May 7, 2014
Vol: 21 No: 19

News

As rents rise, low-income tenants are forced out of Seattle and into cheaper suburbs

By Aaron Burkhalter , Staff Reporter

Residents from Lockhaven Apartments in Ballard and The Theodora in Wedgwood marched down Market Street March 27 to protest the loss of affordable housing in Seattle.

Photos by Elliot Stoller

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Dozens of renters have taken to Seattle’s streets in recent months to protest the sales and renovations of buildings in which they live.

They want Goodman Real Estate — new owner of a Ballard apartment complex, Lockhaven, and soon-to-be owner of The Theodora, in Wedgwood — to give them more time to find housing and relocation assistance. Officials from Goodman Real Estate did not return calls for comment.

“If the laws aren’t strong enough to do that, then it’s up to us to build community pressure,” said Tenants Union Executive Director Jonathan Grant, which supported the renters’ protests.

While some renters who are being forced out of their homes march in the streets, many more leave quietly. According to Seattle’s Department of Planning and Development (DPD) low-income renters are being forced out all over the city.

Seattle lost at least 304 affordable units in 2013, up from 118 in 2012, said Jim Metz of DPD. Metz assists people who have to move when buildings are converted, remodeled or torn down.

Since that figure represents only the households that sought assistance from DPD, the actual number of people who are displaced is likely much higher, he said.

Many more units become unaffordable, but don’t pass through his office, he said.

“Right now, we’re seeing a net decrease of affordable housing in this city,” Metz said. “People are having to move to Kent, Auburn, Burien and Federal Way to find affordable housing.”

He expects Seattle to lose even more affordable units in 2014.

“It is ramping up,” Metz said. “That cycle doesn’t show any signs of flattening out.”

Metz manages a program created by the Tenant Relocation Assistance Ordinance, which requires landlords to provide people with six months warning to move.

A single household that earns less than $30,900 can get $3,188 to help find a new apartment and move. The city pays for half, and the landlord pays the other half.

But the program is limited. It only applies to people who are forced to leave their apartment because of a change to the building or its use.

“I’m just a banker,” Metz said. “You either get money from me, or you don’t get money from me.”

Councilmember Mike O’Brien conceded that Seattle City Council can do more to prevent the loss of affordable housing. 

“I think the situation at both Lockhaven and The Theodora highlights the significant gap in our affordable housing work [in] the city,” he said. “It puts a lot of pressure on the council and the city to find some better tools.”

He suggested that the city consider issuing housing vouchers, similar to the federal Section 8 program.

He said the city council will dive further into this topic later this summer as the city completes its work on incentive zoning, a policy that requires private companies to build affordable housing into new developments or pay to build it elsewhere.

Grant, of the Tenants Union, said to prevent the loss of affordable housing, city workers must keep better tabs on it.

“Right now there’s no data,” Grant said. “There’s no one central place tracking how these properties are being lost.”

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