Doing Something Real About Gentrification and Displacement


I'll be a lot more inclined to listen to Dan Savage's urban planning lectures after he's sold his Single Family Home on Capitol Hill and moved his family into multi-unit housing.
Though I agree 100% with the conclusion--hey, more rapid transit--the nationwide data doesn't fully support a mad rush to urban areas. For example:…

"The fastest population growth right now is in the lowest-density neighborhoods, the suburb-iest suburbs,” Kolko said.

So why has the “city-loving millennials” story gained so much traction? Kolko has a theory: As American cities have become safer and more expensive, they have become increasingly dominated by the affluent and well-educated — exactly the people who drive the media narrative.

“Your typical young, elite-media-outlet journalist probably is more likely to be living more years in the city than 20 years ago,” Kolko said."

In other words, it seems like a mad rush to urban areas because people who write about this stuff tend to live in urban areas.

Seattle is obviously a big exception right now, though we should be careful because if/when this gold rush ends, we're going to risk being stuck with a lot of unused real estate and transit, and still be paying for it.
The 'how' is unsaid. I'll fix it for you: we take from the rich.
I like it Dan, and I did read it through. I have little hope that things will change, though. Lived here too long to expect anything else. I'd love to be surprised.
Everyone really needs to read "How to Kill a City" by Peter Moskowitz. Gentrification that is happening in cities across America is about wealth. Cities are nothing more than creation centers for capital. They are not for people anymore. This books shows how deliberate displacement of hundreds of thousands of people is done so that the obscenely wealthy can garner more obscene wealth. He does not discuss Seattle or Portland in this book, but the game is the same wherever you go. The four cities he focuses on are New Orleans, Detroit, San Francisco, and New York. There is so much information in this book as to how and why the gentrification happens and the only way to stop it (strict and deliberate regulation). Three reason he proposes why it will NEVER happen in America:

"In the United States, housing is not considered a human right, and the ability of people to live in a given place is subject to the whims of the market. Challenging this may sound like a radical proposition, but it is radical only in the United States, in the same way universal health care is a controversial concept over here. Most countries have realized the market will not provide for low- and middle-income people, and so their systems have made adjustments." NOT IN THE UNITED STATES.

"In a country where even things such as a child's ability to get the food needed to survive, whether in the form of food stamps or free school lunch, is up for constant debate in Congress, a more rational, equitable, and compassionate housing policy may be a long way off."

"There's also a deeper reason that will make it hard to challenge gentrification in the United States. This country was founded on displacement - on the idea that white men have a greater right to space, and even to people's bodies, than anyone else."

In America we do nothing and hope the market will sort itself out. Spoiler alert: IT NEVER WILL
@1 he's calling for his house to be rezoned for multifamily. he doesn't need to move, just needs the city to let him build a multifamily type building like a duplex
@2: lower population growth in the cities doesn't mean there isn't a return to cities. Cities have less buildable land, and lots of political obstacles to zoning changes that allow the housing stock to grow more dramatically, so that creates a dynamic where people with more money moving to the city means people with less money moving out, rather than dramatic population growth.

To state the obvious, people under 30 have less money. So when the city gets expensive (because more people--including some older people with more money--are bidding up the available housing stock) those who rent and can't afford major rent increases move out. Under 30's are over-represented in both those demographics.

It is true that the return of people with money to cities is very uneven. It's huge in some places and very modest in others.

Great post, Dan.
Laughing at how Dan directly short-circuited @1's "point" right there in the article
And why not give tax breaks and low interest loans to homeowners who want to fix up a backyard cottage or add-on a room to rent?

-- An example of great ideas that elude "progressive" elitists.
Agree 100% but I also reserve a little eyeroll at the editorial director of The Stranger making such a big critique of snark. I mean, really...
@12: The Stranger has always had a comically enormous blind spot in regards to their own behavior.

Great post!
Considering that the very policies The Stranger has relentlessly pushed over the past 20 years have gotten us a city that is whiter and more expensive than ever, forgive me if I pass on your urban planning advice.
@10: OR, Dan's just bluffing that as he'll really be pissed if an apartment complex materializes next door.
@16, The Stranger is pretty confident that most of their readers haven't lived in Seattle longer than a few years: ten at the most.

Anyone who has been here longer than that knows The Stranger is full of shit.

Still waiting for Charles to move into one of those aPodments he was pushing on everyone a few years ago as the best solution for our housing crisis in Seattle.
One thing individuals CAN do is to either live very near to where they work or work very close to where they live. Europeans wouldn't consider commuting for hours a day much less doing it in their own personal vehicles. That synergy of work/live locations and more urban density is then self-fulfilling: stores, services, and entertainment all within walking distance of your apartment and your work. You gain many hours each week and many thousands of dollars of avoided costs each year. The population is healthier for that 10-20 more walking each day. And a political constituency develops for pedestrians and functional public transit.

And City Councils? YES, They need to allow housing density near work/retail centers.
@19 are you a paid advertisement?
I have to assume this post makes Brier "Seattle...1950s!" Dudley cry.
expanding the housing stock to match jobs/population sounds like a great idea until you reflect on the fact that capital and jobs are easy to move to another location while housing is permanent. want to see what a city looks like when the jobs move elsewhere? check out detroit, gary, st. joe, rochester, hammond and a hundred other places. let nike and intel decide to relocate and watch housing prices from west linn to hillside drop by half. contrary to what some believe, reasonable urban planning does not begin by catering to the lords of capital by building housing to accommodate their headcount. they will move their businesses elsewhere any time it will increase the bottom line leaving empty homes and a crushed tax base behind.
When Dan says "racist whites", what he means are "his parents".
@2 the move back to the inner cities coincides with the shift of blacks to the suburbs. White people are always one step ahead.

