SCSTukwilaSeaTacThis March the Somali Community Services Coalition, with the PSRC’s Growing Transit Communities Partnership, released a paper titled Equity for All on the Housing and Transportation situation for East Africans in South King County.  It’s the result of 100 in-person surveys of East African families living in apartment complexes located near the Tukwila and SeaTac Link stations.

The housing picture is pretty bleak.  Most East African families are paying too much of their income to live in housing too small for their needs.  Also interviews with landlords and managers found that Link has increased the demand for these apartments resulting in lower availability and higher rents.

Transportation is more mixed.  While 40% of those surveyed used something other than driving alone for the majority of their trips a significant portion of the population (60%) has never used public transportation.  However it appears there is a pretty cheap way to decrease that number:

Increase oral outreach about public transit, including the light rail, buses, and ride programs:  Survey results suggest that many East Africans do not utilize public transportation.  Survey results also reveal that 48% of individuals learn about resources and services available in their community via word of mouth. More oral outreach and education must take place in order for the East African community to maximize their use of public transportation and other transportation resources, such as the Hyde Shuttle. This is especially important for seniors and individuals with disabilities, who qualify for transportation assistance but may not be benefiting from it.

While not mentioned in the report I have to wonder if the large family size is not a deterrent to transit usage as well.  If you need to get 5 or 6 people somewhere a used minivan may very well be more economical than transit.

Charts and the full transportation section excerpted below the fold:



Of the families surveyed, 74% owned at least one vehicle and 79% of individuals surveyed reported that driving or carpooling was their primary mode of transportation, indicating low usage of public transit by members of the local East African community.

Though every survey respondent lived within walking distance to the light rail station, 80% said that they had “never used the light rail” or had only used it “once or twice.” Over half of these individuals said that they do not use the light rail because they prefer to drive instead. Survey results for bus use were similar. Of the 72% of individuals who had “never used the bus” or had only used it “once or twice,” 62% said that using the bus was unnecessary because they could drive wherever they needed to go. Other common reasons for not using public transit were that it is too time consuming or too confusing and intimidating.


However, there is indication that public transit is becoming more accessible to East Africans, especially the elderly or those who speak little or no English. One Somali elder shared, “more and more Somalis are beginning to use the bus and now there is generally at least one Somali speaker on every bus. Many people don’t understand how to pay, where to get off, and how to stop the bus but it is easy when you can ask somebody. There are several Somali bus drivers too, which is even better.”

Though many East Africans are not utilizing public transportation, easy access to the light rail and buses has drawn other individuals and families to apartment complexes located near the light rail stations in SeaTac and Tukwila. Every landlord SCSC surveyed reported an increase in demand for their apartments since the light rail was built and most reported keeping an occupancy rate of 98-100%. One landlord explained:

“The light rail was a big benefit to SeaTac and Tukwila. We have a great location, by the freeway and light rail station. I don’t have to advertise at all. Not online, not even outside. I used to put up a big sign and balloons and take them down every day but I don’t even do that anymore. It’s too much of a hassle. Now I have so many people coming in here every day looking for an apartment. I have been able to raise my deposit.”

Another landlord echoed, “There has been an increase in demand because residents enjoy the area and it is super close to the airport, 99, I-5, and public transportation. It is really easy to access wherever you need to go. People from out of town have been moving here because it is easy to get into downtown but it isn’t in the center of the city.”

Read the full study here.  It’s only 7 pages and well worth the time.

27 Replies to “East African Transportation and Housing Survey”

  1. I know that this is a transit-oriented blog, but this post is housing-oriented so maybe someone can give me a clue (and I genuinely want to know, since I see a lot of these kinds of articles). Referring to this quote:

    “Also interviews with landlords and managers found that Link has increased the demand for these apartments resulting in lower availability and higher rents.”

    My question is thus, how do we fix this situation? Is there a fix? It seems like the “natural order” of things. Step 1, area is undesirable for whatever reason so it is cheap. Step 2, area is fixed. Step 3, area becomes desirable again yet, briefly, is still cheap. Step 4, people notice the “great value” so rents go up.

    I’m a near-permanent renter so I’ve watched this happen across two time zones and innumerable cities, towns, and unincorporated areas. Usually transit or some wildly popular retail is what does the trick and both of these are what people of all stripes seek to have built. I’ll be up front and say that I’ve even moved into the “up-and-coming” or gentrified areas a few times in the past and paid the higher rent because I wanted to live there and I could (still) afford it. I’ve been on both sides of the pricing situation and don’t see a solution that is equally fair whenever people come pouring into a region.

