A Last-Ditch Effort to Preserve the Heart of the Central District

As gentrification remakes Seattle, the owners of an entire block at 23rd and Union are looking to sell. Neighborhood activists are talking about buying it. Can they succeed?

Comments

1
Thanks for this article. I learned a lot from it.
2
More restrictions put on residential development mean fewer residential units and thus higher rent. See San Francisco. Econ 101, people.
3
Good to know the owners are white. And last ditch effort is about the truth. The only thing in Seattle that's being built are high priced housing units with the occasional federally subsidized housing thrown in for the tax benefits.

Not making over $55K a year? The move to the suburbs, Seattle doesn't want you living here anymore.
4
What Gavin said. Seriously, look at San Francisco. Allowing high density development is the only chance there is to keep Seattle at all affordable.
6
I am truly sympathetic to the owners and the long time residents of the area that will probably be priced out. However, I think a far greater threat to this city is restricting the supply of housing and pushing more people into the suburbs to live a car centric life. The development needs to happen. What we need is to have a conversation about is how to incorporate affordable housing into that equation.
7
@1, @2, @4, @5, @6. Yuuuuuuup. We have to find "and" solutions for this city. We need density for all the people who are moving here. We need affordable housing and subsidized housing built into these developments AND we need to incorporate the history into these developments. The tide of people is not slowing, lets build an amazing city for all of us to share.
8
This whole affordable housing argument is bullshit. Move to the suburbs. If you don't like driving take a bus. Maybe if enough people start taking them bus service outside of seattle won't be a joke.

Consider what a developer does when he needs to set aside a percentage of his units for section 8. He'll up the rent on everything else. So while you think you're creating affordable housing, you're just raising the rent for everyone else.
9
foobarbaz, #8 your comment isn’t quite accurate. Developers don’t typically set aside units for section 8 receipients, they either use incentive zoning or MFTE, the first a long term low income housing (or other public benefits) in exchange for a rezone for a larger building, the second a tax excemption for creating multi-family units that are lower rent which expires in about 12 years. Neither of these are the same as section 8 which is a voucher program. You seem to be under the impression that only the very poor are assisted by these programs but if you look at the income levels required to receive housing assistance you might be surprised. The idea is to help both the poor and lower middle class families stay in the city, close to their jobs. So developers get something, so do tenants and additionally society benefits as well.
From what I have read and heard from members of CD LURC, mentioned in this article is that the property owner mentioned in this article, would not guarantee low income housing of either type.

10
What a pathetic situation: from opposing gentrification in the first place (it's a fucking shopping center!) to a group of neighbors capable of buying the property to the "Afrocentric design principles" (fire that UW prof!).

it would all be great basis for a satirical movie but such folks actually get to vote in real elections.

The best thing to have happen is for the property owners to get their rezone, sell to a competent developer and let them build a good project which contributes to the neighborhood. Then TAX the then more valuable property and use it to support housing for poor disabled old people (not college kids who want to live ob Capital Hill).

Sheesh. Makes me sick to think of the waste of energy to even thinking of fighting what could be a fine project. Shape it, yes! but try to stop it? Bullshit.
11
@9 Here's where you're wrong. Who the fuck cares if someone has to commute, is it the worst thing in the world. Talk about first world bitching.

IF someone wants to buy some property who the fuck cares what race or ethnicity they are.
12
@11 if you don't care about the topic why bother commenting?
13
Did anyone check Bangasser's numbers? $30 a foot tax difference between Jackson and Union doesn't sound right.
14
What ever the result, new construction will price out the small businesses, especially if said businesses cater to a shrinking demographic of the area.

23rd and Union is no longer the center of African-american culture in seattle, the community and culture is not thriving there.

Many communities have thrived there in the past (not only African American) and others will thrive there in the future. And so it goes....

15
@11:

You're right about it being a First World Problem, given that the concept of "suburbia" doesn't really exist in most Third World Countries.
16
@13
Its not a land tax, it is a property tax. If your next door neighbor has a bigger house he pays more.
17
Gentrification or de-ghettoization. If black folks are moving from there to Crown Hill and Maple Leaf, the latter. If they are moving to Renton, the former. Do we know?
18
@13- The article makes it sound like there's some special higher tax rate on that corner, which isn't true. Both have the same $9.27 levy rate. The difference is that Bangasser's property - being located at the intersection of two major arterials that are a stone's throw from one of the hottest real estate markets in the nation - is worth much more than the 23rd/Jackson area. Properties are assessed based on the "highest and best use" of their zoning rather than their actual use, so I'd imagine Bangasser is paying the sort of tax bill you'd expect a large mixed-use development to pay, while presumably only collecting the sort of rental revenues you'd get from run down, single-story retail buildings. It won't really matter much in the end given what he'll make when the property sells.