The same college-educated city-lover who moves to Capitol Hill for the quality of life, would have, in a different generation, moved to the suburbs, for the quality of life.

If you ever find yourself thinking, you're better than the generation before you, slap yourself in the face: You're wrong. You live in a different context. You, straight white cis male, know more about being a queer PoC than you do about being a young adult in the 40s through the 60s.
Right on cue, the Upshot section of The New York Times just came up with a story, "Seattle Climbs but Austin Sprawls: The Myth of the Return to Cities:"…

Gives some nuance on some seemingly divergent trends. If I can summarize, so far in the '10s the nation has been sprawling, not "densing," but density has become more desirable.

But here's the interesting thing for us. As the headline suggests, Seattle leads the nation's metro areas in taking on more density, up 3.0% from 2010 to 2016. In second place is Chicago way back at 1.2%. So clearly all of us transitistas and urbanistas have managed to land in the right place.

Anyway, great piece by Dan Savage. Cogent and clear-eyed. And with a mayoral race starting up, I'm looking for candidates who we can count on to be sincerely on Dan's side.
The government should redone our single-family neighborhoods, then take all the property with single-family houses through eminent domain without compensation (this is, essentially, what is happening without rent control right now), and building government-run multi-family affordable housing on it.

Dan should be championing rent control as one of multiple ways to solve the crisis. But, he's championing allowing developers to create more expensive housing with fewer regulations (see: parking spaces: he hates cars even though his husband drives one and is able to park in their driveway).

Developers, right now, are tearing down affordable units and building expensive ones. That's never part of the story.
"Without taking lanes away from cars, which we aren't going to do, BRT is not rapid transit."

Hello? Aurora?
We could end private (as distinct form personal) property to address the root of the problem. No owning buildings in which you do not live or work destroys nearly all of the incentive for gentrification of the sort that actually displaces people. That's not a politically realistic possibility, of course, but I'm trying like hell to drag the Overton Window back to the Left, so I'll keep raising the impossible-to-implement options.
"Rent control."

Thank GAWD the cities adopting rent control have been SO effective in securing access and affordability in housing:

New York City, San Francisco, Berkeley, Beverly Hills, Los Angeles, Palm Springs, San Jose, Santa Monica, West Hollywood

Fk'n'aye wake up you stooges...
@27 Rent Control is a strong limiter on new construction, has been shown pretty conclusively to benefit landholders to the detriment of renters. If you want both rent control and rezoning, prepare for the steady stream of displacement turn into a full-on damn break as landlords rush to evict as many people as they can.
@29, you'd have to change the US constitution then. it's all well and nice to shift the overton window, but we have a way to create a more affordable city without needing 3/4ths of the states to agree: raise. the. zoning.
@30, @31

Rent Control: just another economic matter that centrist Clintonite Democrats and Trumpsters agree upon. Both think it would be bad because all hail landholders.
I f everyone wants to live in the center city and walk or bike to work, why do we need all this transit? Wasn't the idea to get people to live near their work so they didn't have to drive? This is more of the song of the newcomers (although I know Savage is not one) who believe they are entitled to live wherever they want at a price they want to pay, and if single family homeowners are an obstacle, well then let's just make their lives miserable and zone them out of their homes and their antiquated ideas of how they want to live. After all, doesn't everyone want to spend hours a day on transit, without a seat, watching those lucky enough to be seated playing with their phones, and then when they get home to their 500 square feet, take a bath in the kitchen and call for takeout before collapsing on their murphy bed? Who doesn't want that life?
Couldn't we just make it more expensive to drive cars into Seattle? I mean, we do have two nice bottlenecks on I-90 and 520... just jack up the toll rates to like $20/car. But keep bus tickets the same price. Betcha bus ridership jumps...

That one comment about Europeans @19?
" Europeans wouldn't consider commuting for hours a day "
Well, maybe not "hours", but they do have to take the suburban trains back the «banlieue» after they finish work at their office in the city center. So there is a considerable amount of commuting that goes on. It's just the Europe put in train tracks during the 19th century, and simply kept them upgraded since, so people don't need cars to get into town when there's a train that runs on a predictable schedule available for a reasonable fee. Car-oriented roads were an afterthought in Europe, because they literally came after the moment trains were fully established as the most sensible way to get people around cities.

America's demented ideological insistence that "cars" somehow equal "freedom", and then subsidizing freeways, and also suburbs with low-cost service extensions (water, sewage, electric lines), has led to a wholly car-oriented infrastructure: strip malls, fast roads everywhere, no sidewalks in places, train track removal, vast parking lots, roads so dangerous that bicycles are a suicidal option, literally no other way to get to a place (in some cases).

Combine that with the generational increase in personal car ownership which I witnessed in high-school, then college, then every city I've ever lived... my generation brought more cars with them, and traffic problems have increased accordingly.

But again, we're in a chicken-egg scenario with car ownership: The infrastructure is such that one practically has to own a car to get around. Make the opposite true, and traffic will diminish.