    So, if it’s not too off-topic for here, what am I missing?

    1. Transportation and land use are linked. That is why so many electrons are spilt here talking about housing. Greater density means greater efficiency of transit. Affordability is also a hot topic. There are many here (myself not included) that believe that just building more density will bring more affordability to an area.

    2. It’s really just supply and demand. Previously the area was seen as “undesirable” so the demand was relatively low. Now there’s a fancy new transit line that makes commuting easier for a lot of potential residents, so the demand rises. New housing isn’t being built quickly enough to keep up with the demand, so the price rises.

      One thing that can be done to help with higher rents is to change zoning and eliminate unnecessary building regulations so that the supply can come closer to matching the demand. This is unlikely to bring rents down to where they were, because a whole lot of factors (such as land prices, building materials costs, labor costs, interest rates, and other things) put a minimum on the amount a new apartment can charge in rent and still make a profit. Even so, the city can help slow the increase in rents by removing as many legal and bureaucratic barriers to new construction as it can.

      Other cities have rent control laws in place. These systems are great for current renters because the annual rent increase is limited by law. The downside is that they prevent landlords from receiving a fair market value for their property, and they also are bad for new residents because so many long-time renters have such an incentive to stay where they are that the supply of available apartments is artificially low. All that aside, the state government has banned rent control, so it’s not likely to happen in the foreseeable future.

    3. If “transit” were “transportation” then it would ideally fix the problem.

      In the past the problem of too high and too dense living for families was solved by sprawl. Washington State has effectively blocked sprawl with GMA. This results in high city prices, but also very high suburban prices as well!

      Still if fast transit were available, low income familes should be able to live in less dense, cheaper areas and commute to jobs and incomes in the denser areas.

      However, again, due to Washington State Social Engineering, this too is impossible. Seattle/King County has dragged its feet on building out LINK. Reason? It wants to enrich the few property holders that built in downtown and along LINK. Reason? It wants to capture as much tax money as possible by putting as many high wage earners into as small a space as possible.

      For example, today my son home from college has a summer job, minimum wage, that takes him all over the city. He had a small fender bender in Seattle yesterday (I told him to use Sounder…but nooooo), so today I said to use transit to get to a gig at Microsoft, but the express ST bus apparent does not run on weekends, so he would have to take several buses, go all the way into Seattle and back out again to try and maybe get there on time early in the morning!

      So we’ve built ourselves into an impossible corner of raising prices so high that no one can afford them. Meanwhile, the rest of the country has become affordable by as much as 50% in some states and cities! Why any poor person would hang around in one of the most expensive places in America is beyond me….

      1. 1. The GMA prevents a bit of sprawl and protects a lot of forest and wild habitat. Try to do the whole “grow into the forest” thing and you run into the whole “oh yeah, now we’re cutting down all the old growth trees on the Group Health site” thing. (Frankly old growth trees aren’t incompatible with walkable urbanism, but they are incompatible with the space demands that cars impose on any plausible development in that location, but this is really far from the topic at hand.)

        2. I’m not sure I understand your conspiracy theory logic here. We’re trying to enrich property owners along Link by dragging our feet on building Link?

        3. Being poor isn’t a permanent condition. One major reason people “hang around” here is for economic opportunity. For well-paying jobs in an economy that’s more diverse and robust than it was a generation ago. We ain’t perfect, and if aircraft and software go out of style at the same time we’ll have “Will the last person leaving Seattle please turn out the lights?” billboards again. And we’ll be complaining about housing prices in the other direction.

      2. Ok, then explain this.

        Homes in Washington are twice as expensive as most of the rest of the country.

        Given, that, a home builder might be expected to think — hey, I should build a lot of homes here, because I will make twice as much money. And sure, as I built more homes, the prices will gradually decline as supply outstrips demand, but then, I’ll still be making the same as anywhere else.

        The question is…why isn’t that happening…why isn’t natural sprawl taking people further up I-5 for example and establishing economic centers all the way along the corridor, or down state past Olympia? Why isn’t there eastward expansion to Inland Washington?

        In a free market, all these things would be happening.

