It's Official: Single-Family Zoning Is Making Our City's Neighborhoods More White

Comments

1

Yes. In the past few years we have seen Seattle turn into a playground for the rich as well as a vast increase in homelessness and displacement for the poor and working class. In response:

The activist group RECOVER THE WORLD is sending this message to the City of Seattle.

You are in violation of the international human rights laws by your abuse of persons without suitable homes and shelters by using police forces and other entities to force persons from their encampments as well as ignoring their plights/situations which causes deaths, illnesses and abandonment.

We will continue to notify those responsible and to require international attention.

2

Media - including the Stranger - might well follow these attacks by the City of Seattle on persons without suitable shelter as the city clears the way for developers and other super wealthy. The city continues to cover their collective asses using public relations to put up a pretense that they are doing all they can to fool the public. Its slow genocide for those out in the cold.

3

Wow. Thank you, Lester, for an informative article. I know I couldn't possibly afford a house in Seattle right now. I haven't resided in the Emerald City for over 21 years and am just shocked by all the change for the worse. Those contributing to the escalation of inequality in housing and income should be fully ashamed of their profiteering and greed.
@1 Ivy R. Nightscales: It's nice to see community activism out to restore Seattle's livability and diversity.

4

@1

It's not always about you, Ivy.

This is a sensible, well-argued article advocating medium-density rezoning of current SFH tracts in Seattle. It is not an article about the homeless or the public housing we need to build to accommodate them.

5

Lester always has a tinge of anger and suppressed jealousy in his writing.

Even if they do change zoning laws, it would take years, or decades to make an impact. But you do have to start somewhere. However, let's say the zoning changed, you think investors are going to allocate their capital to low income housing? No, they will build something that gets them a nice fat return. Changing zoning laws isn't going to magically create an affordable city.

Take all this money and energy and anger and try and prevent homelessness by investing in voluntary and involuntary mental health and drug treatment.

6

@5

The nice thing about rezoning is that it doesn't cost anything, beyond a bit of overhead for office supplies and what have you.

So there is no "all this money" that could be spent on Yet More Services instead of spending it on rezoning.

And I didn't see a single sentence in the article that suggested rezoning would result in fast changes rather than a gradual shift... did you?

7

4 Its not going away until it is resolved.

8

@6: “The nice thing about rezoning is that it doesn't cost anything,”

Um, not once you get it approved, and there’s the rub. As our own dear Mrs. Vel-DuRay reminds us, white homeowners always vote. Recall what happened to the EHT? If our City Council moves to re-zone single-family neighborhoods in any significant manner, the EHT will become our nostalgic example of how civil and slow our repeal process can be.

Increasing density along non-arterials will require grade-separated transit reaching into the neighborhoods, or eventually result in surface traffic saturation. As Seattle has no history of building the former, the specter of the latter will be invoked by the neighborhood NIMBYs. They’ll simply point to what you and I have already mentioned: plenty of development-ready land along or near the existing light-rail line on MLK. Why not use that? Why not, indeed?

If you want more housing now, focus on places which can be easily developed now. If you want a bitter political fight you will most likely lose, try to re-zone single-family neighborhoods.

9

@6 The tone of the article, in my opinion, implied a cause and effect type deal. We have an expensive city now, so changing zoning laws will make the city affordable now. But it's not explicitly stated.

And I agree, they should loosen up the zoning laws, and it doesn't cost anything to do that. But you still need people to invest their money, and at this level of money we're talking about corporations. Corporations are looking for profits, so won't build affordable housing.

10

Seattle is becoming increasingly diverse, a trend which has been underway for some time:

https://www.seattle.gov/opcd/population-and-demographics/about-seattle#raceethnicity

Also, is there some expectation that if zoning regulations are altered, all the rich white people will throw up their hands, transfer ownership heir single family homes to nonprofit housing groups, and move away? Otherwise, I don't see how zoning changes are going to have much immediate effect on affordability or diversity.

12

@11:

So long as the sprawl keeps the scary brown people as far away as possible, of course they do - which was pretty much the reason (albeit unstated) urban sprawl was invented: shiny new spacious SFH homes on large lots (not plantation sized, but close enough) for the white folk, and packed and crumbling inner-city ghettos for the POC's.