But then, retro-fitting a city to be transit-oriented is expensive.

Too bad we're such a poor country that we can't afford to do anything about it.
24: I figured Dan was accusing Audrey of "Little Shop of Horrors" of being racist by singing "Somewhere That's Green".
In Atlanta as a student/new professional I got forced out of multiple rentals rezoned for condos. I moved to smaller town California and work from home is a possible solution. If I took mass transit into the local offices it would require almost a day not hours worth of work time to get there because it just isn't there YET in my neck of the woods (Inland Empire). But it's moving forward, however housing prices are increasing faster than incomes in this area too. As for affordable housing for the displaced I want to be positive in communities moving forward with plans to solve this issue but this new administration and congress will need to be held accountable.…
@27 I guarantee that with rent control, you'll see a lot less housing built than would be otherwise. Just ask any economist. And you favor the government not just stealing people's property, but doing so without just compensation? This is America, not communist China. Move there, and you can have all the density and land grabbing your heart desires.

But if fairness, at least you got something right when you said, "Developers, right now, are tearing down affordable units and building expensive ones." That's what's happened to the CD, and that's what's going to happen to Chinatown and Little Saigon when the urbanists get their way. Their community will be destroyed.
There are a couple problems with the 'live where you work' argument.
1) dual+ income: stars would need to align for 2 adults to both find work in the same area, and for that area to be affordable on what they make, and for them to never change jobs. People need to move around if they are to pursue their own economic interests.
2) Ownership is great in a lot of ways- and is the economic safety net for millions of americas. But the likely-hood of being able to buy and sell to always be near a place of work in a modern, mobile job market is a fantasy.
Live where you work? In today's gig economy? I hope you like moving every 6-9 months, especially since landlords want that year's lease. That's assuming the company pays you well enough to live where they're located. What happens when you get a job further away, when the hours don't match with the hours that transit will get you there?

It would be nice if all the people demanding these things would provide the infrastructure to support it, like affordable housing in every neighborhood, not just the undesirable ones, and transit that actually functions around the clock and doesn't cut off whole areas at the end of the 9-5 workday commute. But I suppose that might require the well-off people to actually allow things like poor people and trains and buses in their areas.
Dan is dreaming if he thinks his prescription won't create much worse traffic than Seattle already has. The problem: mass transit has to be incredibly good to be quicker and easier for most people than driving. In a few places, like Paris, London, and Manhattan, it is--partly because it really does go about everywhere, and partly because of the population density.

In Washington, DC, where I lived for two decades, this is decidedly not the case. I lived about 5 blocks from a metro station. I had to do one change to get downtown. It took me 20 minutes to drive, 20 minutes to bicycle, but 40 minutes door to door via the DC metro.
I have felt the same way as Dan about this current situation.
I plan on building an apartment in my back yard when my hood is rezoned. We will provide some family sized units and plan on also providing affordable units in excess of what will be required. I will continue to live on site.
Seattle missed an opportunity on 23rd to provide dedicated lanes for BRT. Hopefully this mistake won't be repeated in other parts of the city.
@10 You (and Dan) seem to assume that if zoning changes are implemented, existing homeowners will elect to develop their properties.

I've seen this trotted out in Stranger articles and comments before. What leads people to believe that folks that paid over a half-million to live in a single family home close to downtown are just dying to change their neighborhoods? I mean, I sure didn't read Dan's article to suggest that but for the zoning restrictions, he'd be turning his parcel into a multi-unit dwelling for low income residents.

Wow. You are so right---it's NOT the 1960's and will never be again.
Seattleites missed the boat in 1961 during planning for the 1962 World's
Fair during the JFK Administration, when federal money was offered for
improving urban infrastructure and freeways. As a result, San Fransisco,
Oakland, and the Bay Area got BART. Seattle now has the Mercer Mess,
and not even Big Bertha can kiss and make it better.
I haven't lived in Seattle since 1997 and have been a renter since 2001,
using public transportation and walking when not driving to conserve fuel.
My contribution to the 'live where you work' argument: telecommunication?
('Voo-doo economics...anyone?...Anyone...?' god I miss Ben Stein!)
Shit, I don't have all the answers, and that can't solve everyone's problems
least it's keeping my car and me off the escalating insanity of I-5.
Is this an annual rant or is Dan 20 years late to the conversation? The best choice would be to create neighborhoods where people want to both live and work.
@45 Dan had to pretend to contribute to the argument and more importantly pretend to give a shit about people who aren't wealthy white people like him and his husband.
Their income isn't keeping up with their property taxes
They have relatives or friends desperate to find a home here
Income you earn from your property = income, and lots of people like income
A belief that people with relatively more money and relatively less money living in mixed income neighborhoods is a good thing, not a bad thing

Let's not outlaw the option and see who chooses it
@27 -

This makes no sense. "then take all the property with single-family houses through eminent domain without compensation (this is, essentially, what is happening without rent control right now),"


Whose property is being taken? What WOULD result in taking people's property is rent control. Which might not be so bad as social policy if it actually helped the situation, but it won't. It'll reduce the housing supply and those in rent-controlled apartments will never move, so that newcomers, young people etc. will never find places to live. Ask people in Berkeley or New York.
Dan Savage for Mayor!
@48 You could argue that kicking people out of their apartment by dramatically increasing their rent isn't taking somebody's property because they only have a contract. One could also argue that eminent domain means landowners are only renting their land from the government.
Is anything in that long, repetitive piece news to longtime "Stranger" readers? I don't think so. Without resorting to snark, I've still gotta say I didn't read any breakthrough ideas there, Dan. Of course, I agree with all your suggestions, but I'm going to play Devil's Advocate and talk about something I don't see mentioned much on this topic: Home ownership.

