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21+ things CHS heard at Capitol Hill Housing’s annual community forum

Capitol Hill Housing served up a buffet of neighborhood discussion during its 9th annual community forum Thursday night. Five Capitol Hill speakers touched on a range of forward-looking topics, ranging from lidding I-5 to expanding the Broadway Business Improvement Area to retaining arts spaces in the neighborhood.

This year’s theme was Gearshift, “all about how we respond to the rapid changes facing Capitol Hill.” The presentations and follow up discussions could have been pulled straight from the headlines of CHS:

Expanding the Broadway BIA — Sierra Hansen of the Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce
Lidding I-5 to create developable land and open space — Scott Bonjukian of Lid I-5
Creating a Capitol Hill parking benefits district — Alex Brennan from Capitol Hill EcoDistrict
Building leadership and power for renters on Capitol Hill — Zachary Pullin of the Capitol Hill Community Council
Incentivizing developers to build or maintain arts space — Tonya Lockyer of Velocity Dance Center

Participants, who gathered for the event at The Summit on E Pike, took a dive into each topic and city leaders presented the results.

During the group discussion about how to build renter power, City Council District 3 rep Kshama Sawant said many people echoed Zachary Pullin’s concerns that renters are given far too little consideration in the city’s development planning.

“Our democracy should not be dependent on property ownership” said Pullin during his presentation.

There was considerable support for a parking benefits district — wherein a portion of metered parking fees are spent within the neighborhood — as long as it did not result in cuts to underserved neighborhoods. Participants proposed extending paid parking hours past 8 PM on Capitol Hill and using those extra funds for neighborhood projects.

As an organizer with the Lid I-5 campaign, Scott Bonjukian showed off his growing body of research on highway lids in Seattle and across the U.S. Creating open space was the most popular idea for a lid over I-5 to connect Capitol Hill to downtown. Other ideas included:

  • Stationary umbrellas, kiosks, and a restaurant or cafe.
  • Food truck area and a farmers market
  • Downtown elementary school
  • Affordable housing

More controversial ideas included funding a project with corporate sponsorships and selling naming rights to the lid.

There has been a lot of hand wringing over the years on how to create and preserve arts space on Capitol Hill. One idea floated Thursday night was to create an arts-focused public development authority that could issue bonds and purchase space, much like Capitol Hill Housing.

Expanding the Broadway BIA to other sections of the neighborhood was a major task for Hansen when she took over the Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce late last year. The BIA funds cleaning and marketing activities by through membership fees and assessments on businesses within its boundaries.

“Clean and safe cannot mean sanitize and gentrify,” Hansen said.

Capitol Hill Housing’s work around Capitol Hill, meanwhile, continues as the nonprofit developer of affordable housing enters its 40th year. It has been selected to be part of the Capitol Hill Station development to operate an 86-unit affordable apartment building at the site. As part of its mission to build “vibrant, engaged communities,” the 40-year-old community development corporation has frequently found itself outside the traditional role of housing developer. Through the Capitol Hill EcoDistrict, CHH organized the pedestrian zone pilot project and will launch a transit pass program for tenants, and a shared parking pilot.

