Last summer, the Department of Planning and Development (DPD) briefed the City Council on its progress on the Seattle 2035 Plan, the 20-year major update to the Comprehensive Plan. The Comprehensive Plan is a roadmap for how to concentrate future growth, transit and other city investments. The original 1994 Plan directed housing
and jobs to Urban Villages or Urban Centers so that growth would not just be scattered throughout the city. As part of the Seattle 2035 Plan, the City is trying to determine whether of not we should continue that pattern of growth concentration, or use another.
At the briefing last summer, I raised the question of the relationship between growth and displacement and shared with DPD and the Council the anti-displacement strategies used by other cities, specifically the use of mapping to identify the areas most at risk of displacement. After that, Councilmembers on the Planning, Land use, and Sustainability (PLUS) Committee asked DPD to develop a similar approach for our planning efforts. We received a report on that work, the Growth and Equity Analysis, in PLUS yesterday.
In creating a Displacement Vulnerability Index the report explains:
“There is very little vacant or undeveloped land in the city. Therefore, most new development will be replacing some existing use, which often includes housing. When housing is replaced by a new use, the current residents in that housing are displaced. This analysis focuses on displacement that affects marginalized populations. It combines three categories of data (vulnerability, amenity, development potential) to identify areas where displacement of those populations may be more likely.”
The result of this analysis was to identify neighborhoods with a. high displacement risk and low access to opportunity, b. high displacement risk and high access to opportunity, c. low displacement risk and low access to opportunity, and d. low displacement risk and high access to opportunity.
The report then went on to use this Displacement Vulnerability Index to analyze the displacement potential of the alternatives being discussed for the Seattle 2035 Plan, the major Comprehensive Plan mentioned above. Seattle expects 70,000 new housing units and 115,000 new jobs over the next 20 years. The report explained that:
“For achieving equity, how growth unfolds is much more important than the amount of growth. The amount of housing growth expected in a specific neighborhood in the different alternatives is not the determining factor of whether the neighborhood will develop equitably. If the same total amount of growth occurs in fewer, larger buildings, it might directly displace fewer current residents than a scenario that involves more new buildings. If the new structures are built on existing vacant land or parking lots, the displacement impact would also be lower. The timing of growth can also be a major determinant of impacts on displacement. Rapid changes can be more destabilizing for a neighborhood housing market and therefore more likely to displace existing residents than a steady rate of growth that allows time for accompanying offsetting investments to be effective.”
The Seattle 2035 Comp Plan will eventually, once adopted, identify an approach to distributing the expected increases in housing and employment. The four alternatives being considered now are:
1. Continue current trends so growth would continue to occur in the Urban Centers and Urban Villages.
2. Guide more growth to Urban Centers so that a much higher percentages of housing and jobs would go to the urban centers and the hub and residential urban villages would see less growth than currently.
3. Guide Growth to Urban Villages near Light Rail.
4. Guide Growth to Urban Villages near Transit (not just light rail)
After using this Displacement Vulnerability Index to analyze the displacement potential of these 4 alternatives, the conclusion was that Alternatives 3 and 4 would likely cause the greatest displacement of marginalized populations. In particular, alternatives 3 and 4 expand urban village boundaries for several urban villages, which would affect future use and density levels. Expanding urban village boundaries in Othello, Columbia City, North Rainier, North Beacon Hill and Rainier Beach as proposed under Alternatives 3 and 4 may put upward pressure on rents before community stabilizing investments take effect.
It seems clear to me that the City is moving towards a Seattle 2035 update that focuses growth in the places where we have made significant transportation investments, but what will it say about us as a City if, in doing so, we select the alternative that has the greatest displacement impacts on low income and people of color? In light of these findings, I think that we must develop a 5th alternative that distributes higher growth in “high opportunity/low-displacement risk” areas and distributes less growth to areas with “high displacement risk.” This alternative should be coupled with a strategies to a. make it more possible for low income people to live in the high opportunity/low displacement risk areas as well as b. public investment to stabilize existing “high displacement risk/low opportunity” areas and create more economic opportunity for the people living there.