The Seattle Displacement Coalition has made a name for itself advocating for the preservation of Seattle’s neighborhoods at all costs, which is hard to square with their statement last month.  It seems to me that the policies advocated therein would lead to more displacement, not less.

For example, SDC argued against any increase in zoning within the city limits, saying that the city currently has “enough zoning capacity citywide to accommodate 188,000 more housing units.” Tapping into that capacity, however, would mean tearing out every remaining single-family home in Seattle’s low-rise zones, of which there are currently several thousand. It’s unclear where the SDC thinks all those newly-homeless families should move to, but suffice it to say they’d be quite displaced.

Furthermore, the SDC, which presents itself as being pro-family, argued against more jobs in the downtown core, and instead suggested that we “locate more of those jobs out there in the burbs.” Locating employers in far-flung suburbs, however, can cause havoc on a two-income family. If both partners have jobs in different suburbs, the commute can be quite long.  And long commutes are bad! A recent Gallup survey found that people with 90-minute commutes tend to have persistent neck and back pain.  Umea University in Sweden found that “couples in which one partner commutes for longer than 45 minutes are 40 percent likelier to divorce.”  It’s hard to think of a policy that would be more harmful to the region’s families.

To minimize displacement, the right strategy is quite simple: put more jobs and housing in walkable areas served by good transit.

39 Replies to “Seattle Displacement Coalition Argues for Mass Displacement”

  1. Nobody can wave a magic wand and put jobs in Seattle. That is wishful thinking. In fact, all the Amazon jobs here were offset by job losses in other sectors (public and private). There now are about 445,000 jobs in Seattle, and that is less than there were in 1990.

    1. I possess no such magic wand, which is why I would never argue for putting all jobs in Seattle. Jobs should be located in “walkable areas served by good transit.” There are many parts of Bellevue, Renton, Kirkland, Tacoma, and Everett that fit that bill. And there could be more.

      1. Maybe John’s point is that Seattle, San Francisco, Stockholm, like the rest of the industrialized world, is indeed densifying economically and residentially. Unfortunately, in seriously displacing ways.

        South Lake Union, Ballard (Damn!) Sickla Udde (Stockholm, light rail, beautiful, very high rent) share a very large influx of people whose incomes raise rent to the point where only people making a lot of money can live there.

        If you don’t-well, like Queen Marie said, there’s always cake. Just not organic or artisan. From a huge-box store.You name the suburb.

        Booming urban economy, for sure! Whose jobs require a massive, and I think largely needless, amount of time in school. Whose cost makes a degree the Title of Nobility the US Constitution forbids.

        It wasn’t just uninvented air-conditioning that gave the 1950’s Chicago “El” at PM rush its perfume of pre-IT work. Ever notice my meanest take on present governing class is a polite aversion to the smell of their own sweat? Harsh- but few meeting schedules can cut off your hand.

        Yeah, I often go OT about government and economics during transit discussions. But the transit I want needs the government I want, which depends for its life upon on an economy of modern, clean democratic industrial work. Whose wages will let young people start adult life as soon as they leave high school.

        Like the Chicagoans on the trains that put electric transit in my blood at age 8. But this time, with workers permitted and able to run their work places, from which they go home with both hands. When I can once again live a life including Ballard. At the workplace I just described.

        With transit that will give me a good urban life. And get me to work on time.

        Mark Dublin

      2. I think Frank’s analysis — that SDC’s policies are seriously displacing people — is more spot on.

        John’s idea of trying to reduce employment in Seattle so that people move out is the first sign I’ve seen that he has cracked open an economics textbook.

    2. Magic wands? no. More office space might help though. Northgate and UDistrict could use a bit more I’d wager.

      Especially once Northgate Link opens…

    3. The only ones trying to wave a magic wand here is the Displacement Coalition, hoping to block any new structures from being built in Seattle, any new jobs from being located in Seattle, and putting out the Unwelcome Mat for any people to move here.