13

@8

Well yes, the upper class is what's standing in the way of this, just as it has always stood in the way of any encroachment on SFH enclaves. That seemed perfectly clear in my reading of the article, too

Transit will always need to expand when density expands, you're right about that, but you're wrong if you think you can't increase bus routes and frequency in SFH+low-rise neighborhoods for quite a long time without any need for grade-separated transit. And another nice thing about rezoning is that it results in SLOW increases in density, giving you plenty of time to adjust the bus schedule.

I think you've misread the goals of the changes proposed by SPC and endorsed by Lester here. The primary goal in this particular case is to make Seattle's neighborhoods more economically diverse, and consequently racially as well (though this second part doesn't always follow, of course). This is not a proposal intended to generate lots of new housing in a hurry. This is not a proposal intended to mitigate homelessness.

This is not even a proposal meant to produce affordable housing in the near term, really-- presumably newly-built two-flats and triplexes will be market-rate and expensive, and will only start to fill the city's need for affordable housing (and really start to diversify the neighborhoods) decades from now, when they've deteriorated a bit and started to slip out of fashion in their design and materials.

Absent some pretty intense economic meddling, the miles of empty lots south of I90 will be the very last parcels to be built up in our current housing boom, if it doesn't peter out before it gets to them-- it's a simple matter of developers' calculated margins. It's grating, as you know, to ride past all of that empty space when teachers and nurses can't find housing they can afford inside the city, but far too few developers are in it for charity.

14

There is a correlation but that doesn't make it cause and effect as far as racism goes.

15

@14

If you run with that, you end up with the story that present-day racial disparities in the US don't have any causes at all, just an endless litany of correlations. From there, you might make the leap to the conclusion that all the suffering of racial minorities is thus their own fault, that there's something inferior about Those People. Which, obviously, is racist.

This is why concepts like Institutional Racism and Systemic Racism are worth your serious consideration, and shouldn't be dismissed as just a bunch of academic puffery.

16

@12 - How does your narrative spin POC in SFH?

17

Wow, you even got the facts wrong in your title!

"Data released Thursday by the U.S. Census Bureau show that the white population in Seattle dropped to 64.3 percent in 2016, down from 66 percent in 2015 — a statistically significant change."

https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/data/seattle-is-less-white-than-it-has-ever-been-in-modern-history-new-census-data-show/

Maybe you're confusing white people and Asians again?

Meanwhile, why is Bellevue getting less white too?

18

@15 - Then it’s incumbent on all of us to find a better way to discuss race relations than to just paint history as an immutable contributing factor.

19

@13: I wasn’t arguing with you. I was stating the facts on the ground as I see them, which make advocacy such as this headline post a waste of time and effort. Anyone can continue advocating for increasing density in single-family neighborhoods, but it likely won’t happen, even with your reasonably-stated arguments. Yelling that anyone who opposes re-zoning is racist and classist, as Lester does in the headline post here, simply insults the very constituency whose support and approval will be needed to effect any such re-zone. It’s a pointlessly counterproductive approach to a path which will likely not produce any results anyway, which is why there’s little point in further dialog about it.

20

@18

You'd need to build that framework of yours without referring to wealth disparities, which simply can't be explained without history. Wealth is the result of accumulation, and accumulation by definition happens through time.

More generally, it's impossible explain the present without reference to the past, and like it or not the past can't be changed-- the past is indeed immutable (though endlessly reinterpretable, for better or worse).

I'd argue that systemic racism and institutional racism are inescapably historical in origin, though I'm a bit more open to the idea that the forces perpetuating them have significant psychological or sociological or economic or political (or etc) components. But there's no avoiding history when trying to analyze these problems, no matter how unpleasant it might be for me or you or anyone else to revisit any particular part of that history.

21

What percentage of Seattle’s population was white in 1970? 1980? 1990? 2000? 2010? Today? Then chart that on a graph.

(Hint: look at census figures.)

Your welcome.

