a moment to think about the young people who want to live in a diverse, transit-friendly neighborhood with good access to jobs, but can’t afford it. Not everyone works at a big tech firm or bought their house in the 70s.
In other words, I wish these folks would take a moment to think about people like Duane Taylor:
SEATTLE — Duane Taylor was studying the humanities in community college and living in his own place when he lost his job in a round of layoffs. Then he found, and lost, a second job. And a third.
Now, with what he calls “lowered standards” and a tenuous new position at a Jack in the Box restaurant, Mr. Taylor, 24, does not make enough to rent an apartment or share one. He sleeps on a mat in a homeless shelter, except when his sister lets him crash on her couch.
Duane would probably like an affordable apartment on Capitol Hill. I’m sure if he knew that attending a community meeting would increase the supply of affordable housing, he would have made the effort to attend. But I doubt he has access to CHS from his mat in the homeless shelter. And so the result is that “everyone” at the meeting opposes affordable apartments.
Look, we can debate forever whether these micro-apartments are “legitimate” or just “regulatory loopholes” being exploited. For whatever reason, housing is in demand and this is what’s being supplied. There are a million reasons why a certain type of housing gets built over another. And the trend, in Capitol Hill and elsewhere, has been to oppose all forms of zoning changes, “micro-housing” or not.
Here’s the broader point. Washington State has the most regressive tax system in the country**. Yet we manage to provide halfway-decent public services and quality of life for two and only two reasons: we’re growing (6th fastest), and we’re young (19th youngest). That means more people paying in to the system than receiving benefits. If that growth starts to slow and the population starts to age, we’ll be in deep fiscal doo-doo and quick. Having young people is the best way to ensure long-term growth. Just ask Japan.
Fortunately for Seattle’s fiscal future, the youngsters just keep on coming (yay highest favorability rating in America!). From the aforelinked article:
Across town, Roman Tano, 20, woke up recently at YouthCare’s James W. Ray Orion Center, another shelter for young adults that offers training programs. In October, its capacity grew to 20 beds from 15.
Two months ago, Mr. Tano gave up an apartment in his native Dallas after losing his job. He sold his Toyota and sought opportunities in the Pacific Northwest[***].
People like Duane and Roman are going to be paying for my retirement some day. I’m not sure why I’d welcome them with anything other than open arms****. It’s good for Seattle and good for America (people are 15% more productive when they live in cities).
Unfortunately, there are only a few neighborhoods in this town suitable for young people seeking good jobs and car-free living. Capitol Hill is one of them. I’d like to see many more of these neighborhoods, through strategic up-zoning and and expanded transit network. Until then, we need a find a way to live together harmoniously, even if it means it’s a bit harder to stash 2,000 pounds of privately-owned steel, glass and rubber in the public right-of-way.
*I live in Squire Park, which some unscrupulous real estate agents call Capitol Hill. Truth is, I couldn’t afford real Capitol Hill! But I’ve got Ba Bar now, so suck it, Hillsters!
** Washington’s poorest residents pay 17 cents on the dollar in state and local taxes, more than any other state. Full report here.
*** How much lower is Mr. Tano’s carbon footprint since he left Texas and ditched his Toyota? Yet another reason to bring people to temperate, walkable Seattle.
**** A couch on Capitol Hill was my first bed in Seattle when I arrived here many years ago.