by Sharon Ho Chang
A coalition of community groups protested the grand opening of KODA Condominiums in Seattle’s Chinatown-International District (CID) yesterday. The demonstration, organized by the CID Coalition (aka Humbows Not Hotels) and supported by Parisol (Pacific Rim Solidarity Network) and MPOP (Massage Parlor Outreach Project), was the latest of many actions over the years protesting the development including a protest at the groundbreaking in 2019.
“KODA was the first luxury high-rise approved in the CID after City Council’s controversial Mandatory Housing Affordability legislation, so it has serious implications for the future of the neighborhood,” wrote CID Coalition member Nina Wallace in an email.
The price tag of KODA’s new luxury condos runs up to $1.4 million plus an additional $75,000 for a parking stall. Despite the community asking for affordable housing and the developer, Dali, claiming they would look into it, there are no affordable or family-sized units in the new high-rise. KODA also promised to reserve some ground-level space for public access. Instead, the developer converted the ground level into a “private living room,” offices for themselves, and a large commercial space.
Community advocates say KODA is part of a bigger problem of gentrification and displacement threatening Seattle’s historically redlined communities like the CID and the Central District. According to the CID Coalition’s website, the number of API families living in the CID dropped almost 21% from 2010 to 2017 but the number of white households grew by over 53%. Meanwhile, the median CID income is $35,000 — far below Seattle’s overall median, which is closer to $100,000.
After a morning teach-in at the CID’s Danny Woo Garden on Friday, protestors walked down the road to demonstrate in front of the newly built condos during the grand opening — a sort of open house that will last all weekend, Friday through Sunday, for prospective buyers. Protesters yelled anti-displacement chants and held signs that displayed messages including “Luxury = Displacement,” “KODA Lied 2 Us,” and “CID is not 4 $ale.”
“We just want community people and people who are considering buying a unit to know what they’re buying into,” said Wallace at the protest.
Alison Cheung, a Parisol member who was also at the protest, grew up outside of Seattle in an area that was primarily white. She often felt like an outsider until her family would visit the CID and she saw other families like hers. “It was really hard to find a sense of home,” Cheung said, “but [then] we came here … and it was such a comfort to know that that place was always there.”
Cheung said she was at the protest to protect that sense of place and belonging. KODA condos developer Dali, Cheung pointed out, “have no relationship to the history, to the land … no appreciation or reverence for the people that built this neighborhood and the people who continue to make it a special place. They just see an opportunity to make a massive profit and displace everything that makes this home.”
Because of the City’s 2017 Mandatory Housing Affordability (MHA) legislation, the CID has now been upzoned and developers can build as high as 17 stories if they include “affordable” housing units or pay the City’s MHA fee which goes into a general fund. Most developers choose the latter. MHA is touted as an anti-displacement tool by the City but was opposed by the community and, Wallace said, is actually facilitating displacement. “Now we’re seeing what happens when the City doesn’t listen to impacted communities,” said Wallace.
“So much of this is on the City making revenue out of developers and increasing land prices,” said speaker JM Wong, MPOP and Parisol member, over a bullhorn to Friday’s protestors. “KODA is just one player within how this city makes money out of kicking out poor folks from Seattle and then making a whole lot of other money out of saying they want to support poor people … They’re getting us on both ends by creating the conditions that make our people suffer and then creating an image of themselves as this progressive, liberal beacon within the state.”
Activists are putting pressure on the City Council to stop predatory developers. They are demanding a moratorium on luxury developments, repeal of the CID upzone, and funding for true low-income housing. They also want the International Special Review District Board — which approved the KODA condos development in the first place — to be held accountable. Community advocates realize it’s too late to stop the KODA condos from opening, but they aren’t giving up.
“As long as they’re in this community and impacting the community, they’re going to have to deal with us,” said Wallace.
Sharon Ho Chang 張曉倫 Tiunn Hiáu-lûn is an award-winning Taiwanese American author, photographer, and activist. She is Managing Editor at the South Seattle Emerald and lives in the Columbia City neighborhood.
📸 Featured Image: Anti-displacement protest signs wait to be held before the protest of KODA condos grand CID opening, February 25, 2021. (Photo by Sharon Ho Chang)
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