Rent control might relieve the pressure to move for some people -- but not necessarily permanently. Those laws can be changed a couple years down the line. And during that time, while dreaming such a situation might be permanent, those people might think there's no point in saving up for a down payment on a house. Yet, going that route would actually be better financially in the long run. I mean, of course, if you hunt for a place in an area you can afford. The average sale price on Capitol Hill, according to Zillow, is $572,800, whereas it's $349,600 in White Center. Still too much? Maybe look for a home (and a new job) a little farther away, say in the Olympia Metro area, where the average is $260,900. Last year saw an increase of 6.1%, but in the next year it's expected to rise only 4%. Of course, with a home you have to pay for repairs that in a rental the landlord pays for (*hopefully* -- there's one of the problems). But at least, if you've locked into a mortgage you can afford, you're not subject to continually rising rental prices (rarely lowering; whereas, with a home refinance, an owner can make that happen), as well as eviction if the landlord wants to use the place for something else, etc. This isn't an argument based on "The American Dream" -- it's simple math. I own a 4 bedroom in one of the locations listed above, and I just did a 4 bedroom rental search for this area and the *lowest* monthly price I found was *still* $250 more than my mortgage.

What about all the people who can't afford to save for a small house in evena bad neighborhood? Well, that's a different -- though admittedly related -- discussion. Sliding scale rent subsidies until they can afford to save for a place is a start. But once they can afford a place, is a family going to want to stay in a high rise apartment in downtown Seattle? No, they'll want a place where they're kids can step right outside, walk to a friend's house, and then go to a nearby park or school playground.

I haven't even touched on the issue of parents in Seattle sending their kids all over the district to go to "just the right [public!] schools..." How does perfect public transportation solve that, when you've got to drop young kids here and then there? Also, have you been reading about that crazy crime in BART in CA? So, yeah, there are quite a few aspect that Dan didn't come near touching on....
Creating a land value tax is reportedly a good way to punish speculators.

It sounds like a good idea to me: I don't think people should be able to keep all the profit from happening to own land that rises in land value due to government infrastructure improvements or general community improvement. That should be treated differently from improvements the owner makes to the property, which is what a land value tax (as opposed to a regular property tax) is meant to do.
Problem Numero Uno: A large chunk of those new Seattle urbanites are California transplants, where the car is king and mass transit is accessed only by the "unfortunates". People still choose and prefer to drive over a humongous bridge rather than ride BART across San Francisco Bay. I've yet to meet an Angelino who's actually ridden LA's relatively new subway You have a big cultural problem on your hands (and you might even be delusional) if you think these new urban core dwellers will gleefully give up their cars and won't continue to demand affordable and accessible parking along with free beer. They represent a future powerful voting block. Get real.

Problem Numero Dos: Aint nobody gonna be willing to pay for building a rapid transit system in the 21st century that would likely cost billions (maybe even a trillion if you accept there will be cost overruns). How much more in taxes, Eli, are you personally willing to pay to construct one. (Oh hell, we can't even get schools funded in Washington.) This should have been built 40-50 years ago when it would have been relatively "cheap" to do so. With the exception of LA, most of the cities who have it have legacy rapid transit that was built around the turn of the 19th century. The systems have seen steady upgrades and improvements that make them continue to be viable for modern commuters, but the routes were cleared and track laid in many cases before WWI.

Problem Numero Tres: You seem to think real estate development is a free market system. It isn't when there is de facto (and unprovable) price fixing and racism. You could cover Seattle to every border with high rise apartments and condos, and it still would be unaffordable for those who don't work in Big Tech or at Boeing (a declining force in the local economy) because these will be priced as though everybody does, which will exclude, say, a Macy's sales associate, Starbuck's barista, nursing assistant at Swedish, administrative assistant at Key Bank, etc., etc. (get the drift). Only a massive local real estate crash in multi-family housing would bring the cost of living in one of these ant farms down to affordable levels.

Yeah, there's a lot wrong with Seattle, some of which can be laid directly at the feet of Amazon and the other tech giants, yet I don't see you suggesting any of them pony up to help fix the mess they've created.

Wow. Amazon's going to put a homeless shelter in it's new HQ. Sounds wonderfully altruistic, but in reality Amazon would more than likely become just another homeless encampment anyway. This is likely a preemptive strike meant to preserve the ethereal beauty of its new campus by moving those homeless inside.
@8, @10, @14, et al:

I'm sure Dan Savage would be super pumped if he were allowed to build 2-3 units of servants quarters in the back yard, and rent them out (at market rates, of course) to nice well-groomed young men working on Capitol Hill in the food service industry.

But until he walks the walk (by moving his family into a large, ecologically sound, truly high-density multiunit building) I'm going to to have to take a pass on listening to him peevishly demanding better transportation services for himself and his own family while cowering behind a conception of urbanism that he and his immediate family are quite obviously not ready or willing to practice.
@17, @54:

When you're reduced to magically reading the author's mind to convince yourself that he really does not mean what he has written, you've lost.

