The construction of the first affordable housing tower in forever.
The construction of the first affordable housing tower in forever. Stacey Walters

Station House is seen by some as something of a success. The building is able to offer apartments to people who earn between $27,800 to $55,500 a year because Sound Transit sold the property to an affordable housing developer (Community Roots Housing) for what in our late day can be described as a song.

Sponsored

The deal was this: Sound Transit had extra land around the Capitol Hill Station, which was completed in 2016, and it sold 75% of it to the usual suspects (luxury this, luxury that) and 25% at "at a deep discount." The result: 110 apartments for working- and middle-class workers in the heart of a very pricey part of town.

Now, Reasons to Be Cheerful, a website launched by the pop icon David Byrne in 2018, reports that "Station House has become a model that Sound Transit plans to replicate, using other surplus land near future stations to build more affordable housing." This news would mean a lot if it didn't hit the wall, almost immediately, of two serious facts about housing in Seattle.

The one fact that rarely receives mention in local and national discussions about affordable housing is the negative impact of HOPE VI, a HUD program initiated at the beginning of a decade (the 1990s) whose middle years were occupied by the peak of neoliberalism doctrines. HOPE VI, with its mixed-income platform, destroyed a large amount of the US's public housing stock. In the 1970s and 1980s, those between the center-left and all of the right successfully convinced the mainstream that the last thing the working poor wanted was dirt-cheap housing, even in modernist towers. But nothing could be further from the truth. The demand for such housing was (and still is) high. Station House is, in a word, not affordable for those close to or below the poverty line.

But there's a second fact concerning HOPE IV: Its project displaced a large number of those at the bottom rung of the urban poor, and in a very systematic/predictable/preventable way. HOPE VI projects in Seattle—Holly Court, High Point, Park Lake, and so on—all participated in this displacement, though, admittedly, with less devastating consequences than similar projects in New Orleans, Chicago, and Atlanta. But there are two excellent academic papers that provide a detailed picture of the harm that was done by HOPE IV in our region: Rachel Garshick Kleit's and Lynne C. Manzo's "To move or not to move: Relationships to place and relocation choices in HOPE VI" (University of Washington, 2010), and Karen J. Gibson's "The Relocation of the Columbia Villa Community: Views from Residents" (Portland State University, 2007).

Support The Stranger

One can distill these papers into this key point: Between 10 to 25% of those in projects could keep afloat while in public housing but not while out of it, even for a very short period of time. HOPE VI and other mixed-income and affordability schemes sent a good number of these vulnerable people right to the street. (This was Gibson's conclusion in the section of her paper titled, "Maintaining a Stable Housing Situation.") Many of these people are still homeless and, for the most part, excluded from local and national discourses on affordability.


A little under a year ago, Capitol Hill Seattle Blog posted a story with this depressing headline: "Seattle’s ‘first affordable high rise in Seattle in more than 50 years’ set to break ground on First Hill." It is no accident that the last time this kind of thing happened was at the end of the US's 40-year dalliance with social democracy (also known as the New Deal). The 1970s saw the spirit of capitalism regain the strength it lost during the Great Depression and move through the history of American housing. I call this period: The Twilight of the Goodtimes. What the period makes clear is that the subject of history is capital, not the worker.

And this one movement through historical time is as objective as spacetime in general relativity. The Geist, or the "the self moving substance which is Subject" dominates us with a force that feels so real, too natural.