Renting is not a stepping stone to homeownership for Sean Liming. The 49-year-old has been a renter on Capitol Hill for 22 years. “I think I’ll be a renter my whole life … I like being in that situation,” he said.
But there have been problems along the way. Liming said landlords have turned him away after finding out about his felony conviction. He is also one of the many renters on Capitol Hill to see his rent double overnight. Liming has never been involved with local politics, but when he heard about the Capitol Hill EcoDistrict organizing renters last year to push back against some of those very issues, Liming said he knew he wanted to get involved.
Around 100 people, many renters on Capitol Hill, gathered for the EcoDistrict’s Renter Summit Saturday afternoon at the Miller Community Center. The event was intended to be a launching point for a new renter power movement in the city. Many came as part of the EcoDistrict’s efforts to organize building ambassadors around Capitol Hill.
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Organizers from the EcoDistrict, an outgrowth of Capitol Hill Housing, envision a pipeline of leaders from the renter community that will see themselves as the rightful advocates for a crucial segment of Seattle’s population. The summit featured policy briefings, a forum with elected officials, and performances.
Sara Maxana of the Puget Sound Regional Council laid out the crux of the problem before the group: From 2010-2015 Seattle has gained 40 people and 35 jobs per day, but only 12 new housing units a day. “As renters you are a missing voice and a necessary voice,” she said.
The EcoDistrict took a deeper look into the situation on Capitol Hill, where 80% of residents are renters.
- The median household income of a renter on Capitol Hill is about $57,000 less than that of someone who owns.
- 60% of renters on Capitol Hill are under age 35.
- 43% of Capitol Hill renters do not own a car, compared to 29% of renters city-wide that do not
- Renters on Capitol Hill are actually far less likely to have moved recently than renters elsewhere
Attendees also discussed some of the most significant hurdles they face as renters and were given the opportunity to question a panel of elected officials, including City Council District 3 rep Kshama Sawant and Mayor Ed Murray.
With the Mayor set to deliver his budget to City Council on Monday, former City Council member Nick Licata urged attendees to think about what they want to see in the final version. October 11th is the deadline for Council members to make changes. “What is it right now … that you may want to have?” Licata said.
Licata walked the group through the nuts and bolts of passing legislation, including making connections within City Hall to determine timing and budget targets. He said registering voters in low income housing projects would be key to building a stronger base of support.
Performance group Vis a Vis used 51 surveys from attendees to create a “sound scape of renting.” The sounds, inspired by what it feels like to rent in the neighborhood, included a turtle putting one leathery foot in front of another, running up the down escalator, a beach ball on a windy day, and sucking a milkshake though a paper straw.
During the summit, Capitol Hill’s representatives in Olympia were asked about a preservation tax incentive bill to give Seattle a mechanism to encourage property owners to keep older buildings. It’s rare that House Speaker Frank Chopp and State Sen. Jaime Pedersen disagree on an issue, but Chopp has opposed a preservation tax incentive bill which Pedersen has co-sponsored. If passed, the incentive could contribute to the “preserve” part of Mayor Ed Murray’s plan to create or preserve 20,000 units of affordable housing in the next decade.
“The easiest way to create affordable housing is to keep the affordable housing that we have,” Pedersen said.
14 things CHS heard
- Michelle Penaloza read an original poem based on walks she took with people who took her to places where their heart was broken. “It’s heartbreaking to have to leave a place that is your home,” she said.
- Mayor Ed Murray said 90% of the construction that happened in 2014 and 2015 had been permitted for years. “What we failed to build into that was a way to build affordably,” he said.
- Murray: “People in this city want an affordable city, but not necessarily in their own neighborhoods.”
- Nick Licata, a longtime renter on Capitol Hill who spent many years living at the PRAG House commune, shared insights from his recently published book, Becoming a Citizen Activist. “Once you identify the issues, you have to go beyond complaining and sharing stories and grief. You have to identify what you want,” he said.
- “You have to be thinking about his fall and next year. What are the steps that need to be taken?” Licata said. “It’s critical to take the time to know the system you are dealing with.”
- The City of Seattle has 55 commissions, but no renters commission. Licata proposed the group look into organizing one and have the city demographer investigate the state of renters.
- “In many ways, Capitol Hill is now an incubator for everything interesting happening in the city,” said Shefali Ranganathan of Transportation Choices.
- Ranganathan said 100% of jobs on Capitol Hill are within a quarter mile of a transit stop. “Free parking is not a god given right,” she said.
- ORCA Lift is the largest low income transit program in the U.S.
- City Council member Rob Johnson said adding security gates to Link light rail station was “a dumb idea” since fare evasion is low and many of those evading fares can’t afford it. “We should be handing orca cards out to those folks,” he said. “Lets make it free for anyone under the age of 18.”
- “In my neighborhood people whoop on Fridays and Saturdays and raccoons chase hipsters down alleyways.”
- “In my neighborhood I’d like to stay awhile … In my neighborhood people are hanging on.”
- “In my neighborhood there used to be a neighborhood.”
- Sawant spoke about her idea to use $169 million for a proposed new north precinct to build 1,000 units of affordable housing. Sawant says she will propose a budget amendment next week that would use the Real Estate Excise Tax funds to offset other budget items and use the freed up funds to building affordable units as REET funds cannot be used for housing.