by Will Sweger
Under the shadow of the Aurora Bridge, protesters from South Seattle met Tuesday outside the office of a housing developer. They were hoping to gain an audience with Build Urban LLC., a development company set to construct a new apartment building on Beacon Hill. In the process, the company will tear down the home of Esther “Little Dove” John.
John is a community elder who serves on the board of the Beacon Hill Council. She returned home to find an eviction notice after Build Urban purchased the land. The plans Build Urban submitted to the Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections propose a new four-story 42-unit apartment building with units ranging in size from 244 to 435 square feet.
“The gentrifiers are on the march,” John said. “They are doing predatory displacement, that is, they are displacing people in a way that makes it so people can’t come back to the neighborhoods where they lived, worked, and that they’ve made great. I’ve been displaced four times now, the first was from the Central District, second was from Mt. Baker, third was from Columbia City, and now Beacon Hill.”
Outside the Fremont office, which is perched on a pier between moored yachts, protesters chanted in support of affordable family housing. When the office owner confronted the group and threatened to call the police, the protesters, who numbered about 35 people, returned to the street and handed out pamphlets to passing motorists.
Still, John urged action. “Let’s all come out and let the builders know, let the developers know, what we need in our neighborhoods,” she said. “It’s not these small efficiency dwelling units. We need family-friendly housing that’s affordable for the people who live here now.”
Got Green, a South Seattle based advocacy organization for communities of color and low-income residents, took up John’s cause. Hodan Hassan, an organizer for Got Green explained the rationale behind the protest. “There are people who are disappearing from Seattle who belong here and deserve a place here,” she said. “No one deserves to be displaced from their community and their home, but least of all someone like Dove.”
Got Green has met with several city councilmembers to discuss the issue. The protestors advocated for an end to predatory development defined as “luxury housing that people in the community can’t afford” according to Hassan. Also elucidated over a loudspeaker was a right to return policy allowing the return of people forced out of the city by rent increases.
In a February 11 email to Got Green, Edson Gallaudet, the owner of Build Urban said, “We’re excited about our project on 13th and strongly believe it will deliver affordable, sustainable housing that Seattle desperately needs. Dove should be able to participate in the city’s tenant Re-lo program and we’re happy to support those efforts. We’d also be open to trying to help Dove find new housing or temp housing if she’d like to move back into our new building upon completion.” Since that email, Gallaudet has ceased communication with Got Green, prompting the group to take protest action Tuesday.
Got Green plans to continue organizing meetings for the foreseeable future. John is looking for alternate living arrangements but remains optimistic. “I’m feeling inspired because I see all these people. I don’t know all these people,” she said. “It just is a testament to how this problem is city-wide.”
Protesters left the scene after the two-hour gathering chanting “We’ll be back.”
Will Sweger is a contributor at the South Seattle Emerald and a resident of Beacon Hill. His work has appeared in Seattle Weekly, Curbed Seattle, The Urbanist, and Borgen Magazine. Find him on Twitter @willsweger