22

But Seattle isn't getting more white, according to census data it's getting less white.

The white population in Seattle dropped to 64.3 percent in 2016, down from 66 percent in 2015, 69.5% in 2010 and 72.1% white in 2000.

How the fu*k does a "journalist" go from that data to this headline?

"Single-Family Zoning Is Making Our City More White"

23

@17: “Wow, you even got the facts wrong in your title!”

Well, his title doesn’t mean, “....Single-Family Zoning Is Making Our City More White than it has been in the past”. It means “...More White than it would be without Single-Family zoning, in the hypothetical utopia in my head (which is the only place where such a Seattle exists).”

Now, when he writes, “Anyone that has spent time in Seattle’s single-family neighborhoods can see that they are changing rapidly, but instead of growing denser to accommodate a diverse population, they are just getting whiter and richer.” He means something like what you thought he meant in the headline: that single-family zoning is making single-family neighborhoods more white. He doesn’t cite any population survey of any kind whatsoever to justify this claimed “fact,” hence his hand-waving at the start of that quote.

You just have to recognize which side of his mouth he’s using when he speaks. ;-)

24

Bellevue hasn't rezoned that much yet is now only 60% white (and dropping) from 80% white 25 years ago.

Riddle me that one Sherlock.

Why is single-family-home paradise of Bellevue less white?

25

@19

Oh, I don't know about that. It all depends on your audience, right?

I mean sure, some audiences will just bristle and resist when you yell at them, but Seattle's upper classes are a peculiar bunch. They like to see themselves, above all, as Nice People. So while just screaming "racist" at them might be dismissed as impolite, I suspect you can make considerable headway with them by suggesting that a thing they're doing Isn't Very Nice, and more specifically Isn't Very Nice to Hard-Working Yet Unfortunate People.

Lester's article certainly does invoke racism, but it's a careful and mostly historical invocation, so I can see his argument persuading at least some comfortable Seattle people that these zoning changes might be The Nice Thing To Do. The headline is a bit of a screamer, I'll give you that, but the article's tone is more measured.

There's another audience, of course, that WANTS to get all riled up and self-righteous and to hell with convincing anyone of anything, but that's not The Stranger's audience today-- the readers have grown old with the paper, and now they're far more interested in fine-dining restaurant reviews than rowdy rock club listings. Even the new hires at the paper seem to sense this, if they weren't deliberately selected specifically for their persistently bubbly personalities to begin with.

26

You know, I think maybe part of the problem here might be that crack cub reporter Lester Black neglected to link to the report itself anywhere in his writeup, so let's fix that:

http://www.seattle.gov/Documents/Departments/SeattlePlanningCommission/SPC%20NeighborhoodsForAll%20FINAL112918%20-%20digital.pdf

Note the total absence of the words "racism" or "racist," while still making plentiful use of the adjective "racial" (racial diversity, racial segregation, racial equity, etc) - copy editors matter!

27

@25: “Lester's article certainly does invoke racism, but it's a careful and mostly historical invocation,”

Actually, as I quoted, he makes a right-here-right-now claim of racism and classism, without any attempted evidenciary justification of any kind whatsoever:

“Anyone that has spent time in Seattle’s single-family neighborhoods can see that they are changing rapidly, but instead of growing denser to accommodate a diverse population, they are just getting whiter and richer.”

With the city actually becoming more diverse, Lester has set quite the problem in statistical analysis for himself, which he pre-emptively hand-waves away with an implicit claim that anyone who dares disagree with him is ignorant of current events.

(It’s hard to see how calling Seattle’s more-reliable voters racist, classist, and ignorant will lead to political win, but hey, maybe you’re right.)

28

76% of Seattle's African-American households are renters versus 49% of White non-Hispanic households; 19% of Seattle African-American households earn the annual income needed to afford the median rent for a single family detached house without being cost-burdened by the City's "30% of income" standard--versus 37% who can afford the median rent in a duplex or triplex. So making 'plexes illegal stacks the deck against African-American's being able to live you name it where - a street, a neighborhood, a town, a city.