If you'd actually like to contribute to the dialog which Dan has invited with his excellent post, you could learn the history of the small idea you're snidely touting as "great". You'll find it has been examined and rejected because it delivers too little and costs too much, not because you're just so gosh darned smart you can easily see what the people you don't like can't.

When you are willing to ignore a person's behavior in preference to their cheap, printed words, then you've lost even more than the people you're feeling so superior to.

Next time, read the whole thing before snidely dismissing it based upon nothing more than your awesomely self-described mind-reading abilities:

"This is the point where someone jumps into comments to point out that I live in a big house on Capitol Hill. It's true! And my house is worth a lot of money—a lot more than what we paid for it a dozen years ago. But the value of my house is tied to its scarcity. Want to cut the value of my property in half? Great! Join me in calling for a radical rezone of all of Capitol Hill—every single block—for multi-family housing, apartment blocks and towers. That'll show me!"

So, are you going to work to take him up on this, or are you limited to "cheap, printed words"?
My favorite thing to do while sitting in California traffic is talk about how ISN'T IT GREAT THAT WE HAVE FREEDOM HERE IN AMERICA WHERE WE DON'T DO TRAINS. The more gridlocked it is, the FREER it's obvious we SO ARE, with our cars and all.

More pertinently, I remember deciding to walk from Capital Hill to my former apartment on Mercer St. and how *fast* I was moving on a lovely day compared to all those sad-sack static drivers. I have a disability, so, I SHOULDN'T have been going SO MUCH FASTER, but them's the breaks (ba-dum-clash) when INFRASTRUCTURE SUCKS and needs to be TRANSFORMED ENTIRELY TO FIT THE KNOWLEDGE OF SO MUCH OF THE REST OF THE WORLD.

But what is Dan Savage doing?

Is he moving his family into high-density multi-unit housing?


Why not?
@50- Eminent domain certainly does not mean that people are only "renting" their land. If the gov't takes your land for a public purpose, they are supposed to pay fair compensation.

And a person renting an apartment has a limited form of a property interest for the duration of the contract but not after it ends. And the landlord can't "kick them out" by raising the rent in the middle of a rental period, be it month-to-month or a longer lease. So if the lease ends and is not renewed, or if the landlord does increase the rent after proper notice on a month-to-month, and the person moves, no one has taken their "property."

The City has given tenants some control over when a month-to-month tenancy ends in the "just-cause" eviction ordinance. However, they still do not have a property interest except during a rental period.
Ephesus emptied out after an earthquake or three, then stayed empty when the harbor silted up.
Nature bats last. Lahar-har-har.

And decades before the '08 housing crisis, most large US cities had long since done away with default-after-initial-lease month-to-month rentals.

I think the thing that most Seattle residents (really, really) don't get is that this is still a small city, despite the growth rate of recent years. It's smaller today than Columbus, OH was ten years ago. It's smaller than El Paso, TX. We're still smaller today than Charlotte NC, or Indianapolis IN, or Fort Worth, TX.

But the local Gen-X establishment booster papers all seem to think we ought to have the same density and services and legal climate as NYC, or at least pretend to think so while it suits the interests of their rapidly appreciating private investments.

We ain't all that, though, no matter how appealing the thought of owning a 5000 sq ft lot with a SFH on it in Greenwich Village might sound to your family financial advisor.

Unfortunately, you'll be long dead before you're able to appreciate anyone else's loess in that game.
There are plenty of open areas in Seattle to develop. According to the Seattle Parks and Recreation it manages 6,414 acre Park system of over 485 Parks and extensive natural areas (green belts).

Start building.
Hey Dan, the LGBT community has depended on concentration in certain pedestrian neighborhoods for visibility and we wouldn't have our rights today without that visibility. Do you want the queer kids of the future to have lives that get better? Doesn't that often involve moving to a neighborhood / subdivision / city with better support and a more welcoming culture?

And yet again and again, LGBT people get pushed out by gentrification once our phase of the process has passed and property values have risen. The West Village and Chelsea are effectively no longer LGBT neighborhoods. Hell's Kitchen is questionable. In the Castro, where I live on Harvey Milk's block, the strollers are taking over and the neighborhood is less and less gay (not to mention queer). Yet without district elections in SF, and a concentration of sissies and fags in Harvey's district, we wouldn't have a voice in this city that's anything like what we have. If we get scattered all over the Bay Area without visible strongholds like the Castro, our ability to organize will be diminished.

What should be done to deepen and continue creating our culture in LGBT stronghold neighborhoods? Building housing and transit are great, and I support them, but doesn't part of the effort within our community need to entail creating housing opportunities specifically for LGBTQ people of all ages to live together and in proximity to each other? We aren't going to learn how to be gay if we're in isolation. We're not born knowing how to do our face or our Kegels ;)
@65 I hate to be the one to break it to you, but those greenspaces are already being utilized for housing. True, there are few permanent structures, but there is definitely some building going on (see, e.g., the Myers Way greenbelt).

He's using whatever influence he has to advocate for policies to address our housing and transportation needs.

You're writing smug purity tests as an excuse for not doing anything.

He may or may not help us to improve our city.

You're not fooling anyone.

So, because we're a small city, we should do, um, nothing?

If you'd look at the helpful graphics which accompany this post, you'll see that Seattle's footprint is pretty small compared to other cities. So, we can have density-related problems despite our relatively small population size -- which is larger than Boston's, by the way. Or is Boston not a major city?

