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Housing the homeless in Columbia City
Columbia City in Rainier Valley is a true success story for neighborhood revitalization. Restaurants, an art gallery, thriving farmers market and even a few new condos have replaced empty storefronts and vacant homes. Simultaneously, rising rents risk forcing out lower income people and people of color. South of Columbia City you still see drug dealing and some prostitution. Hillman City is the next business district south and it is on the rise, with revamped buildings drawing new businesses and new residents speaking up for the needs of the neighborhood.
Earlier this year, Downtown Emergency Services Center, a non-profit low-income housing provider, bought a vacant lot in between Columbia and Hillman Cities. Their plans call for an apartment building for formerly homeless mentally ill people. The ensuing firestorm of debate has highlighted the enormous challenge of implementing the 10-Year Plan to End Homelessness while at the same time keeping our commitment to Seattle's historically diverse neighborhoods-creating safe, affordable housing for all income levels.
DESC's original proposal for the lot was an 80-unit apartment building with security doors, meals on-site, case management on-site, and 24-hour staffing. After several well-attended and occasionally contentious community meetings, DESC has scaled the project back to 60 units.
DESC, which also operates the Morrison Hotel, 1811 Eastlake, and the Kerner-Scott House among other low-income housing properties, has most of this project's funding lined up from the federal, state, and local governments. The city's Office of Housing approved an additional $2.6 million in June.
However, the project is far from ready to break ground. Opposition remains intense among several long-time and newer residents of the area. At this point, DESC is moving forward with drafting a Good Neighbor Agreement with a committee of neighborhood advocates, some supporters and some critics of the project. The Good Neighbor Agreement should spell out the management, resident and community responsibilities related to the facility and the surrounding community. DESC still must go through permitting with the Department of Planning and Development. Construction is unlikely before 2007.
I have received a lot of email on this issue, much of it against DESC's proposal, but some in support. Many people asked that I and other councilmembers step in to stop the project. The city's rules for siting and funding projects don't allow for councilmember meddling, probably for historically good reasons. City rules also say that city dollars won't fund a project slated for an area that shows a 20 percent or greater amount of low-income housing in the census block. That has vexed many opponents of the project who see low-income housing all around the Columbia City and Hillman City areas. The catch is that "low-income" in this case is defined as housing affordable to people earning less than 30 percent of median income. The census block in which DESC is locating does not have 20 percent of that kind of housing.
Many emailers made great points about wanting to see DESC locate in North End neighborhoods rather than "dump" projects into the poorer neighborhoods of South Seattle. As vice chair of the Housing, Human Services & Health Committee I'm keenly aware that in order to house our homeless we'll need apartments and houses in virtually every part of the city. There is no doubt that relatively speaking, property in South Seattle may be more affordable than other areas of the City and, at least historically, has been less desirable for development by the private sector. This has and does provide opportunities for low-income housing developers to acquire and develop projects more affordably in South Seattle. I just wish I knew how to fund acquisition in every part of the city. Low-income housing developers more often than not lose bidding wars with for-profit developers.
As a Southeast Seattle resident myself I'm equally aware of the hard work that has gone into and continues to pour into Columbia City and Hillman City. Things are better, but it takes the constant effort of scores of people. My fingers are crossed that DESC will become the next great partner in Rainier Valley's march towards health, vibrancy, diversity, affordability, and overall success.
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Living Wage Initiatives
On the Road
Imagine being on your feet for eight hours every workday, continually preparing food, cleaning counters or taking people's food orders. Then imagine going home to make dinner for your family and pay bills using your $1,050 monthly take-home paycheck. It's not a sustainable life, but that's what thousands of Seattle's fast-food workers experience day in and day out.
Many of you don't have to imagine this because it's exactly what you do. Recently, as part of the Economic Development & Neighborhoods Committee work, I've visited with a few people who are working to get out of their low-wage, dead-end jobs, as well as others who are helping these people to climb up career ladders into living wage jobs. The result of these visits will be a short video about living wage jobs. For now, it's an incredible learning experience about the job market and people's lives.
The 21st century job market is much different than that of the last century. Down-sizing, outsourcing, right-sizing, going off-shore, automating, maximizing - all of these are words indicating reductions in labor in industries we use to count on. In Seattle, our workers don't just compete for jobs with other people in Puget Sound, but sometimes with people in other countries. A person with a high school diploma can't assume they'll easily find a job that pays enough for rent, transportation, food, child care, utilities and health care.