That's the crux of the racially disparate impact. I expect we'd all agree that someone who's like "Sweet that's awesome" was displaying racist sentiment. But the rub is that being really broken up about it doesn't reduce the disparate impact. So, phrase it however one wishes, single family zoning has, as the author states, "racist effects."

29

@27

Yeah, I'd go more with the report itself there than the cub reporter's extemporizations.

Lester's still a bit fresh off the boat himself, after all, and it's pretty easy to flub the demographic trends if you've spent all of your short time on Capitol Hill (which is indeed getting whiter) and haven't yet had the chance to get out into the communities rooted in the successive waves of Filipino, Korean, Vietnamese, and Somali (and Indian, and Chinese, and Salvadoran, and etc) immigration to Seattle and its environs over the past half-century-plus.

30

Wow. I saved and bought my house over 30 years ago and it was hard. Now I'm a raceist.

31

Lester, maybe if you let some homeless people sleep on your couch or floor of your apodment it would make you feel better?

32

It’s always funny seeing the “everyone is welcomed here” lawn signs right next to the “no hala” lawn signs....

33

This writer at the “mostly white” stranger makes a good point!

34

Our '60s North Seattle neighborhood was indeed, mostly white but middle class. However turbulent the decade (i.e: Cuban Missile Crisis, Assassination of our 35th President, John F. Kennedy, the Vietnam War, Civil Rights Movement, Women's Liberation Movement, the rise of NASA and the first man on the moon, etc.), our family of six lived modestly in a three bedroom rambler with a two car garage as did most of our neighbors. By 1965 and the expansion of I-5 to the Canadian border the status of the middle class burgeoned. Cars, college educations, and homes were affordable and good jobs were attainable to most. Nobody in our neighborhood lived in fear; most doors were left unlocked at night and windows open.
It is modern RepubliKKKan based land grabbing, profiteering, fear-mongering and greed that is currently hard at work to dismantle all that was good here in this part of the world for decades.
This is Griz's history lesson for the day.

35

What on earth is with all the comments referring to the author as a “reporter” or “journalist?”

36

@35

Lack of a better term, mostly. I mean who says "blogger" anymore, you know? It's so 2003. And "junior content assembler" is a bit of a mouthful.

37

I like my single family home. I also like my car.

38

holy shit this makes my head hurt

39

Nothing like Grizzled Auntie reminiscing about her all white, north Seattle neighborhood of the 60s, when the city and state was far more white and conservative, with a tiny government and far less public spending.

But now that it's less white and more liberal with a much larger government?

Well things have gone to hell.

40

And I'm sure Lester dutifully studied rates of minority home ownership in cities without any zoning laws whatsoever (like Phoenix and Houston) to compare.

One of the other things he conveniently forgot to mention is that some ethnic groups - blacks specifically - are overwhelmingly concentrated in urban areas, where the majority of housing tends to be apartments, not single family houses, and which are more affordable on average than single family homes inside major city borders. Is the larger point that blacks are economically disadvantaged in general? This is true and valid, but zoning laws aren't the cause of that.

41

@40 This isn't about housing the black underclass. This is about housing upper middle white college educated kids like Lester who refuse to cut their man-buns and get real jobs.

42

@39 Blame Thrower: Nothing like clueless bait and bash trolls spewing garbage about time periods in local history that happened decades before they were born, all because they can't relate. Grow a pair.

43

@42 Hey, I'm sure north Seattle was wonderful place in the 1960s, what with all that redlining you had and police keeping the "negroes" from traveling north of the Ship Canal.

44

@16:

Well, for one, look at which specific neighborhoods those POC WERE historically able to purchase homes, namely, the Central and International Districts and Rainier Valley; areas that up until very recently were not considered prime Seattle real estate, and that even now have large swaths of undeveloped or under-developed property, even when adjacent to supposedly "attractive amenities" such as the light rail line. Developers have for the most part avoided these areas, because they know none of the people who could afford to live in the upscale units they turn maximum profit from want to live there.

45

@43: You sure do a lot of aimless trolling about the 60s for someone who wasn't even around back then and has nothing to contribute but racist slurs. Have you ever visited North Seattle?
@44 COMTE; Excellent points. Well said.