Either you're part of the problem, or you're part of the solution. Dan's trying to be the latter. You may still have yet to understand which category you're in, but the rest of us can see it pretty clearly.
@68 Dan has been talking--but not doing--for years. Take, for example, this poorly researched piece on ADU's from 2006:…

If Dan truly wanted to increase housing density on Capitol Hill, he could easily put in an ADU (I actaully don't know whether he has done so, but have to assume if he had, we all would have heard about it in a series of lengthy SLOG posts). But, as Dan himself wrote long ago, "Here’s a slogan for our screwed up city: Seattle: All talk, no action. Ever."

In sum, I think a lot of commentators are calling bullshit because Dan is advocating for "doing something real," but all he does it talk.

I think we all want to see a solution to Seattle's housing problems. But it's simply not realistic to think that many homeowners are going to redevelop their properties just because zoning restrictions are changed. I mean, zone the whole city multi-family if you want, but single family homeowners aren't going to be making many changes. Same with ADU's--get rid of all the regulations and allow unpermitted construction if you want, but not many folks are going to build them. You aren't "part of the solution" if you continually blather on about ideas that won't accomplish anything. This is why there is always so much criticism of Dan when he takes on these issues: he's been talking about this for years, but he is still very much part of the problem.
Always love reading the responses to one of Dan's columns that should just say "But, but, he's a WHITE MAN!! And IDENTIFIES AS MALE!! And he's a HOME-OWNER!! And HIS LIFE IS PRETTY GOOD!! Therefore anything he says isn't socially responsible unless he lives the way I think he should!"
But it's simply not realistic to think that many homeowners are going to redevelop their properties just because zoning restrictions are changed. I mean, zone the whole city multi-family if you want, but single family homeowners aren't going to be making many changes.

But when they sell those houses to developers, those upzoned properties will get redeveloped into higher-density buildings -- and this higher potential value due to the upzone means the houses will get sold faster. It happened in the Pike-Pine corridor of Capitol Hill during the entire period I lived there (almost twenty years). Parking lots and old single-family homes became new apartments, condos, and school buildings, because the city had re-zoned the corridor to require less parking per unit. My quality of life increased the entire time as well.

"If Dan truly wanted to increase housing density on Capitol Hill, he could easily put in an ADU..."

Which would fractionally increase the density of *one* lot on Capitol Hill. (And robosnark would smugly claim it was for a live-in rent boy...) So, the problem is you don't understand the difference between "gesture" and "action"?
I would like to add a potential solution to this conversation. I currently lead an organization called the Struggle for Miami's Affordable and Sustainable Housing (SMASH) and our main mission is to defeat gentrification in Miami through the creation of a Community Land Trust (CLT)

If you're unfamiliar with CLTs and how they have helped contain and halt gentrification in the past, please look up the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative in Boston:

For more information about us, please visit

There are many things we can do to stop gentrification when we stop thinking about housing as merely an interchangeable place to live, and more as the anchor to a long-term community with permanent roots.
@72: Exactly.

So much smugness and snark in this comment thread. Do they hate Dan? Are they jealous of him? Do they, in their lives and work do a damn thing to improve the situation?
@66 you want to create queer-only housing? That's fundamentally illegal - it's called housing discrimination. The best you can do is, tacitly only rent to lgbtq people, which would still be illegal but nearly impossible to prosecute. Note, those laws are in place, generally, to protect against keeping you out for your orientation status.
So Dan is successful and is lucky enough to own a home? That doesn't make him wrong about this. As he stated, he wants his own neighborhood to be rezoned, which would allow more housing to be built, using the same amount of space. We have the same problem here in Los Angeles. I live in a 'hood that only allows two units per property on lots that are 6000 feet. And I live immediately adjacent to West Hollywood, one of the densest communities in the Los Angeles area, an area where rents have skyrocketed because we don't have enough housing. As a homeowner, legally allowing me to add a third or fourth unit would not only make it easier for me to own my property (or even more-so, newer homeowners, who had to pay more, and have higher mortgages), but it will add housing. What could be wrong with that? I know, I know. Everyone will bitch that there won't be enough parking.
With hundreds of people moving here every month there is no way to build fast enough to keep up with demand. A house torn down and replaced with 5 townhouses might take a year or more to complete. For every Affordable unit made 2,000 people will want it.
We live in a perfect storm of unaffordable housing and you can't re-zone or build your way out of it fast enough. It's like building a sand wall to stop the tide. I

1. Move training for 21st century jobs into neighborhoods like the CD, White Center,West Seattle, Ranier Valley, where many new immigrants and black and brown folks live so they don't have to travel all over to get job sector training and juggle family too.
2.Introduce to developers the concept of co-op, co-housing, rent reduced for property work properties, and rent to own units to help create affordable housing and build wealth for POC systematically left out of those opportunities.
4. To do this elect a mayor and city council who are interested in solutions and not group think and devoted to the Seattle process
I like what you wrote, Dan (especially the history lesson) but your solution seems a bit off. You think we can do very little about gentrification, but magically create a wonderful mass transit system for the entire region. I don't get it. Here is a little thought experiment:

Let's assume, for a second, that Seattle goes "full Tokyo" and allows developers to build whatever they hell they want, anywhere in the city. This means that when Dan's neighbor sells his house, a developer buys it, and converts it to an apartment. Another house is sold, torn down, and replaced by an apartment. On and on it goes, throughout the city. When does it end? When the cost of construction exceeds the value of each new unit. As it turns out, some construction is dirt cheap. Converting a house to an apartment, or adding a basement apartment is a trivial expense compared to the value of a unit. Small buildings on brand new land are also dirt cheap (which is why the suburbs continue to grow -- they are largely built on empty lots). So adding an apartment next to a house (while still keeping the house) is very cost effective, even when rent prices have plummeted.

