Friday, August 19, 2016

What Seattle thinks is "affordable" housing reveals the hollowness of white "liberalism"

I always have maintained that Seattle is proof that “liberals” are not as “progressive” as they’d like you to believe. The increase in the gentrification of former areas of the city that white people once feared to tread are now increasingly becoming “integrated”—and before long as segregated as before, except to be all-white, rather all-minority. The reason for this is that Seattle is running out of room to “grow.” What to do if you are a newly-minted white yuppie with delusions of grandeur, for whom living in a city that is a year-round tourist trap is “cool”? 

There was time when it was possible for a low-income single person to live within a few blocks of downtown Seattle, but no more. Back in the day there were plenty of old apartment buildings or former hotels that offered small, not particularly aesthetic living spaces for rent, but that at least had the “advantage” of location. But that ended thanks to—who else—the Clintons in the late 1990s. The financial “reform” they concocted with congressional Republicans—which eliminating the Glass-Steagall banking reform act, passed during the Great Depression and designed to end the abuses by financial institutions that were largely to blame for the economic collapse—had other, more sinister effects. The law also allowed for the ending of low-income housing subsidies (apparently part of the Clintons’ “welfare reform” policies), to be replaced by “flexible” mortgages rates offered to low-income people who were conned into the belief that they could afford to own their own homes, a fraud that the Bush administration allowed financial pirates to conduct raiding parties on average people’s hard-won money. There was something in it for the Clintons, of course; they were into “easy” money. I doubt that Hillary Clinton, the daughter of Republican privilege, ever worked an honest day in her life. 

For the typical low-income laborer, this meant that government subsidized housing—meaning rental units whose owners received subsidies to maintain units that were affordable for low-income people—vanished. I once lived in one of those rental properties just two blocks from downtown Seattle; sure, it was a rat-and-roach infested closet, and the walls were like paper, but the location overrode such negatives. But when the subsidies ended, the owners could not justify raising the rents to the level required to cover costs, so they sold the building to a finance company, which promptly doubled the rents. Most of the people living there couldn’t afford to pay the new rents, nor wanted to on principle given the conditions that the new rent paid for.

Despite re-painting the façade of building, the new owners simply couldn’t attract enough new renters willing to pay the higher prices (especially since most units forced people to share a “communal” bathroom). Within a year or two, the finance company decided it was more “profitable” to tear the entire building down. This also apparently happened to a “nicer” apartment building next door, except that its land was built on by nearby Virginia Mason complex (the woman-friendly hospital). This process was supposed to be replaced by the “dream” of owning one’s own “home,” which went the way of Hillary’s promise to create 200,000 jobs in upstate New York while she was a U.S. Senator, and was vigorously promoted by the Bush administration without any regulation. We would soon see the results of this.

To answer the question previously posed, real estate developers and finance companies looked to previously “off-limits” areas of Seattle. The all-black Central District and minority south Seattle suddenly seemed to be “attractive” places to build expensive condos and rental units. Not because the “locals” could afford to live in them; they would have to go. Those who lived in “prime” areas were offered attractive sums of money to vacate their premises, and suddenly property values around them rose, along with the taxes, and more of the mostly low-income minority element was forced to “sell out.” That process has been an on-going fact of life, and will continue to be so until the mostly minority element can no longer afford to live in Seattle at all. 

Well, since Seattle is a “liberal” city, there have been a few half-hearted efforts to address the issue. The city passed an ordinance requiring builders of expensive rental units to off-set the loss of “affordable” housing by adding “affordable” high-density units to their construction time table. As might be expected, this requirement has been subject to “accommodations” and outright disregard, and at any rate far less than the need. After all, what does “affordable” mean? That a household income of the median of about $35,000 can afford the rent? 50 percent of the population lives below the median income level, many much less than that. 

A major player in the problem was the Not-In-My-Backyard neighborhood community groups, which the city actually subsidizes. These groups are located in largely white, single-family home, isolated and well-off areas, and have fought tooth-and-nail to deny the development of affordable high density rental units. So-called “environmentalists” who complain about disappearing tree cover have joined the NIMBY chorus as well. There have been all kinds of excuses, not just “crime” and “drugs,” but also neighborhood “personality.” But we really know what they don’t want, don’t we? 

The mayor, Ed Murray, has proposed to eliminate funding of these neighborhood groups and sideline them in the effort to construct affordable housing. But the “liberal” Seattle Times has come to the “rescue” of the NIMBYs. The Times actually does represent the true nature of the city, that its “liberalism” is a Potemkin Village, with hypocrisy hidden behind the façade. Last year it was accusations that the city was trying to end single-family zoning, which was untrue. This year, as voiced by columnist Danny Westneat, it is self-righteous denials of racism by NIMBY whites. Westneat, who generally styles himself as a “liberal,” himself probably lives in one of these all-white enclaves, and is resentful of others implying motivations that can’t stand the light.

There are plenty of low-income units in Seattle, exclaims Westneat, and the city is to “blame” if there isn’t more.  Of course, that depends on what your definition of “low-income” is, which seems to suggest that Westneat (and the Times) is out-of-touch with reality. Does he include the large percentage of people who make only $20,000 a year, which comes out to about $15,000 after taxes and deductions? Let’s do the math: that’s $1,250 a month (I know, because that is what I clear every four weeks now). Now let’s see—according to, the average monthly rent in formerly all-black Central District today is: $1,965. How about another slowly diminishing all-minority community—Beacon Hill? $1,435. How about far-left enclave Capitol Hill? $2,246. Downtown? $2,873. Scratch that.  In January 1, 2011 the average one-bedroom apartment cost $913. Today, it is $1,999. How many people earning below the median saw their pay increase 100 percent? Or even 10 percent?

There was a time not so long ago you could find a place for a fraction of that—before the invasion of the privileged, being paid like they were. Westneat either needs to take some remedial math courses, or just tell us that like all white “liberals,” he really is in it only for himself and his friends.

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