      Of course, with their advocacy of no new housing being built in Seattle, it is no wonder rent continues to rise.

      It appears that the person calling for employers to leave Seattle does not live in the real world, where both partners have jobs, and quite often those jobs are located far apart. (I’ve given Matt the Engineer grief about this too, FWIW.) More sprawl statistically means longer average commutes, even if a couple moves closer to one of their jobs.

      And then there is the issue of someone with two jobs. The Displacement Coalition’s call to cover the countryside with single-story housing and one-story employment sites overlooks the painful commutes of multiple-job individuals.

    4. The biggest obstacle to fast transportation is downtown Seattle.

      By using cars as trains, and cramming everyone into two square miles when we could easily have been taking advantage not only of the whole county but the whole state of Washington, we’ve created an unliveable high priced hellhole.

      There is still time — but we have to think State — not City.

      And Transportation, not ‘transit’.

      1. Thanks for the heads up John. We’re looking in Spokane just now, what with the train schedule now ‘all fixed’, and may soon become the commuter on the MTA that ‘shall never return’. I figure a few good productive hours a week at my desk is about right!

      2. Bailo ignores the growth in Broadview, Northgate, Lake City, Burien, Redmond, Issaquah,l and planned for Tukwika and Kent, which he himself acknowledged was happening and something he approves of. So it’s not true that we’re “cramming everyone into two square miles”.

        Part of the reason for improving transit downtown is because it benefits everyone who goes through central Seattle whether or not they work or live there. Link will enable that Bonney Lake UW student to not have to sit for 15 minutes on the 71 when traffic is backed up at Stewart & Denny. The 3rd Avenue bus improvements help a lot of Seattle routes stay on time and cut down the 20-minute bottleneck on through-downtown trips.

        The main problem with Pugetopolis is that full-time frequent transit with some mediocum of speed is available only in a very few neighborhoods, so people have to choose between sky-high rents and difficulty getting around, and the huge swaths of in-city detached houses that make frequent transit difficult to achieve. It’s getting better but it’s taking too many decades. I’ve started wondering again when I might give up and move to Chicago. (But not anytime soon.)

      3. Developing exurbs is just part of the equation.

        The true solution is that Washington State is now as big and productive as many European countries, but it has not taking a state-wide vision.

        Satellite Cities should grow not only much further North and South on the I-5 corridor, but also Inland Washington.

        Spokane, Tri-Cities, Yakima…the “empty quarter in the Northeast.

        If Amtrak won’t fix rail, then perhaps a Sounder-ish State Intra-Rail corporation should be set up to give us the 110 mph trains that should be canvassing all of WA.

        Then we’d have no need to destroy Seattle…as everywhere there would be Seattles.

      4. No, John, “everywhere else” emphatically would not “be Seattles”. Seattle is Seattle because of its location. It has a first class port that connects it to the world. It’s in the Puget-Willamette lowland trough which has a pleasant climate and abundant fertility. By the way, I’m using the term “Seattle” to mean Pugetopolis from Tacoma to Everett.

        The “rest of the state” either is in the PW lowland but has no ocean access or is behind the Cascades where it’s cold (and hot), dry, windy and fairly unpleasant a lot of the time. There’s no “there” there. People with money and/or skills in demand want to live in nice places. Ellensburg, Wenatchee and Spokane barely meet the definition, Yakima and Tri-Cities fail miserably.

        And just to set the record straight, Washington is only as “big” economically as Austria. Which has exactly one major urban region, Vienna.

      5. If Amtrak won’t fix rail, then perhaps a Sounder-ish State Intra-Rail corporation should be set up to give us the 110 mph trains that should be canvassing all of WA.

        One small point here John;

        Amtrak isn’t allowed to “fix rail” inside the state of Washington. A few years back congress passed a resolution saying that any Amtrak route under 750 miles had to come from state funds, not federally allocated funds for Amtrak.