21+ things CHS heard 

  1. “Put your hands to the roof … is that something you say?” said CHH director Chris Persons after Seattle rapper Specs Wizzard opened the event with a performance.
  2. “Renters are the economic and cultural lifeblood of our city,” said Pullin.
    “We need to cast a vision for a day when we will also be homeowners.”
  3. Renters make up around 80% of people living around Capitol Hill, Pullin said.
  4. According to Hansen, small businesses on parts of Capitol Hill have been getting swept up in the rapid pace of development. “A recent audit of Broadway found a 20% turnover in a 2-3 year period,” she said.
  5. “Why a Capitol Hill BIA? if you want something done right, do it yourself,” Hansen said.
  6. “We’re basically paupers sitting on a gold mine,” Lockyer said about Velocity’s 12th Ave location.
  7. Lockyer said those interested in preserving arts space need to act now. “We have this opportunity to anticipate … to stop this cycle of vulnerability,” she said.
  8. Lockyer spoke about Velocity’s 300% rent increase and how arts organizations were especially vulnerable to similar rent spikes. “The precariousness of being a renter almost destroyed Velocity,” she said.
  9. Ticket sales for Velocity have more than tripled in the past five years.
  10. Lockyer suggested the city consider robust incentives for developers and landlords to keep arts organizations in their buildings or require developers to include cultural spaces.
  11. “Despite what you may have learned in Monopoly, parking is really expensive,” Brennan said.
  12. Brennan: When expensive parking is available for free, it fills up.
  13. Bonjukian on I-5: “It’s frankly quite aesthetically unpleasing to those who live and work around it.”
  14. According to Bonjukian, downtown lacks 10 acres park space according to city standards. “That will increase to 40 acres if we don’t do anything,” he said.
  15. The gold standard in lidding urban freeways is a 5-acre park in Dallas, which also includes a restaurant and a dog run.
  16. Bonjukian: Our long term goals is to build a coalition of advocates to convince city leaders an I-5 lid is an idea worth pursuing, but “it will be an uphill battle.”
  17. Sawant on rent control: “It works if it’s done right and it’s something that Seattle needs.”
  18. “Renting is a conscious choice it is not a step towards moving,” Sawant said. “Renting should be recognized as an honorable choice.”
  19. “Bank-way and Broadway.”
  20. “It is easier and preferable to preserve arts space that already exists,” said a rep from Mayor Ed Murray’s office, relaying the feelings of her discussion group.
  21. In regards to a parking benefits district, a representative from Council member Mike O’Brien’s office said, “We don’t want to end up in a situation that exacerbates the inequities that exist.”
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5 thoughts on “21+ things CHS heard at Capitol Hill Housing’s annual community forum

  1. ““Our democracy should not be dependent on property ownership” said Pullin during his presentation.”

    Sure, though there’s a reason we’re a representative as opposed to direct democracy; those representatives should be equally representative.

    But to the specific point, should we make any distinction between owners, who’ve made a significant commitment to the area, versus short- and long-term renters? The latter two have different levels of commitment but are sort of lumped together. The long-term renters have shown as much commitment as owners, but the short-term ones may be gone in a year or two. Do people trust they have the best interests of the neighborhood in mind?

    Also, I wish there was some consideration given for those people who fall between the extremes of “can afford crazy rent” and low-income people who are eligible for assistance. If you happen to be just over the low-incoming threshold, you’re pretty much screwed.

  2. Why should one’s “commitment to the area” have bearing on whether one’s interests are represented? Short-term, long-term, renter, owner…residency should be all that is required.

    There are all kinds of reasons that people can’t or won’t “contribute”, from lack of time or money to disposition (I’m really good at writing letters to elected reps, etc., but shitty at making IRL contributions because I am painfully introverted, among other reasons, and for only one of many possible examples.). No one should need to pass a contribution litmus test. That kind of bar favors those who have outsized resources.

    Also, re: the “best interests of the neighborhood”: There’s no guarantee that someone who has lived here 20 years is going to prioritize broader neighborhood interests (whatever those are) over their own narrow self interest any more or less than someone who has lived here for 12 months.

    • Couldn’t agree more strongly.

      What’s great about Capitol Hill’s community council is that it’s diverse and isn’t just about propping up single-family home values.

      This is a great recent example (and totally representative of my experience with other neighborhood councils in Seattle) in which newer (often younger) residents are intentionally kept out of the conversation to promote the interests of older baby boomer single-family home owners.

    • People immediately assume that “commitment” means NIMBYism and homeowners, but I was explicit in calling out long-term renters as being equally committed and having an equal say in how things move forward. But all people can think about is that rich dude who lives on Federal bitching about apartments. Seriously, we all can agree that guy can eat a bag of dicks and shouldn’t have a disproportionate say in how things move forward.

      So are you’re proposing that the thousands of techbros who moved to Seattle in the last year should have equal say in the neighborhood as the artists and gays and freaks who’ve lived here for 20+ years? And by equal I mean a greater say, because they’re the the emerging majority pushing out all of the long-time residents. Your position strikes me as pro-gentrification, not progressively urbanist.