Brad and Becky From Bellevue Are Coming to Rainier Beach

by Reagan Jackson

Six years ago I bought a house in Rainier Beach.

As a single person living on a non-profit salary, homeownership in Seattle seemed an impossible dream. With rents steadily rising, I went through the motions of finding a realtor and getting prequalified for a home loan anyway, just in case I got lucky and could lock in a place to live at a fixed rate.

What followed was a six-month tour of the South End’s scruffiest houses. There was the house that had gutters on the inside (a DIY addition gone wrong) and the place with the hideous Pepto-Bismol carpet that smelled like a herd of llamas had died in the walls.

One house we saw was totally haunted (I mean if you don’t believe in the paranormal, I dare you to spend the night there). I was there for ten minutes six years ago and remembering the feeling there still makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up. It was discouraging to think this is what homes in my price range were like, neglected, run down, and in some cases toxic.

When we arrived at what would become my home it felt like a miracle. It wasn’t on our listing, but after seeing so much crap, I begged my realtor to show it to me.

“It’s probably out of your price range,” she warned.

I didn’t care. I just wanted to see something beautiful to remember what it felt like. I mean once upon a time weren’t houses affordable? If you had a decent job, even if you weren’t a Microsoft millionaire, but perhaps a teacher, a mechanic, a bus driver, was there ever a time you could just save up and buy a house without having to mortgage your soul? Is this what they mean when they talk about the dying middle class? You’re either rich or in my case, you’re not. 

The house was empty and move-in ready. The fireplace, the big kitchen, and back porch, even the roses that bless my front yard were nothing short of what I’d placed on my vision board the year before. It was everything I’d been looking for. I put in an offer the next day.

Fast forward a couple of years. My property value had already increased by $80,000 and was steadily rising. I don’t remember exactly when the solicitation letters started. It didn’t seem like a big deal at the time. I’m sure I just mistook it for junk mail and recycled it. But like the first ant at a picnic, there wasn’t just one. It was a harbinger of a coming onslaught. Now I get at least a couple letters a month.

They always begin with Dear Homeowner... Mostly they come from predatory realtors and developers who claim to just want to chat with me to make sure I understand the value of my property. Oh, and that they are willing to pay cash.

Occasionally I get handwritten notes like the one from a couple in Bellevue who “just happened to be driving around my neighborhood” and fell in love with my house.

After that one, I went outside and looked around my yard to see if someone had accidentally put a for- sale sign up. Nope. That letter bothered me the most. Rainier Beach isn’t exactly on the way to anywhere. If you’re in the neighborhood it’s on purpose. Just like that emotionally manipulative, “We’re just a nice couple” routine also felt very intentional. It pissed me off.

It’s not like I’m unfamiliar with gentrification. I’ve got a lot of friends who used to live in the Central District and some who once lived on Capitol Hill. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what it must feel like to be pushed out, but I hadn’t really thought about what it would be like to be the one left behind in a neighborhood that has completely changed.

About a year and a half ago my neighbors across the street disappeared and a pile of mattresses bloomed on the corner. The house lay vacant for quite some time. I noticed a white woman trying to get in and I approached her. She informed me that she was a realtor and that the house had been foreclosed on.  While we weren’t super close, I had shared a couple of meals and even celebrated a birthday with those neighbors. We always spoke when we saw each other. Still, there were no goodbyes.

I watched as the house that had been painted yellow and orange with turquoise trim was gutted and repainted gray with black and white accents. The East African family on the corner disappeared too. I don’t know if they got foreclosed on or not. They were replaced by a Mexican family who lasted less than six months. Now a white family lives there. A white family bought the house across the street too. I’m sure they are lovely people. They put a Black Lives Matter sign in their yard. We wave to each other if our paths cross in the morning, but I can’t bring myself to welcome them properly. Every time I see that sign I think if my life really mattered you would understand that in this white ass city, living in a POC neighborhood has been one small refuge.

When I started my house search I drew a map from Beacon Hill south through Mount Baker, Columbia City, Hillman City, Brighton Beach and Rainier Beach. I chose to move south after living in the North End for years because I wanted to put down roots in a community of color. I moved to a street predominantly inhabited by immigrants. My neighbors were Mexican, Filipino, Cambodian, Vietnamese, East African, and African American. My neighbors are landscapers, cab drivers, grocery store clerks, and teachers. Some worked at Boeing for years and are retired now.

On the rare weekends when I’m not working I like to curl up in a blanket with a cup of tea and peer out the window. In the summer especially it seems like there is always a birthday party filled with children or a barbecue bumping 80s music. This is the community I chose to invest in.