        So, unless those Washington trains are also headed for Montana or California (sorry, Oregon is too close for the most part), Amtrak isn’t allowed to fix them any more, by act of congress.

        Unless of course the particular Amtrak route in question is the northeast corridor. That is specifically exempt from that demand.

        So, yes, you guessed it: congress has specifically required that Amtrak not be able to use federal funds for improving routes of the distance over which intercity rail is the most effective.

      6. Having lived in the Dry-Shities for 7 years I can say that it will NEVER become important. Yes, they have a lot of wide open cheap land but who wants to live there on purpose? You’d have to drive 3 hrs to get to anything interesting which takes you right back to Seattle. If we had real fast north/south rail transit from Everett to Olympia (and I don’t mean 25mph average light rail) we could build to outlying areas. Even Bellingham could be included in that.

      7. What was Congress’ reason again for cutting off funds to regional Amtrak lines?

      8. Practically speaking, there are those in congress that are trying to get Amtrak killed off, so the more impractical they can make actually using the train to get somewhere, the better for their cause.

        That said, the particular reasoning behind this particular act was they argued that anything over the 750 mile limit should count as a “long distance train” while anything less than that is of regional importance only. Why 750 miles? I’m guessing that someone has a train serving their district that has a route that is 749 miles long, and thus wouldn’t be cut out of the funding. However, I haven’t figured out what train that would be.

        One of the many things that really annoys me about this is that same restriction does not apply for the federal assistance to air services. So, someplace like Scranton, PA gets subsidized air service for very short distance flights, even though Amtrak provides decent service there at a fraction of the cost, and something like 20x the ridership that the air service gets.

      9. Glenn,

        There is NO, repeat “No” Amtrak service in Scranton, PA.

        There is no rail passenger service of any kind. Which is a crying shame because the Lackawanna was one hell of a railroad.

        Were you meaning Harrisburg?

  2. To accommodate more jobs in Seattle (which is a self-evidently desirable goal, nonsensical ramblings of John Fox aside), we need more housing, and we need more transit capacity.

    Freezing zoning in amber (as SDC wants) and reducing transit capacity (as Prop 1 opponents want) will both destroy jobs.

      1. Wow. This is the first thing you have said that I actually agree with! You are exactly right.

        We DO need MORE Seattles in this state. We need more dense, diverse, urban cities which are served by good transit and are experiencing in-fill development at the expense of development in the exburbs. Even better if these cities have populations in the 500k to 1M range and have highly educated populations that are liberal and not adverse to raising taxes for critical services and urban improvements..

        Can you imagine how great this state would be if Spokane, Tacoma, Vancouver, etc where just like Seattle? It would be fantastic.


      2. What Bailo considers good Seattle may be less dense than you think. Think of the single-family parts of Wallingford.

  3. “Move them out

    Whether they can’t afford Seattle — and many lower-wage retail and service workers now cannot — or simply prefer less-crowded suburbs, more downtown workers are putting up with longer and more hellish commutes. And adding more high-rent apartments and office space appears to be failing at reversing this trend.

    There is a far better and obvious solution: Locate more of those jobs out there in the burbs and closer to where these thousands now live.”

    It seems clear to me that SDC isn’t just telling employers and residents not to come here, but is explicitly asking employers to pull up stakes and leave. Am I mis-interpreting John’s statement?

  4. Where can I donate money to this group?

    I agree with them entirely.

    Destroying Seattle to make more units is simply…destroying Seattle.

    1. You’re completely insane. I live and work (at agrocery store) downtown. I prefer to live and work downtown despite the expense. Stop referring to it as an unlivable hellhole. You honestly think it would be better if I had to commute in from kent?

      1. John Bailo is evidently incapable of imagining his housing preferences are not universal, contrary to all evidence to the contrary. It’s quite remarkable.

      2. I can use your own arguments against you.

        The high costs of single family homes indicates that most, if not all, want that of which I speak.

        Thus, we should built more Seattles.