Training so you have the skills in demand is clearly part of the answer. But it's not just computer or manufacturing skills that people need to get and keep good paying jobs. "Soft" skills, such as knowing how to handle disputes with other workers and the importance of showing up on time and ready to work, are equally important for young workers and older adults new to the world of steady work.
In June I met with a group of students, ranging in age from their 20s to 50s, who are enrolled with the welding program at the Seattle Jobs Initiative-a nonprofit supported by the City of Seattle. They told me that they learned about the importance of "ability, attitude and accountability,"-the three "As." Clearly, they were learning more than just welding.
I was inspired by their stories about how the program has giving them the confidence that they needed to get and keep a good job. The students I met with had gained confidence in both their "hard" skills and their "soft" skills. They believe in themselves and they've found a new sense of hope.
My hope is to have the City take action based on the lessons I'm learning from my study of low-wage workers and career ladders. I'm happy to report that the City's investment in the Seattle Jobs Initiative is helping the lives of more than 500 residents every year. But I know that we have much more to do to re-establish our working class and to make sure all Seattle residents have an opportunity to get and keep a living wage job.
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Economic Development and Neighborhoods
If it's May this must be Magnolia - The Economic Development and Neighborhoods Committee met at the Magnolia Community Center on Thursday, May 18. A couple of hours beforehand I went on a great walking tour of the business district with members of the Magnolia Chamber of Commerce. Magnolia is both lucky and challenged to be physically separated from the rest of Seattle. The business district is healthy with small shops and restaurants. Its traffic problems aren't quite as intense as those experienced by other neighborhoods. Issues of high priority included parking, the impacts of new development, and public safety. An issue of major concern is the replacement plan for the Magnolia Bridge. The bridge needs to be replaced because of earthquake damage. There's a replacement proposal, but no funding plan yet.
Up to Lake City in June - We held the Economic Development and Neighborhoods Committee at the Lake City Branch of the Seattle Public Library June 15. Cheryl Klinker from North District Council and the Greater Lake City Community Council, Janice Camp, representing the Maple Leaf Community Council, and Jerry Thonn, representing the Meadowbrook Community Council took time to explain community priorities and concerns, chief among them the need for a sidewalk building strategy; engaging new immigrants in community issues; and a commitment to lidding the area reservoir with open space area that can be enjoyed by the public.
Inside Interbay - Later in June King County Councilmember Larry Phillips and I walked the Interbay neighborhood with property and business owners to talk about their vision for retaining light industrial and commercial jobs in the area while building workforce-priced housing north of the Interbay golf course (or south of Red Mill for those of you more familiar with that delicious neighborhood icon). This important jobs center is home to hundreds of jobs in Zoka's coffee roasting plant, the Dusty Strings manufacturing center, Washington Hardwoods, the Freehold Building and more than a dozen other businesses. Advocates are pushing for zoning changes and transportation fixes. What happens with those is anyone's guess, but true workforce housing would be a tremendous addition to this part of our city. Learn more about zoning and development options for Interbay by attending a community meeting staffed by the City's Department of Planning and Development on Thursday, July 13, 2006, from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m., at Interbay Covenant Church, 3233 15th Ave. West, Seattle.
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With the annual celebration of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Pride last month I had the opportunity to walk in the parade again. Over the years I've walked in the parade with Chicken Soup Brigade, Women Often Mistaken for Men in Public Restrooms, former Councilmember Tina Podlodowski, Hands Off Washington, Fairness Lobby, Lifelong AIDS Alliance and others. This year was special for three reasons. First, I've never marched as a councilmember. (You're really just a respite for the applauding crowds as they await the next set of well-dressed dogs or thumping disco music.) Second, I've never marched for Pride downtown. I've lived in Seattle 22 years - not long enough to have been part of the original downtown Pride parades. (The downtown route and crowds were outstanding.) Third, this was the first parade after passage in January of the GLBT civil rights bill (a major milestone worth celebrating all year).
The combination of these three things brought to mind a friend who couldn't join us at Pride. Jim Munoz worked for former City Councilmember Martha Choe and former Mayor Paul Schell. He died of AIDS-related causes in 2001. Jim was a sharp dresser with an even sharper sense for strategy and justice. He was aggressive, funny, uncompromising, smart, and passionate about community and about civil rights. Jim would have reveled in the win this year and in the increased visibility afforded by the downtown parade route. And then he would have started working on the next goal.
Happy Pride, Jim.
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