I know Bangasser has gotten a bit of a bad rap as some sort of slum lord over the years, and he probably could have done a bit more as far as lighting/security/etc. to at least attempt to cut down on the street disorder that collects there late at night. But on the other hand I feel for him, as he's in a little bit of a rock and hard place - he seems genuinely interested in making sure that local residents have a say in what happens to that street corner, but entering into the sort of binding agreements that people are suggesting could really hamstring future development and make it difficult to transfer the property to the next owner. I'm sure he could have sold to the highest bidder a long time ago and be drinking mai tais on a beach somewhere, but he's at least been attempting to keep a dialogue open with the community.
19
The Central District is not simply a “historically black neighborhood”, as the author states. For thousands of years, it was inhabited by people whom some call Native Americans. After the area was logged in the 1880’s, it was inhabited by European Americans, followed by Japanese, Jews, and then African Americans.
20
Just don't really see how the owners race is relevant to whether they want to sell the property or not? if the tax revenues and the rental revenues are providing profit for any order regardless of race and they have the right to sell that property. That being said I hope the community can come together and purchase the property, but look at New York City any major metropolitan area in Europe, amenities are provided by the quantity of people living in that area. What's more disappointing is that we don't have a viable decent transit system, primarily because we can't support it due the lack of population density. New York has had a subway transit since the 1800's.
21
You can always move to Portland if you don't like it here.
22
The tech driven asset bubble is absolutely in opposition to preventing uncontrolled gentrification and losing the soul of this city. If you think otherwise just visit San Fran, or hell Pike and Pine. So editors at The Stranger, think of that when you cheerlead for big tech development, loss of old economy businesses, and the next $20 cocktail den. Like most things in life, the need for moderation here is incredibly important. Of course I have no data backing this up--if there are such data--but the city seemed to have been at its best a few years ago before gentrification fully colonized Capitol Hill, Ballard, etc. It's little wonder that the more interesting neighborhoods that remain are those that have seen more limited change such as Georgetown, the U District, ID, Greenwood, etc. Broadway is over, South Lake Union is over, Fremont is over, Queen Anne is over, Ballard and Pike Pine are nearly there. Sure it's nice to be able to get a great cocktail in neighborhoods where you used to have to settle for a Rainier draft, but I'd that really worth brutalizing the under classes of the city for?
23
@15 That is absolutely not true. The suburb may originally be a western construct, but it's ignorant to not see how it has spread around the world's cities. Not to mention that the idea of the "third world" is an outdated relic of the cold war.
24
I'm glad something has been done with that lot across the street.

When I moved into the neighborhood, it was a shuttered gas station. Then it turned into a hole in the ground.
Then the hole in the ground turned into a massive enviromental cleanup project for years upon years, because the half-century-old gas station had trashed the land so badly the very dirt itself was toxic.

Then it finally sat as a vacant, fenced lot for a few more years, until my rent got high and I had to move to Burien (where our school levies fail and our electeds say improving bus service is "not a priority").
25
@20--We don't have transit "primarily because we can't support it due the lack of population density" is not true. There are numerous cities in Europe with transit systems far better than ours, and many of them are smaller and less dense than Seattle. Why do you think that is? Two main reasons: A crappy tax structure designed to further wealth and power inequity, and a culture that uses twice the amount of energy per capita than needed to support our quality of life (or better!).
26
"Gentrification or de-ghettoization. If black folks are moving from there to Crown Hill and Maple Leaf, the latter. If they are moving to Renton, the former. "

So the "black folks" should only aspire to ridiculously priced middle class white neighborhoods? Someone really should tell them that.

Here's the deal: If you can sell your house on a tiny lot that you bought for 24K in 1972 for half a million or so, places like Renton look mighty attractive: Big lots, newer construction, better schools, much more affordable housing. That's doubly true if your church has moved there and friends are living there.

As for the neighborhood's history, the CD has always been a jumping off point. People lived there until something better came along. The Jews cleared out of there as soon as they were allowed to buy property elsewhere. Neighborhoods change - even the ID is getting more Occidental. I know Asians who grew up on Beacon Hill who wouldn't dream of living here. And you sure don't see the Scandanavians crying over Ballard (After all, they'll always have Poulsbo).

Yes, some people are getting priced out, and that is bad. I was priced out of Pike/Pine to Beacon Hill, but I landed on my feet. (yes, I know, check my privilege, etc) but there's also the people who are profiting nicely from the improving real estate values - something that is too often left out in the often cartoonish depiction of changing neighborhoods.
27
Catalina, so great.
28
So sad that a crappy strip mall is what is considered a historic landmark in the CD.

If this city wasn't so zoned so SF dominant, there would be more opportunity to build smaller scale retail that's needed for these threatened businesses. As it stands, there's no other place to put mixed-use buildings.