But there is only so much land to go around. It is quite possible that the rich could push out the middle class, and the middle class could push out the poor. This isn't happening now (in this city) but it could in the future. So when Dan's neighbor sells his house for a few million, the developer who planned on converting it to an apartment gets outbid by a rich guy. On big, largely empty lots in Lake City, they build mansions instead of townhouses or apartments.

The thing is, we are a long, long ways from this happening. It is only the regulations that push people to build excessively extravagant housing. Essentially, builders are prevented from building affordable housing. Consider Apodments (AKA micro housing). Developers "exploited" a loophole in the law, that let them greatly exceed the density allowed for ordinary apartments. They built entire floors that only counted as one unit, even though they contained eight (but a shared bathroom and kitchen). But why didn't the developers just build as the code intended? Just make huge apartments on each floor? Because there simply is less demand for luxury places, and more demand for simply units. Rich people aren't busting down the walls trying to build one big place. It is poor people who are trying to divide up the place and share an apartment. We may reach a point where zoning liberalization (or deregulation) becomes meaningless, because there is simply too much demand here. But we are a very long ways away from that point. Not when 2/3 of the city can't grow. The regulations are obviously greatly restricting the ability to build affordable, market rate housing of all types -- small houses, row houses, apartments (basement and otherwise). Change the rules and rents go down (and stay down, as they have in Tokyo). I'm not saying we want to have an anything goes approach (like Tokyo) but the more we liberalize the rules, the more affordable it is to live in this city (and thus the less gentrification occurs).

Then there is the transit solution you suggested. Here is the basic problem, when it comes to Seattle.

"My commute is awful! I hate driving!"

"Then take the train."

"The train goes nowhere near where I live or work. The transfers suck and buses are stuck."

"Then sit in traffic -- sucks to be you"

This is for people who live in the city, and commute to a different part of the city. This is unfortunately what happens when you don't have a solid transit system in the inner city. Cities like New York and Chicago have this -- we don't. Nor are we planning on building it. Even after ST3 we won't have that. Not when relatively high density areas like Lake City or (the appropriately named) Central District lack high speed rail or even a good connection to it. This problem trickles to the suburbs. Whether by express bus or commuter rail, someone in the suburbs is better off taking transit to their job in the big city, even if their job isn't downtown. Consider a commute from New Jersey to Brooklyn -- a piece of cake via transit. But, say, Brier* to Fremont? A pain in the butt, even after spending billions on new rail.

Which means we will greatly need to improve our bus system. This leads to one of your suggestions:
Immediately create true BRT lines along the coming light rail lines ...

Right, except why stop there? Why focus on lines that will do little to improve the transit situation (even when fast trains are running on them). OK, that might not be fair -- there are definitely good parts to the future plans. But when it comes to ST3 (the part a long ways away), it really can be broken down into several pieces:

1) Suburban lines, which largely parallel the freeway. In many cases, making these routes faster would be trivial. Simply change the HOV lanes from HOV 2 to HOV 3. Doing so would mean that in many cases (e. g. Federal Way to Seattle or Tacoma to Seattle) the bus would be faster than the train (when it is finally built out). We would be doing what every successful city in the world does for the suburbs -- run express buses from the suburbs (not extend rail). Of course some of the work might be expensive (e. g. an HOV ramp from I-5 to the SoDo busway) and for that, it is unrealistic to expect big money being spent. Likewise, building BRT on the Cross Kirkland Corridor would make sense. It is what the city council -- after hiring a consultant -- recommended. But it isn't what Sound Transit wanted, so it won't be built (they own the pathway, not the city). For the most part the suburbs will muddle along. They lack the funding to create a decent bus network, and unfortunately blew their money on a long distance subway (longer than New York, Paris or London) and the results will be as poor as every other city that has tried that (see Dallas for a great example of this).

2) West Seattle to downtown. Now we are getting somewhere. This should have good BRT service, something I proposed a long time ago. While such a proposal would be cheaper to build, faster to build, and arguably better for riders, it is unlikely we'll spend the money on it. You could build the transit tunnel first -- as a bus tunnel. That would get you most of the way there. But spending a hundred million or so on a nice ramp (to eliminate all congestion for West Seattle riders and thus make BRT as fast as a train) is unlikely since we are about to spend billions on a new train.

3) Ballard to downtown. The key part of the Ballard to downtown project is the tunnel downtown. Again, that could be built first as a bus tunnel. I like the idea, but it isn't likely to happen. It would probably add a bit to the cost, and require a new ballot initiative. That just isn't going to happen -- not when folks in the city believe the Sound Transit board can do no wrong.

This means that the key bus corridors of our city -- places like Aurora, where the bus carries over 15,000 riders, won't have the major, ground shaking changes that we need. But they can still get better. Madison BRT is coming, and folks will finally have a fast way to get to First Hill. Other corridor improvements are slated as well. Some of these improvements will be substantial. Others will be disappointing. Part of the problem is lack of money -- relatively very little is going into those important routes -- but part of it is exactly what you mentioned: The inability to give general purpose lanes to cars. The more we pressure the city to do exactly that -- in places like downtown, the more we can improve the situation.

