Considering the Seattle City Council’s recent conversations on zoning laws, it’s particularly pertinent to dig a little deeper into the topic, especially as it applies to accessibility and the racist and segregatory intent which these laws were originally designed. However, the notion that zoning laws are at the root cause of our disparate housing system is simply short-sighted.
As a senior on disability, Laura Hale lives on exactly $971 per month, not counting the $182 per month she receives in food stamps.
The 65-year-old Hale lives in the basement of her son’s house, a few blocks away from the Southeast Seattle Senior Center, where she regularly plays bingo on Wednesdays. Like many seniors who live on fixed income, such as disability payments or Social Security, Hale cannot independently afford to live in the area anymore, thanks to increasing costs of living, as developers move in. And like many seniors, Hale is on several city housing waiting lists that are literally thousands of names and several years long.
The energy was palpable Monday night as tenants and activists marched through the streets of Lower Queen Anne towards the Seattle Housing Authority Building.
Protestors packed the Board of Commissioners meeting demanding the Seattle Housing Authority (SHA), take the so-called “Stepping Forward” program off the table.
If passed, the new initiative will raise rents by over 400% in the next five years for “work-able” tenants. Estimates project that tenants will have to make between $16-$20 per hour to keep up with the rising costs. Families who are unable to meet the increasing financial demands could face eviction.
Currently, SHA rent prices are determined by household income, ensuring that no more than 30% of tenants’ incomes are spent on housing costs. Yet, the Stepping Forward program would make rent unaffordable for over 7,000 households.
Though the proposed plan incorporates “job training” and ESL classes, it fails to address the underlying structural barriers that low-income families face in gaining reliable employment. Many SHA households have poor access to childcare, educational opportunities and are subject to institutional discrimination when trying to find a job.
According to Tenants Union organizer, Denechia Powell, SHA efforts to educate tenants about the policy have been sorely lacking. Though a quarter of SHA residents are immigrants, there has been little targeted outreach to these groups in particular.
Demonstration attendee, Dr. Gary Perry, expressed his disgust with SHA’s plan and its recent partnerships with powerful developers like Vulcan. “The gentrification we see happening today is more aggressive, [now] public entities are allowing developers to have a land grab.”
Though SHA has framed this policy change as an opportunity to “provide more people access to safe, decent and affordable housing”, in reality, this policy will result in the continued gentrification of Seattle, and displacement of low-income residents.
While the Board decided not to vote on Stepping Forward until early 2015, tenants and activists are committed to continuing to hold these “public servants” accountable.
Ariel Hart is a graduate student at the University of Washington’s School of Public Health and an anti-racist activist.
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