      3. Wages are higher here because we have innovative businesses making in-demand products. High-paid people demand better houses and better food and more toys. This is the headwind of the higher prices. Their spending employs people and trickles on down the class structure. It “raises all boats” in some sense because the average quality of food is higher here but it’s also more expensive. Some people move here from Montana because wages are higher, while other people move to Montana because prices are lower. You can’t have high wages and low prices unless you earn money in one place (building houses in Pugetopolis) and spend it in another (living in Montana). Most people can’t do that so they have to choose one or the other: a high-priced city with good job prospects, or a low-priced city with minimum-wage jobs (Walmart and McDonald’s are the only ones hiring). That’s why so many people live in Pugetopolis and more are moving here. Lowering prices are a sign of unemployment and population decline. BUT we can try to keep prices stable by not aggrevating them artificially.

        Housing prices are subject to supply and demand, as Eric said. In other words, they follow the vacancy rate. We have been serverly underbuilding housing due to zoning restrictions. We need a large amount of inexpensive market-rate housing, aka “workforce housing”. This will have to be attached (apartments), although small-lot houses could play a minor role. The old small-lot houses in north and south Seattle are highly desired and are bought the minute they go on sale: why don’t the suburbs build some of those? Large houses and lots are what’s driving up prices, and small-lot houses are illegal to build now due to zoning.

        But we can’t solve the problem of housing for the poor by replicating Covington in the Snoqualmie forest; i.e. building exurbs beyond the urban growth boundary. We tried that fifty years ago, and Kent was the result. But that was mid-priced housing for an up-and-coming middle class, not the working poor below it. Exurban housing is cheapER but not cheap enough, and people would have to drive a hundred miles a day to get to work. (Or set up businesses in the exurbs, but they haven’t done that so far so why should new exurbs be different? (Walmart and Safeway don’t count; they’re just serving the basic needs of the inhabitants, nothing beyond that.)

        Lower-income people also need walkability and good transit, and that’s difficult to provide in the exurbs, Unless you build them as compact towns as was done in the 1920s. But that brings up the dreaded word… density.

      4. I’m not denying basic economics. There are lots of regulations that prevent developers from building more affordable housing, principal among them zoning regulations that keep desirable housing locations with convenient locations in the same low-slung single-use condition that suited them in in first half of the 20th century, when Seattle was a much smaller town.

        There are lots of places up and down I-5 (and 405! and 520!) within the GMA; why isn’t natural sprawl establishing new economic centers? Well, it sort of is. What do you call downtown Bellevue? Various corridors in Redmond? Canyon Park? Totem Lake? Bellevue had the courage to lift a lot of restrictions on downtown development and has become very prominent as a result, fitting a fair amount of major businesses and functions in the place despite the immense amount of space dedicated to parking cars (whether in garages or in interminable traffic delays). Redmond sprawled out around 520 and then out from there as proximity to Microsoft became important for the computing industry. Canyon Park is all pretty new and unmistakable highway sprawl. There’s nothing spectacular about Canyon Park and there are surely other places like it (West Valley Highway perhaps?) but having worked there (and walked parts of it pretty extensively) I thought it was interesting how use-mixture poked its way in where it could, with dirt trails worn between the residential developments and the office park, and fledgling restaurants within the office park (some near the entrances tried to cater to both the lunchtime crowd and local residents, with apparently limited success due to their odd locations, but their rent was probably pretty cheap). I had co-workers there that lived in Woodinville and Mill Creek, and Seattle to them was something like “that old place where parking is expensive that I only go to take my relatives to the Space Needle and Pike Place when they visit”. (Many Seattle residents hold similarly dismissive attitudes toward the suburbs, or even worse and more elitist ones; either way it’s silly and divisive.)

        But you don’t, for the most part, see the pedestrian-oriented mixed-use streets that characterize old towns form around the highways (aside from malls, to the extent that mall interiors are pedestrian shopping streets… they usually fail to provide use mixture or connect to their surroundings because of parking requirements, and they fail to provide public space, which is something like a vital institution for democracy, but they are often quite pleasant, full of people, and easy to get around with strollers… I read a book written some time ago on feminist perspectives of urban space that claimed that malls’ friendliness to strollers, and their tendency to censor aggressively crass portrayals of women, made them particularly attractive to mothers, while many public city streets were unsafe and dominated by aggressive male speech and imagery; this book was written around the nadir of American inner cities, and many have improved immensely in this regard since then). Economic life off the Interstate gets its first foothold in businesses and office locations appealing to people driving through with big up-front parking lots and wide roads. It’s hard (and expensive! and controversial!) to convert this into a recognizable, vibrant pedestrian landscape.

