Community & Editorial
We won't end homelessness by censuring those who serve the homeless
As the Puget Sound region invests billions in a light rail system, community leaders, workers, equity advocates and planners are wondering who will reap the benefits. Will households of all incomes and people of all races and ethnicities share the advantages of living along light rail?
Transit-oriented development holds tremendous promise for our region, including among communities of color and low-income households. Seattle’s Rainier Valley is the most diverse area in the Puget Sound and one of the first communities to receive light rail. But evidence of gentrification and possible displacement of poorer residents from Rainier Valley, accelerated by light rail, threatens to undermine this promise.
To make sure that transit-oriented development results in real opportunity and not displacement for people of color, we must focus on equity. By accounting for racial justice in transit-oriented development, we help break cycles of poverty, lack of political representation and barriers to opportunity. Our goal should be to make transit-oriented development a tool that allows everyone to benefit from new investments. Racial equity planning should happen now. After displacement, it is too late.
Puget Sound Sage’s most recent report, “Transit Oriented Development that’s Healthy, Green and Just,” makes the case that we must shift how we think about development in three ways. First, we must acknowledge that transit-oriented development results in displacement of low-income families and people of color and undermines the environmental goals promised by light rail.
Second, transit-oriented development must build quality places for people to live and create living-wage jobs.
Finally, a quality place means more than affordable housing. Transit-oriented development must be about sustaining community. It must support businesses that meet cultural needs, community institutions that give strength and places to celebrate cultural traditions.
To ensure that everyone can benefit from transit-oriented development, the region needs family-wage jobs along the light rail corridor. Rainier Valley residents with access to family-wage jobs have been able to weather economic pressure because of the stable incomes and dependable benefits those jobs provide.
Maria Gutierrez, a union hotel worker and Rainier Valley resident, shows the potential for living-wage jobs to root families. Maria moved to Seattle 27 years ago from El Salvador and made Southeast Seattle her home. Working as a housekeeper, Maria was employed at nonunion hotels, where conditions were difficult and she could not afford the employer-sponsored health benefits. Fifteen years ago, she landed a job at the Seattle Westin and joined UNITE HERE Local 8, a hotel workers union. “Working at a union hotel is definitely different,” Maria said. “Before, I got pressure to work faster than was safe, and I did not have good health insurance.”
For the first time, Maria had affordable medical insurance that covered her husband and two daughters. Her steady income gave her husband the ability to start his own business. Also, after years of renting, they were able to purchase a home in Rainier Beach. Unlike many families living paycheck to paycheck in low-wage service jobs, Maria and her husband are close to paying off their home. She used to take the bus, but Maria now commutes on light rail.
For Maria being part of a union has made all the difference in creating stability for her family and her neighborhood. Working for a union employer has allowed her to live the American dream.
Unfortunately, servic-sector workers with stories like Maria’s are rare. Our new report strengthens the case that action must be taken to ensure transit-oriented development benefits communities in Rainier Valley and workers like Maria. A broad coalition of residents, community leaders and public officials must work together to ensure transit-oriented development is fair for everyone.
Reaching some of these racial justice outcomes takes time, but workers like Maria are already organizing for better job quality. Puget Sound Sage is starting a movement that ensures transit investments in Seattle’s Rainier Valley builds communities where families thrive.
We invite you to join us.
Download our report and check out videos that highlight examples of how transit-orient development can be done differently at pugetsoundsage.org or visit our Facebook page.
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