Today Puget Sound Sage released a new report on Transit Oriented Development (TOD) in the Rainier Valley. It  outlines changes seen in the Valley over the last decade, makes an environmental and social equity arguments for a greater emphasis on affordable housing and living wage jobs in TOD, enumerating racial justice principles for TOD,  and calls for urgent and aggressive actions and creation of tools necessary to achieve these principles. Tonight at 5:30 at the Filipino Community Center (5740 M.L. King Jr. Way South, Seattle, WA 98118) Puget Sound Sage will hold a panel discussion on their findings.

I have only had time to skim the document, but my first impress is that the report does a good job setting the context, honing in on specific problems of concern not usually focused on, and then proposing strategies to address these problems. Many of these strategies however, not surprisingly, require public money to get them off the ground as well as legislative changes on the regional and state level. I’m also very happy to see that the report is not a rebuke of TOD and development in the Valley, but rather in my reading, a call for TOD that more aggressively aims to benefit existing residents.

Below is a list of recommendations included in the executive summary.

  • Prioritize implementing the non-zoning components of the recently completed Neighborhood Plan Updates.
  • Preserve affordable land now for community TOD goals as gentrification occurs.
  • Maximize creation of local, high-quality jobs in TOD projects in Rainier Valley – including both short term construction jobs and long-term, on-site jobs.
  • Encourage higher job quality for low-wage industries prevalent at regional job centers along the new light rail system, including Downtown Seattle, First Hill and SeaTac Airport.
  • Connect low-income workers of color in Rainier Valley to high quality jobs throughout the rail corridor.
  • Ensure affordable childcare near transit stations to increase job security for working parents.
  • Encourage family-sized units (2+ bedrooms) in market-based housing policy.
  • Encourage development of units affordable to households making 30% to 60% of area median income (AMI) to provide needed housing for low-wage workers.
  • Bring the City of Seattle’s Incentive Zoning policy in-line with other US cities to generate more units and deeper affordability.
  • Create a tax increment finance tool that generates revenue for low-income housing in TOD.
  • Preserve existing, privately-owned multifamily buildings that serve low-income families.
  • Use surplus property owned by Sound Transit to create affordable housing through joint development projects.
  • Expand the City’s Neighborhood Equitable Transit Oriented Development (NET) Initiative to achieve scope and scale.
  • Support and promote community-controlled development as a primary strategy to stabilize Rainier Valley residents.
  • Include communities of color who are stakeholders in TOD planning and policy to be part of decision making in order to achieve racial equity outcomes.
  • Local governments and elected officials should support and promote the use of stakeholder-led agreements with developers, such as Community Benefits Agreements and Community Workforce Agreements.

18 Replies to “Report, Event: TOD that is Healthy, Green & Just”

  1. I hope they begin the discussion this afternoon with a cogent and widely-agreed-upon definition of Gentrification. It’s one of those buzz words that can mean different things to different people.

    1. Great report! Lots to dig into.

      On page 6: “Gentrification is a pattern of neighborhood change in which a previously low-income neighborhood experiences reinvestment and revitalization accompanied by increasing home values and/or rents”.

  2. Surely reinvestment and revitalization of a neighborhood should not be seen as a hardship. However, the term “gentry” has come to carry the suggestion not only of wealth, but also of inherited and largely-undeserved privilege- abusively employed.

    My first choice would be to provide existing residents of every neighborhood with the wherewithal to constantly reinvest in and revitalize their own community. Starting with seeing to it that every school in every neighborhood provides a first-rate education- the real first requisite of social equality.

    Local participation in schooling is a valuable thing to encourage. But by law, State and Federal government should assure that children’s education is not limited by their parents’ income.

    As always happens in backward countries,condition where people “buy their school when they buy there house” guarantees a small hated gentry ruling a land without gentility.

    Mark Dublin

  3. And BTW- that’s “when they buy their house.” Didn’t used to have this problem before learning to rely on spell-check.


  4. KING 5 News at 5pm tonight used this study as a lead story, and focused the blame of gentrification almost entirely on light rail.

      1. Thanks for sharing. King 5 is the worst of all of the TV stations when it comes to transportation reporting. I generally find Q13 to be the best.

    1. Am I the only one that sees gentrification as a positive thing? I would use “cause” not “blame”

      1. I think improving neighbors is great. Seattle is expensive, no one has a right to live here. In healthy cities, neighborhoods are always changing. I would love for the entire SE Seattle to improve, including the economic welfare of it current occupants. Subsidized housing in an expensive city is insane. Those that can’t afford Seattle rent should rent/own in Auburn, SeaTac, Lynnwood, Etc. This is the way the world works, learn to embrace it, not fight it.

      2. The causes of gentrification are all good things. Less crime, access to good jobs and education, access to light rail, etc. However I don’t agree with Rob that it’s okay to just let the market do what it will. The issue is making sure that current residents share in on the improvements, making sure they don’t get priced out of improved opportunity.

      3. Gentrification has good and bad consequences. We need to welcome the good ones and mitigate the bad ones. Also, gentrification is inevitable in a growing economy. The mid 1900s was an aberration, when white flight and redlining led to a middle-class exodus and in-city manufacturing plants became obsolete. There was nothing wrong with Rainier Valley that couldn’t have been fixed by rehabilitation, but the redlining prevented rehabilitation financing. Absent these temporary aberrations, gentrification will occur unless the economy is shrinking, and that’s a worse situation than gentrification.