      3. The high cost of single-family homes is that they take a large amount of land, especially the ranch-style lots that are bigger than the earlier small lots. That land has a potential value higher than the house, when/if somebody builds a duplex or apartment building in its place. That windfall will be captured by the then-owner, which is partly priced into the current house price. In-city houses are more expansive than suburban houses for the same reason in-city apartments are more expensive than suburban apartments: more people want to live in a limited number of in-town locations. Part of that is intrinsic to the location: there are a limited number of places within five miles of downtown or the coolest nightclubs. But the other part of it is not intrinsic: those are the same locations with walkable businesses and more-frequent transit. That’s the part we could replicate anywhere and should replicate other places, because people who just want convenience and don’t care about the coolest nightclubs will live there and enjoy lower expenses.

      4. Want to…or have to? The newcomers who want jobs are forced to accept cold-flat style living to survive, when what they want is a Craftsman.

      5. @John,

        I agree that the vast majority of North Americans would love to own a “Craftsman” in a close-in suburb of Seattle. But that is not the first statement in the syllogism: “The majority of people would like to live in a Craftsman in Seattle”. “There is no room for more Craftsman homes in Seattle”. “Therefore we should build Craftsman homes in the suburbs.”

        While that may very well sound like sound logic, it omits one crucial step of logic: the cost of a “Craftsman”. A “Craftsman” by definition is not made of glued together woodchips, no matter how many layers the panels of which it is constructed have. It’s imply not possible to replicate Wallingford in Kent East Hill. It will never be possible to replicate Wallingford; they don’t make ’em like they used to, at lest not for less than two million dollars.

    2. You may like Mr. Fox’s move-everything-to-the-suburbs (except him) politics, but I don’t think you’ll like what he has to say about Sounder.

      1. If you can tell us (link us to) what those are, then perhaps a response could be made.

      2. Just to avoid confusion: That “Vote No on Prop 1” is from 2008, referring to ST2. SDC has not taken a position on this year’s KC Prop 1.

  5. That arts and crafts era home pictured: Portland probably has several hundred of those just like the one pictured. However, in Portland there have been perhaps 100 or so of them that have been converted to duplexes or triplexes, or the occasional quadruplex. One or two of the more grand ones, or a few of the older Victorian era houses, have been turned into something as large as an octoplex.

    The fact is, the original floor plan of these things (OK, except that in the one pictured it looks like they cut the front porch in half) there is frequently a wall down the center that makes them easily divisible into at least two units. In the era when these houses were built, it was not unusual for higher income families to be the ones that could afford to own and operate a house, and to help with all the work (cooking in that era was an all-day project, as was laundry or house cleaning, and procuring food might include a fairly large lot with food growing on it) they might take in another household of lower income just to help out with the required work.

    I really see no reason why dividing some of these older houses like this should be illegal. Retaining these older houses with a new multi-family purpose certainly “maintains the character of the neighborhood” far better than demolishing them and replacing them with three or so single family “infill” housing units on the same lot.

    For those who haven’t seen them, “infill” single family houses are sometimes 6 feet wide and three floors tall, such as this example:
    but a number of them can be crammed onto a lot formerly occupied by a single house. This is one way to increase density while maintaining the letter of the law in terms of zoning for single family residences only.

    However, in my opinion, keeping the older houses and allowing them to be subdivided rather than demolished and replaced by very narrow houses is a far better way to maintain the character of a neighborhood.

  6. Fox is using bogus data to support his claim that the number of people living in Seattle who also work in Seattle is declining, e.g. in this post:

    The data point he pulls from the SLU report is not apples-to-apples. CTPP 2006-2010 estimate is 50.6% living/working in Seattle, and the ACS 2012 1-year estimate is 52.3%. That means it actually has increased slightly from 49% in 2000.

    Anyone with intellectual integrity would have questioned why that number would have dropped so much, but not Fox, because mangling data is his modus operandi. He does it year after year after year, and the most pathetic thing is that serious policy makers still give him a seat at the table.

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