Thursday night, Capitol Hill residents and community members gathered at First Baptist Church for a “Gentrification Conversation” to formally discuss the radical and rapidly occurring changes in the neighborhood.
Organized by the Capitol Hill Community Council, the forum’s panel featured Tricia Romano — a Seattle Times lifestyle writer and author of the recent front page story on the Hill’s gentrification — and a slew of various community members, many of whom were interviewed for her story, including performer Ade Connere, Michael Wells from the Chamber of Commerce, co-owner of the Wildrose bar Shelley Brothers, Diana Adams (owner of the Vermillion bar and gallery), and Branden Born, an associate professor of urban design and planning at the University of Washington and Capitol Hill resident.
With Romano’s nerve-touching article as a springboard, panelists discussed their own experiences with the influx of capital and “bros” on the Hill, neighborhood identity, and public safety amongst increasing incidents of violence and LGBTQ hate crimes in Pike/Pine.
Here are 16 things CHS heard Thursday night:
- “People are coming here specifically to party. I’ve actually heard people call it ‘party mountain’,” said Romano.
- “The idea that you hear all the time is ‘that’s just the way the market works.’ Don’t believe that,” said Born. “Your economics professor was lying to you.”
- Born said that the city has an organizational flaw in having the DPD and the Department of Neighborhoods separate from one another, adding that DPD is funded via developer fees which incentivises them to approve frenzied development projects.
- Romano noted that while there has been a significant decrease in local property ownership, some of those who cashed out on their real estate investment are also long-time community members deserving of the payoff. “They [small time property owners] should be sipping drinks on a beach somewhere.”
- “The perception of scarcity of apartments is not really reality,” said Romano, adding that vacancies in new high end apartment developments in Seattle have poked holes in the traditional supply and demand housing argument.
- “Every new building that comes online is essentially the most expensive building in the city,” said Born.
- Romano said that ten years down the road new apartments will be converting to condos, and there may be yet another clash between new families in condos contesting with the Hill’s booming nightlife.
- Q-Patrol came up and whether something similar should be reinstated for public safety purposes. Wells said that while the Q-Patrol had its time, it’s unlikely to be a long-time solution to LGBTQ violence due to the intense volunteer energy that is required to keep the service going.
- Connere said that while she has seen the Hill more as a diverse neighborhood than a gay neighborhood, it’s becoming less gay friendly because of the influx of the bros or the “bridge and tunnel crowd.”
- Wells had a great quote when talking about the traditional diversity of the Hill which elicited some laughs from the crowd saying, “Let’s not forget about the little old ladies with diamond rings and poodles up at volunteer Park. That’s all part of the mix, and that to me was the really exciting thing about Capitol Hill.”
- Brothers said that the Hill has had “woo girls” ever since violence in Pioneer Square and Belltown started pushing bar goers to go to the Hill instead.
- “There’s a lot of trans violence, there’s a lot of gay bashing going on. But there’s also a lot of really stupid in the street fighting violence and if people think they can get away with it, they’ll try it,” said Brothers, adding that emphasis patrols and consistent police presence on the street has helped significantly.
- Brothers went on to say — and Adams agreed — that educating the “bros” might be one of best ways of dealing with the cultural clash, such as demanding patrons act “civilized” and speaking up more when bros say hateful or discriminatory things.
- Adams said that it’s more frightening to see the Vermillion absent of its traditional patrons than the task of “babysitting” bros on the weekends. “People don’t want to come near Capitol Hill.”
- One audience question asked whether the Pike/Pine Conservation Overlay District has been successful. Wells responded by saying that while the proponents —who were “good local developers”—didn’t get as much comprehensive preservation as they would have hoped, it has saved some character of the auto row.
- At the end of the forum, representatives from #caphillpsa introduced the project and encouraged attendees to join. “These [stats about racial economic disparities in Seattle] are the most violent aspects of gentrification that are being accelerated in Capitol Hill right now,” said Courtney Sheehan.
What to do? Panelists made the point that while monied tech workers might be an easy target for rage, “greedy developers” and the speculative real estate market — as well city regulations’ lack of commitment to affordable housing — are really who and what should be on the receiving end of neighborhood pushback over spiking rents. Another big theme was how to define neighborhood identity — diversity seemed to be the consensus for describing the neighborhood — and possible ways to preserve community.
Affordability will also be on the table next week as Seattle City Council members Nick Licata and Kshama Sawant host an Affordable Housing Town Hall:
Councilmembers Sawant & Licata, with support from SEIU, SAGE, IBEW, LIHI, Community Housing Coalition and others will host a Town Hall to hear rent hike stories and share ideas for how to expand tenant rights:
Thursday, April 23rd 6:00 PM, City Hall Council Chambers 600 Fourth Ave, Floor 2