46

"who wasn't even around back then and has nothing to contribute but racist slurs. "

So there was no redlining in Seattle in the 1960s and blacks weren't called "negroes" and could travel freely north of the Ship Canal without being harassed by cops?

You're right, I guess I know nothing of your wonderful middle class life in North Seattle in the 60s. A picture of tolerance.

47

@34 I want to add that the economy hasn't always been rosy for Seattle. Boeing layoffs hit hard in 1969. Who remembers the billboard sign that read "Will the last person to leave Seattle turn out the lights?"

48

@46: Anonymously trolling under a hashtag, are you? Your ignorance and insecurity are wanton.

49

re @34 & @47: I am fully aware that Seattle 2018 is lightyears away from what it was in the JFK / LBJ / Nixon years. To me it is just sad that so many of the good things I remember (Frederick & Nelson downtown, Aurora Village, Trader Vic's, and so many mom-and-pop establishments that made each unique neighborhood feel like home and NOT a housing development etc.) from my childhood are now gone.

50

@48

It's trolling, sure, but those things are still true.

Regardless of whether or not you were aware of them as a kid, those discriminatory policies were very much a part of your fondly-remembered environment, and it would reflect well on you if you were willing to reevaluate your nostalgia in that light, rather than furiously attacking the messenger, no matter how ill-intentioned he may appear to be.

51

@49 All right dear. Make yourself a cup of tea, the "I Love Lucy" reruns start soon.

52

@30 I don't know if you're a racist. And the massive windfall in house value you've received from owning a home in the Seattle area over the last 30 years doesn't make you a racist. But if you advocated keeping single family zoning and therefore keeping out those with less access to capital, then you've been advocating for and benefiting from policies with racist roots and ongoing effects.

53

@52

I own a single family home in north Seattle and oppose upzoning. So does my black neighbor living behind my home, the Vietnamese American lady living three doors down and the fifth generation Mexican-American at the bottom of our street.

But I suppose I'm the only racist of the four households.

54

@50 and @51: I'm not at all surprised you'd be in to defend your fellow trolls. How bro of the both of you. Now run along before you turn flaccid.

55

@54 At your age aren't flaccid dicks a given?

56

@53 You might be, I don't know you or them. But you're all supporting a policy that benefits those with wealth and excludes those without it, and a policy with originally racist intent and currently classist intent with impacts on race and segregation.

57

@55: If you're male, you're the one with a dick. Enjoy your flaccidity..

58

@57 Oh darling, what I meant, and maybe I wasn't clear enough, was that at your age, flaccid dicks are the only thing you'll ever be greeted by.

Now go back to "I love lucy" and reminiscing about the lily white, segregated north Seattle of your youth.

59

@58: You seem to be changing hashtags more frequently than most people change socks, Bubba Gump. WTF are you so scared of?

60

@58: Oh, then I nailed it---you're bummed about being flaccid. Enjoy your classic What's Happening!! episodes, Rerun, and say hey to Danielle Spencer and Mabel King.

61

Great piece. Definitely a policy with very racist outcomes. But I'd say we are much more explicitly wealthist than racist here in Seattle. The two go together quite often, but I'd say that class is more a driver of our hate here in Seattle than race. Which isn't to say that race isn't a driver, just a secondary one.

62

Totally agree with 61. Today its about the money. Look at all the foreign investors that have scooped up Seattle property.

63

People here sure seem to have a big problem understanding how there can be multiple causes for a single effect.

Did reserving so much of the city's land for single-family homes eventually drive up the prices of such homes? Sure, but Seattle's population had to rise sufficiently for demand to outstrip supply. (Seattle's population declined for the thirty years after 1960, then began rising.) Will re-zoning single-family neighborhoods make housing more affordable? No. Even if, every so often, a single-family home gets redeveloped into a multi-family home, the resultant homes will still be in an expensive neighborhood, commanding prices commensurate with that neighborhood.

''So, phrase it however one wishes, single family zoning has, as the author states, "racist effects."'