        New economic centers haven’t been so apparent south of Seattle. There are lots of strong institutions like Microsoft, Boeing engineering, and UW that people in south King County have to cross downtown Seattle or Bellevue to get to. Three airports, a huge industrial zone, and immensely hilly terrain increase distances and limit east-west travel. Tacoma’s port and industry have struggled; downtown Renton has struggled. The West Valley Highway corridor always seems to have lots of vacancies. But Southcenter has a development plan. Kent Station and The Landing are making strides, though I think primarily in retail/residence while the “export industries” are elsewhere, and to some degree supplanting older parts of Kent and Renton. There’s maybe a parallel with far-northern King County and Snohomish County, where industrial corridors survive in Kenmore and Everett while Canyon Park, Mill Creek, and Totem Lake supplant the older cores of Everett and Bothell (while a little farther south the older core of Kirkland is going bananas, Bellevue is growing into its new shoes, and Redmond is… unbearably Redmond).

        And there isn’t eastward expansion to Inland Washington for the same reason Silicon Valley doesn’t extend down to Santa Cruz (except for a few crazies): there’s a mountain range in the way. And thank the great gods for that. While it’s always possible to build bigger, stupider highways across the mountains and cut down more forests and squander more farmland, it’s always cheaper and easier and less controversial to sprawl into more practical places.

      5. “the same low-slung single-use condition that suited them in in first half of the 20th century, when Seattle was a much smaller town.”

        The mid 20th century, not the entire first half. Single-use started after WWII, and new developments were built that way, and old developments were often converted. In Fremont there are buildings that used to have a store on the ground floor and the owners living upstairs, that are now single-family houses. Some corner stores did stick around in Seattle (6th Ave W, Summit Ave E, Mt Baker Blvd, Fuhrman Ave E), but were never built in post-1940s construction.

        “New economic centers haven’t been so apparent south of Seattle.”

        Every metropolitan area has a favored quarter, on the other side of downtown from the industrial area, where the richest businessmen lived, and where they set up their companies in the 70s and 80s, so that they could reverse-commute to them against traffic. This according to Christopher Leinberger. Likewise, every metro has a disfavored quarter, the traditional industrial area, where the working poor had to live, suffering from pollution. In King County the favored quarter is east, Bellevue/Redmond/Kirkland/Medina. So the disfavored quarter should be west, but the Sound is west, so the disfavored quarter is south. Auburn, Everett, and Pierce County were mostly separate job markets until the 1990s (except for Boeing commuters), so the “disfavored quarter” didn’t really extend that far, although now it sort of does, to the extent that the shiny new companies continue to appear on the Eastside.

        “But Southcenter has a development plan.”

        This is what they have to do to remain relevant. South King County needs to get out of its 1970s mindset. The cities are starting to, with the Southcenter development and The Landing and Kent Station and downtown Burien and Renton. But it’s too little, and it should have started twenty years ago when they could have caught the dotcom boom and the real-estate boom.

      6. @Mike Orr

        But we can’t solve the problem of housing for the poor by replicating Covington in the Snoqualmie forest; i.e. building exurbs beyond the urban growth boundary. We tried that fifty years ago, and Kent was the result.

        But Kent – and much of South King County – is enormously successful in integrating a very, VERY large number of low income people, not as serfs but as stakeholders.

        Seattle, meanwhile, is a complete and utter failure.

      7. @Al Diamond

        But you don’t, for the most part, see the pedestrian-oriented mixed-use streets that characterize old towns form around the highways

        Have you never been to a mall? Or a suburban campus? Or a large park?

        They are completely walkable, pedestrian oriented and mixed use.
        And they can be used in winter or when its raining.

        In the suburbs the car is used as an extension of the home. It connects us to walkable places…places that are much more pedestrian friendly than the cramped and dangerous streets of the old city.

      8. @Mike Orr

        the Sound is west, so the disfavored quarter is south.

        Once again, you’re off topic.

        The topic is providing living communities with low wages. The areas you mention are enormously successful as that.

        Meanwhile high priced areas of the North priced themselves stratispherically and then planners navel gaze and wonder…how can we make this “affordable”.

        Seen from the outside, it might be called…insane.

      9. “Have you never been to a mall? Or a suburban campus? Or a large park?”

        Single use. Single use. Single use. Put housing on top of the mall and the campus, bury the surface parking lot, and bring its doors right out to the sidewalk. Replace empty open space with something else: a park people want to be at, a mixed-use building, or a real nature reserve (which means reeds and bushes and native plants, not a mowed lawn and perfectly identical trees).

      10. But Kent – and much of South King County – is enormously successful in integrating a very, VERY large number of low income people, not as serfs but as stakeholders.