* Brier is a suburb that is both closer and more densely populated than Everett.
So much binary thinking, so little time. There's a big range in density between Hong Kong and Redmond. A neighborhood like Capitol Hill is pretty high density by US standards and isn't really the problem. Anyone who has been to almost any capital city in Europe understands that high density ≠ high rise. Philadelphia, Boston, DC, Chicago, etc all have large swathes of dense, urban neighborhoods with very few buildings over 3 stories.

The problem in most US cities isn't that we have low rise neighborhoods in some places - it's that we zone for cars and that our infrastructure is terrible. San Francisco is 3rd densest county in the country and most of the city is rowhouses or low-rise apartment buildings. It hasn't stopped it from being ridiculously expensive AND from having terrible traffic. The problem is the surrounding, low density counties and a transit system that hasn't expanded since the mid-1970s.
There's this persistent but false narrative around white flight and the flip side about displacement. When people move or migrate there are push and pull factors. People often conflate the two. People like to say that white people moved out of the city to get away from black people (and sometimes point to the riots in the 60s) when in fact, the majority of non-immigrant white families have been forming in the suburbs of most major cities since at least the 1920s. When it comes to modern talk of gentrification - most cities (that weren't still annexing) had been losing population since the 1950s because (in part) the European immigrants who had been filling them up since the 1850s stopped moving to them and (in part) because average household size shrunk from around 6 people per unit down to below 3 people per unit.

When it comes to contemporary discussions of gentrification it's convenient for a lot of people to ignore the fact that the poverty has been rapidly suburbanizing since the 1980s. That phenomenon started well before the current trend of upper middle class people living downtown. It started, especially for the working poor because most retail/service/low-skill jobs were in the suburbs (and for the most part, still are).

For all the talk of displacement you'd think that large studies showing just how prolific it is would be coming out every month or two. But they don't. In fact, every major study points to it being very small and highly localized in a few large, coastal cities.

I'm hardly the first person to bring this up but I guess if you repeat a lie often enough - it becomes true…
@81 -- I agree completely. One way to think of it is this: If you are tearing down an apartment in a city like Seattle, you are growing the wrong way. Yet this is happening all the time, because the city draws tiny circles around a handful of neighborhoods, and basically says "you can grow here". With only a few places for sale, a developer will tear down a two story building and put up a six story one.

Meanwhile, in most of the city, you can't build apartments, even if they are smaller than a house. Hell, even if they are a house. Converting a house to an apartment is one of the cheapest, easiest ways to add density. But it is illegal in most of the city.

Developers are building the maximum allowed density. In ordinary neighborhoods this leads to monster houses. Consider this lot. This used to be a small house on a big lot (and you can see plenty of similar places around there). Once it was sold, the developer replaced everything and built as many houses as they could: three. Three giant houses on really big lots. You could easily fit six skinny houses, or probably half a dozen row houses there. You could have an apartment with a couple dozen units. In all of these cases, the buildings would be no bigger than what they built. But the law doesn't allow that.

The result is a city with good density in some neighborhoods, and ridiculously low density in others. This pushes up the cost of rent and home ownership. It also makes transit worse. We are growing, but the city is not doing what it should do, and spread the growth to most of the city.
Two things:

1. We literally need to build one new 6 story residential apartment building every single day. Just for new people that are moving here.

2. We should stop building parking, other than for all electric cars and bicycles.
Dan, yes better rapid transit is needed. Our politicians "studied" this for nearly thirty-five years without doing much of anything. What! you might say, our pols made a bad choice?! Wow! (sarcasm) Sometimes it feels like Emmet Watson had it right - Lesser Seattle, don't extend the interstate into the city from across that lake if you don't want commuting.

Ranting about bad transit decisions by our pols was not my intent, however. It seems that the solution to more affordable housing is to incentivize creating homes for folks that wish to actually live in them, as opposed to using housing as some kind of certificate of deposit for investors. Sadly, our Mayor and Council are currently developing policy to incentivize corporate-owned housing so that everyone will ultimately be a renter with absolutely no control, beholding to some east coast Blackstone/Kushner wannabe that will have no qualms about raising rents to the maximum and not give a crap about the humans that live here.

Incentivize homes that are owned and operated by local folks that live in them. Tax the bejeebers out of foreign investors (and those "dark properties"), tax the crap out of folks that flip a home within three to five years, limit the number of homes that an investor can own to (what?) twenty and tax the surplus, get rid of the Section 1031 exchange for residential real estate.

Follow the money. The influence on Murray, Johnson, and others by corporate sponsors such as Blackstone appears incredible. It has been reported that from around 2008 to 2015, approximately 30% of single-family housing for sale in Seattle was gobbled up by corporations for the sake of appreciation. It makes perfect sense that the next step for those folks would be to want to turn all their SF-zoned parcels into MF-zoned parcels in order to keep the incredible gravy train running.

Low and behold what happens? Our Mayor and Johnson start pushing for exactly that. Hmmm. Whom are these folks representing? It certainly won't be the residents of Seattle if the only housing left in Seattle are properties owned by corporate managers interested only in maximizing their profits.