Property is our God.
29
Really, TobyinBullshitland @25?

Care to cite a single example of a European city, big or small, that is as pervasively un-dense as Seattle.

Not being the most sprawling city in the United States still puts us at about the bottom of any list of contiguous urbanized areas elsewhere in the developed world. Transit math is real.

I'm sorry that the view of the world from the porch of your ugly Fremont bungalow is so limited.
30
Is there a potential compromise in which they can sell the land to be developed into a mixed use property, and give retail priority to the current tenants, like what is happening with Bauhaus on the Hill? I think that's what the community organizations should advocate for, it would be a win-win.
31
Oh, and you know why we use such excesses of energy in this country, you fake "environmentalist" NIMBY halfwit?

Long commutes. Inefficient goods distribution geometry. Detached housing. The oodles of "open space" for which you clamor.

Your urban-phobic "activism" is the problem.
32
Cascade (now south lake union) was also a Black neighborhood years ago. But that neighboorhoid has had no-one left to complain about gentrification. But this effort to save a slice of the CD is 20 years too late. I can't help but wonder what will happen with the zillions of sterile tiny new housing units when the next crash hits.
33
Supply and Mother Fucking Demand.

Put your red markers away, as long as the cultural preference is for urban, walkable, neighborhoods, gentrification will continue. Those with money will get their houses - either in the city, or in the burbs. Do you want them to build more in the burbs?
34
@32: new people are moving here regardless - they even came during the recession. they must live somewhere. there will not be "zillions of sterile housing units" (AKA apartments) vacant.

where is it OK to build?
35
Such racist crap. No one owns a neighborhood. A few years back I, a white man was watching a kids soccer game at Garfield Community Center. A black woman in her young 20's, with no provocation beyond my presence, told me to my face to get out of the neighborhood and go back where I belonged. I ignored her. How is this substantively different than a white saying the same thing to a black person who shows up for a game in the former's neighborhood? Oops, white privilege talking is I'm sure the answer. A neighborhood changes when people move in and buy from existing owners. Things evolve and change. Get over it.
36
@35

Funny, because when I, a black man, go to Ezells in Central of visit friends that live there, the white locals give me the "scary negro! Better clench my purse/cross the street/turn the other direction".

And Im not the only person who has experienced this.
37
@29/31--I'm sorry to see you are still swimming in your bitterness and anger. And your personal and other facts are, as usual, way off. I created a little table of European cities pretty much at random, eliminating only a few of the most dense places (Paris, Naples, Barcelona). Here it is:
City Population Density per sq.mi
London 8,416,535 13,870
Munich 1,407,836 12,000
Moscow 11,503,501 11,865
Zurich 383,708 11,000
Wein 1,794,770 10,366
Liverpool 466,415 10,070
Berlin 3,517,424 10,000
Marseille 850,636 9,200
Budapest 1,744,665 8,610
Glasgow 596,550 8,542
Seattle 650,000 7,738
Bern 128,848 6,500
Prague 1,243,201 6,475
Krakow 760,700 6,028
Rome 2,900,000 5,847
Graz 269,997 5,500

If/when we get to a million, we'll be more dense than Moscow (11,900). And every one of those cities, down to the smallest, has a better transit system than Seattle. By far.

You still don't know me or what I do, or the kind of house I live in. And if you come anywhere near me, I'll get a restraining order; you are not welcome here.
38
One example I look to in the CD of a business thriving under gentrification while still maintaining their ties to the community is the Meredith Matthews YMCA just a few blocks north. They are part of a national chain, have obviously been doing well enough to keep their building maintained and the majority of their members seem to be middle class white people from Capitol Hill, Madrona and Madison Valley. But their staff is majority or at least substantially people of color. By increasing their rates and charging full price to the higher income members, they can subsidize the full income range of the central district by offering discounted rates to low income members and families, and provide assistance to homeless and other at risk youth and offer down-and-out folks a shower and place to be for the day. I feel this is a good compromise between what we have at 23rd and Union now vs what Madison st is becoming.
39
Oh, yikes. I missed Toby's typically asinine reply.

Yes, Toby, when you compare the municipality of Seattle proper to consolidated European metropolitan governments that include large swaths of rural land outside of the populated urbanized areas, you can look cockeyed at the statistics and pretend that Seattle is denser than Prague.

But if you spent all of a day on the ground in Prague itself, you would realize that every place covered by its urban transport system is about an order of magnitude denser than your Mayberry-Fremont fantasy of what mass-transit-amenable cities look like.

I cannot wait until you and your Lesser Seattle associates -- so excruciatingly self-righteous in your hypocrisy and willful ignorance -- slip into the dustbin of irrelevance.