  5. At the forum Mike O’Brien posed a question: Is it either / or? Either invest in a community and get gentrification and displacement, or don’t invest and the community continues to languish in poverty, crime, and dysfunction?

    He suggested that when the low income / ethnic people themselves are included in an integral way at every stage of the process, then gentrification and displacement might be avoided or at least mitigated. I would agree to “mitigated” but not to “avoided”.

    Unfortunately the SAGE presentation glossed over this fundamental issue, putting great emphasis on the gentrification and displacement that has been occurring. It was suggested, but not demonstrated, that this has been associated with the light rail, New Holly, and Rainier Vista. Nor was there a compelling account of how to do community investment in a better way. The Othello Neighborhood Plan was cited as a model, but it lacks specifics on effective ways to implement its principles.

    The fact is that there is a big demand from people with livable wage jobs for affordable places to live in Seattle, so if you “make it attractive, they will come”. Necessarily some housing prices will go up and some forms of gentrification will occur – we shouldn’t pretend otherwise.

    That being said, the most obvious gentrification has been at Columbia City, where it was underway well before the light rail opened, and light rail continues to be a secondary influence there. Also, the current best example of transit oriented development – the new Station at Othello Park building – is primarily workforce housing, not for the kind of affluent people who eat at La Medusa in Columbia City.

    As for displacement, much has already occurred, but it seems to me to have been due to the overall level of commitment to improving conditions in Rainier Valley by government, non-profits, business, and residents. A big factor has been the dramatic drop in crime and the confidence building that came with New Holly, Rainier Vista, Sound Transit, SEED projects, and the work of many non-profits.

    The best strategy I see for mitigating this displacement is to continue to fund the services and institutions in Rainier Valley that serve ethnic and low income communities. That includes the kind of subsidized housing that doesn’t pencil out for private developers. The big problem is that government funding is gradually drying up (the anti-tax movement sponsored by the 1%), so the hope has been to dig in to the profits of private developers, as in the Yesler Terrace plan. Yet, except in selected areas, private funding is also drying up, and what with Peak Oil and the world reaching its Limits to Growth, I doubt that the Yesler Plan will ever takeoff.

    At Othello we have the land and eager developers, but no financing, because the neighborhood doesn’t have the affluence of Capitol Hill. So the SHA lot on the SW corner of MLK and Othello sits vacant and is likely to remain so. On the NE corner it’s looking like a long term lease of the existing building, and nothing fancy at that, rather than a new transit oriented development like on the SE corner. On the NW corner there was a modest improvement to the Safeway recently, but again not the major TOD like many of us in the community have wanted and that would provide a model for the region to counter suburban sprawl. The only new TOD has been us – the Whistle Stop Co-op coffee and bike shop – extremely modest by TOD standards and requiring no outside financing.

    Community and government leaders need to acknowledge that the boom years are over. As oil prices continue their dramatic climb over the next decade, yes, there will be a much bigger need for transit oriented development. Yet at the same time we’ll be caught in the vice of much less money available for that development, with most of the private money going into shrinking areas of affluence. Government will have to step up, but it won’t be easy, due to the anti-tax greed of the 1%. Otherwise we’ll likely end up with low grade or no development in some station areas instead of compact, livable, and affordable transit oriented development.

    1. “the new Station at Othello Park building – is primarily workforce housing, not for the kind of affluent people who eat at La Medusa in Columbia City”

      That’s the first time I’ve heard $1100 rents considered inexpensive. It’s pretty much the level that professional/”college-degree” jobholders can afford, and I’d call that firmly middle class. It’s out of reach of the army of janitors/hopsital assistants/restaurant workers/retail clerks that keep society running. Not saying that The Station should be filling this gap, but somebody needs to so that housing in that range doesn’t disapper entirely.

      I don’t know what La Medusa is; I assume it’s in the $20-30 range? There’s a wide difference between people who eat at places like that a couple times a year vs those who eat at places like that a couple times a week. The kind of people who live at The Station probably go to mid-level restaurants every month or two.

      1. Rents start at $753 for a studio + den. $1100 is the high end of the one bedroom floor plans. $1198 gets you into a two bedroom. But if you figure 1/3 of income for rent $1100 works out to be about a $40k annual salary which is just below the median income in Seattle. Of course 55% of those over 25 have a bachelor’s degree or higher. You have to ask why isn’t there a waiting list to get into the place.

  6. This report seems to have a TOD disconnect for me. I’ve thought that the notion of TOD is usually supposed to be something like a station area plan. This seems more like a larger multiple-neighborhood plan. Many areas of the Rainier Valley aren’t within easy walking distance to Link and their “gentrifiction” is not related to Link very much if at all. Instead, By being so broad, I find this report is missing something more critical: There isn’t discussion of incubating a mixed-income community around each station (beyond putting in mid-rise housing which is nice but not great at community-building). One other thing bothers me: There is discussion about how to get to good-paying jobs but nothing on how to foster a community to get education or interest for those jobs — as if some high-end employer could plop down an office in the area and all of the neighborhood income problems would be over — which of course would just result create more displacement and gentrification! I agree that TOD planning is often biased to single, white-collar workers and this is truly problematic; but the geography covered in this study is simply too broad to be called strategies for better TOD and it completely avoids talking about the rest of the community-building glue that is needed. I’m left scratching my head…

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