Nope. Racism has the racist effect of incomes and wealth distributed unevenly by race. Eliminate those racial disparities, and eventually every neighborhood will have similar distributions of races: wealthy blacks will live next to wealthy whites, and poor blacks will, as now, live near poor whites. All of this will happen without any change in the zoning laws.

64

@61 philosophy school dropout: I second tenor--well said and bravo!

65

@64: Correction: I agree with you and sueseattle--well said, @61 philosophy school dropout.
Tensor (@63), please forgive my unintended typo.

66

LOL. And your plan to remediate the difference in income and wealth without doing anything to unwind residential segregation in the meantime before "never" is...?

"Racism has the racist effect of incomes and wealth distributed unevenly by race. Eliminate those racial disparities, and eventually every neighborhood will have similar distributions of races: wealthy blacks will live next to wealthy whites, and poor blacks will, as now, live near poor whites. All of this will happen without any change in the zoning laws."

67

@66: LOL! I never said I had a plan to end racist income and wealth disparities. I noted how re-zoning Seattle will, by itself, do nothing to change the ethnic compositions of what are now single-family neighborhoods.

But you didn’t even try to address that point, now did you?

68

I'm sick of the media's CONSTANT FUCKING WHINING about race! The most fucking racist bullshit ever. All y'all went to school for a couple of years to be "educated" and now you're making life HELL for the normal people. I'm done with the race-baiting CRAP this paper peddles. Seattle was settled by WHITE PEOPLE, CHINESE PEOPLE and FILIPINOS. NOT TO MENTION NATIVE AMERICANS. Stop pretending only HORRIBLE WHITE PEOPLE live here.

69

@67 "I noted how re-zoning Seattle will, by itself, do nothing to change the ethnic compositions of what are now single-family neighborhoods."

In the absence of equalizing income and wealth by race, re-zoning Seattle will do a lot to hange the ethnic composition of what are now single-family neighborhoods --as post 28 explains:

19% of Seattle African-American households earn the annual income needed to afford the median rent for a single family detached house without being cost-burdened by the City's "30% of income" standard--versus 37% who can afford the median rent in a duplex or triplex

70

@69: Look, we get it: the author of @28 is — by several orders of magnitude — the smartest person who will ever take you seriously. Of course you will hang upon such a person’s every word.

Everyone else knows the truth of my refutation, which I posted @63:

“Will re-zoning single-family neighborhoods make housing more affordable? No. Even if, every so often, a single-family home gets redeveloped into a multi-family home, the resultant homes will still be in an expensive neighborhood, commanding prices commensurate with that neighborhood.”

Or, putting it in simpler terms, for your benefit: location, location, location.

71

@70 The prices of multi-family homes are commensurate with the neighborhood, but, as I pointed out already (and common sense would dictate) those prices are lower than those of single family houses, thereby expanding the number of African-American households who can afford them.

We can either equalize the ability to afford the price of entry, or we can lower the price of entry. "Raising the price of entry" was what single-family large lot zoning was created to do.

72

This is current market data (Zillow and current nearby listings) for a home in Wallingford, one of the more expensive neighborhoods, currently a largish single family house:

Buy: ~$5,550/mo, ~7% of African American households have income required
Rent: ~$4,000/mo, ~10% African American households have income required
Rent each of 3 ~800SF 2 BR apartments if it were subdivided: ~$1,900/mo, ~28% of African American households have income required

("income required" based on the "30% spent on housing" standard)

73

@72: Ah, the problem is you don’t understand what “data” means. Current housing prices are indeed data. Speculation about what future housing prices would be, if re-zoning ever does happen, is speculation, not data. Data can be used to support real arguments; speculation supports merely speculative arguments. Build as many speculative castles on your speculative sand as you like; it will continue to accomplish nothing, and house none of the people you grandly claim you’re trying to help.

Want more housing for everyone? Put whatever effort you’re dumping into your re-zone fantasy, and use it to build those same multi-family units on the many vacant lots along MLK. (Each one within easy walking distance of an existing light-rail line! I’ve been a low-income person in Seattle, and mass transit access was one of my top priorities back then. In fact, it still is.)