        Seattle, meanwhile, is a complete and utter failure.

        By what metrics? Show your work John.

  2. What struck me about this report is that its findings do not sound like a uniquely Somali community problem.

    I’m not sure the percentages of mode traveled differ much from the general population.

    I have several Euro-American friends who have off-lease roommates, so it certainly isn’t a tradition introduced by Somali immigrants.

    What is of extreme relevance to this blog, and pretty much outside of the transit agencies’ purview, is the call for more housing for large families. This problem predated the growth of the Somali refugee community. For a long time, we have kept down the supply of large-family housing through abusive ordinances. It is high time for the family-size discrimination to be removed from our institutionally racist development code. Then, the free market can at least be given a chance to work and allow for large-family housing.

    Peter Steinbrueck and John Fox, are you listening?

    1. Suppose that west Tukwila and SeaTac had been built up with small-lot houses like in Seattle, with a complete street grid, and neighborhood business districts every mile or so. The density would be higher, enough to justify more bus service. Then these Somalis wouldn’t be as isolated and wouldn’t have to drive so much, so they could spend that money on other things. House prices wouldn’t be higher because they were built fifty years ago and have long been paid off. Then, if there aren’t enough large units for large families, we could build just a few more larger units.

      1. All the interviewees live in apartments — small apartments. I don’t think a gridded SFH street would have been denser.

      2. I didn’t mean houses instead of the existing apartmentbuildings. I meant smaller houses in place of the larger houses, and a complete street grid.

    2. +1. I was going to comment on how many of the the survey responses could have as easily come from any identifiable group of people new to Seattle… then I ended up pouring my soul and life philosophy into replying to JB.

      What is it specifically in the housing code that discriminates against large families?

      1. Answering that question would require a post of its own, or a series thereof.

        But let me offer the first encumbrance against large family housing I noticed in Title 23 of the Seattle Municipal Code: floor-area ratio (FAR) caps. Yes, we tell developers a very narrow range of floor space allowed to be built – both a minimum and a maximum. This really is a case of Goldilocks writing a law for the temperature of pooridge. Can anyone explain the purpose of these limits, other than trying to socially engineer the class status of who can live in new developments inside the City?

        I realize the survey was for Tukwila and SeaTac, but the fact that Seattle wasn’t included in the survey speaks volumes in its own way.

      2. FAR is ostensibly a way to reduce bulk in a building, allowing a developer build up without adding density.

        Of course that goes against what we actually want: density and affordability.

      3. Maximum FAR regulations are grossly unjustifiable. I really don’t know how they can be tolerated.

  3. One major division in who can use transit and who can’t: anybody who has to punch a timeclock had better drive. Tell me: which income bracket has most leeway on arrival time at work?

    “We’ll Get You There” as Metro’s current slogan is really embarrassing. Continental drift can make the same claim. Wish ATU Local 587 would present a bargaining demand that its own members, who can’t be sixty-one seconds late, be able to use their own system and still keep their jobs.

    Tracking of my ORCA card use is probably un-Constitutional, but good evidence of one major truth about out system It really is possible to travel regionwide, comfortably and with excellent coffee breaks, in the course of a day’s work- for someone with good consumer electronics and a lot of experience.

    Remembering my fellow passengers on the Chicago El sixty years ago, it shouldn’t take three generations to learn the much less extensive system we have.

    Mark Dublin

    Same claim could be made for continental drift. And LINK can’t even deliver a posted schedule when service is down to three trains an hour.

    1. However, long hours on regional transit do cause typos- fact that further confines transit to people with income levels to have administrative assistants issue their communications.


    2. If you drive a long distance to a job where you really can’t afford to be one minute late, you have to allow lots of padding for traffic too (although, in general, not nearly as much as with the bus).

      Really, though if you have to be at work at 8:00 each day, and risk getting fired for walking in at 8:01, there is no substitute for living close enough to work to walk, or at least bike. Of course, this choice is often either impossible or prohibitively expensive, and this gets back into our discussions about land use.

  4. If STB has taught me anything, it’s that living in a small living space is good and green. It should be a goal of every one of us. Doing otherwise is harmful to the earth. Posts about microhousing are too numerous to count. So this sentence in the above post confused me. “Most East African families are paying too much of their income to live in housing too small for their needs.” What does that even mean, “too small for their needs?” Even if it’s six people living in a two bedroom apartment, that’s a good thing, right?

    1. The agency that conducted the survey is making the value judgement about what is too small. Feel free to talk with them.

Comments are closed.