According to the Seattle Times, housing prices have doubled over the last five years. My salary certainly hasn’t. And if I were to be on the housing market again, I’d be competing with Brad and Becky who work for Amazon. I find myself facing the same questions many of us face. If I have to move where will I go when I could barely afford this place? Skyway? Renton? Burien?

Now as I walk through my neighborhood I see a lot of for-sale signs. I watch for the telltale mattresses in bloom on street corners and wonder how long before that nice couple from Bellevue moves in next door. Then I check my mail and wonder how long before someone makes me an offer I can’t refuse.


Reagan Jackson is a writer, artist, activist, international educator and award-winning journalist. She is also the Program Manager for Young Women Empowered. Her self-published works include two children’s books (Coco LaSwish: A Fish from a Different Rainbow and Coco LaSwish: When Rainbows Go Blue) and three collections of poetry (God, Hair, Love, and America, Love and Guatemala, and Summoning Unicorns). To find out more check her out at http://www.rejjarts.com.

Featured image by Michael Chu

 

 

 

6 thoughts on “Brad and Becky From Bellevue Are Coming to Rainier Beach”

  1. Interesting article, but why throw in the racial cheap shot with Brad and Becky? You could have made the exact same points without using derogatory names. There are a lot of white people who also can’t afford homes, allies in the struggle for affordable housing, who will be alienated by this language.

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  2. When you get that offer your can’t refuse, you will be $80k wealthier in assets. One of the problems we have in minority communities is they are not accumulating wealth. We need more Reagan Jackson’s, not fewer. The African American community needs wealth and investment that it controls (keeping in mind it is no more monolithic or collective, than any other).

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  3. Thank you for this article Regan and your perspective.
    My home search was a simlar story, although more recent. Upon starting a family, I thought I’d be priced out of Seattle home ownership until I found my dream house in RB and at a price we could actually afford. I saw it as an advantage to live in a diverse neighborhood. I am white, my wife is white, we could be the couple in this article (we’re not). After growing up in a homogenized white suburb, I want my kids to grow in a place where they can best understand and respect people’s differences. Does continued segregation not enable the same prejudice that makes Seattle an infamously difficult place for people of color? Can my family be a part of the solution instead of contributing to the problem? From a financial point of view, of course I saw the potential for growth in the Rainier Beach neighborhood and my property value as well. I wouldn’t have put roots anywhere that I didn’t see the potential for long term growth. We both as home owners have a financial interest in keeping our community vibrant and yes, a moral obligtion to also keep its character. Finding the sweet spot is not easy, but seems like a good problem to have.

    My questions: Can you imagine a future state where our family has a place in this neighborhood? Can we work together to grow the community and for the better?

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    1. Hi Am I not Welcome? First I want to thank you for reading my article and engaging in a constructive dialogue. This is a conversation I have been having with my friends who are white and live a few streets over. I love having them as my neighbors. We do a weekly soup exchange and walk together often. AND. The question has never been if there is a place for white people in any neighborhood in Seattle. The question remains is there a place for me? Is there a place for people of color? For many years the answer has been no or not here. Our history of redlining, particularly in African American communities, has limited our ability to amass generational wealth and as such has limited our options for where this current generation can afford to live. As more and more folks begin to gentrify our neighborhoods we get pushed out. While you may have moved to RB to become a part of a diverse community, the question becomes will it remain so. You’re in a situation where your intention might not equal your impact. It’s a complicated position to be in, but this is where we are and it takes this kind of self reflection and dialogue to begin to discern how to move forward.

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  4. I relocated to my neighborhood, Bryn Mawr (South of Rainier Beach) almost 7 years ago after retiring from the pastorate of 30 years in Oakland, CA. After 30 years of pastoring a multi-national, multi-racial congregation, I purposely looked to purchase a home in a diverse community which turned out to be the 98178 (the most diverse in the northwest)… so I bought here. Though I am white, I feel most comfortable in a diverse community. I hope I didn’t make my neighbors uncomfortable? I have an African American family on my right and a Vietnamese family on my left. Nonetheless, gentrification has begun on my block as well, white people renting in Columbia City or West Seattle are now buying here because they can’t afford to buy where they live now. Nevertheless, it’s turning out ok, because they have children and have brought new life to the neighborhood. In fact, one of the families brought chickens as well. The neighborhood is still diverse and nice even though some young white families moved in. At the same time, I hope the POC community still feels comfortable to buy here in the neighborhood after all white is just another color in the tapestry of humanity. The important thing to me is that we’re neighborly. The scripture says, a neighbor who is near is better than a brother who is far away… I’m just glad to be part of a diverse accepting community.

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