Shaun Scott’s vendetta against single family housing – where 60 percent of all Seattleites live

Posted on October 23, 2019 by John V. Fox

Scott suggests you’re racist if you don’t want to abolish single-family zoning: does that mean 88,000 people renting one in Seattle are racist (28 percent of renters) and 29 percent of all African-Americans?

South of Othello between 46th S and 48th S : All lots shown are “likely to be redeveloped” due to recent MHA upzones according to city data. Southend communities of color are most affected. These lots are in a block group that’s 91 percent single-family, 43 percent renter, and 93.5 percent people of color (source: 2017 ACS Data)

For those here in Seattle who live in a single-family home – almost 60 percent of the city’s population – 4th District candidate Shaun Scott doesn’t think much of your housing choice. One plank of his platform is “the abolishment of single-family zoning, a racist holdover from the early 20th century”. In his responses to a questionnaire from the Democratic Socialist Alliance, he claims single-family zoning precludes people of color from many Seattle neighborhoods and “makes the kind of multifamily housing working families need illegal.”

In a December 6th 2018 interview with the pro-density blog, The Urbanist, Scott accuses those who ignore “the hard data“ about single-family zoning of “deny[ing] racism exists and it’s tantamount to being a climate denier.”
His statements are troubling on several levels. First, Scott is smearing the housing type (and zoning which preserves it) that’s occupied by most Seattleites regardless of income or race. Nationwide, polling shows that 70-80 percent of the American public clearly prefers a single-family home with a garden, trees and birds singing out back.

In a recent story for Outside City Hall, George Howland contradicts Scott’s “hard data”: “The difference in racial diversity between multi-family neighborhoods and single-family neighborhoods is negligible: 34 percent (sf) to 35 percent (mf). This refutes the urbanist contention that single-family residents are keeping people of color out of their neighborhoods by opposing multi-family zoning. These figures are in The Seattle Times’ columnist Gene Balk’s article today. Balk doesn’t address this issue but it’s plain for all to see in the numbers. ”

What about low income people, large families of color, and seniors who own a home?

Of course, it’s true that increasingly few in Seattle can afford to buy a single-family home (without public assistance the city offers to some homeowners – more is needed). But what Scott and other upzoning zealots overlook, intentionally or naively is that there are over 15,000 low-income households including seniors and families of color in Seattle who own a home, and most are paying far more than a third of their income in housing costs, deemed unaffordable by HUD. These folks are trying desperately to hang on in the face of rising property values and taxes, pushed even higher by recent upzoning.

And don’t expect recent backyard cottage legislation to help lower-income homeowners. They’ve got little or no equity to sink into the estimated $200,000 cost of building one. Removal of an owner-occupancy requirement simply incentivizes developer speculation, pushing up land values and taxes higher still.

As Outside City Hall recently reported, about 60 percent of lots the city identified as “likely to be redeveloped” due to the recent MHA citywide upzones are located in the Central District, Southeast Seattle, and other lower-income and predominantly minority South End neighborhoods. These areas are packed with lower-density units now made vulnerable to redevelopment. Eighty-five percent of the largest lots in single-family areas city-wide that now are vulnerable, nearly all with a home on them, are in these same areas.

What about 88,000 people who rent a single-family home including large lower income families of color?

But what is especially surprising in light of Scott’s professed pro-tenant sympathies, there are over 88,000 people, 28 percent of all city renters, who live in a single-family home in this city. For them it’s an affordable choice and even a necessary one, especially for families of color.

According to American Factfinder (US 2017 Census estimates), 29.4 percent of all African-American households in Seattle live in a single-family home and most of these homes are in South Seattle and Central Area neighborhoods. Given that a little over 75 percent of all African American households are renters, according to the same estimates, it’s clear that many if not most of these single-family homes now in the developers’ crosshairs are occupied by families of color who rent.

For unrelated very low-income people, single-family rentals also are a saving grace. By pooling their resources, up to 8 unrelated (sometimes more when homes are designated group facilities) can live cheaply in a single-family rental now being demolished and sold off to speculators as a direct result of the upzone-at-all-cost policies Scott espouses.

During this period of record growth, our elected leaders have refused to adopt measures to mitigate the impacts of runaway growth on our existing low-income housing stock. In the last three years alone, we’ve lost over 3000 existing units – a large portion of which were duplexes, triplexes and single-family rentals. And rents continue to remain high and housing has not been freed up for those at the bottom. Put bluntly, Scott’s trickle-down brand of developer-friendly socialism does not work.

Displacement Coalition’s history fighting exclusionary policies

The Displacement Coalition has a long history of fighting city policies that drive a deeper wedge in this city between rich and poor, whites and people of color. We were actively involved in the anti-redlining efforts of the 70’s, fought for implementation of “scattered site” public housing in North End neighborhoods and later against Seattle Housing Authority when it sold off significant portions of its “scattered site” housing stock. We were the first organization to work with a councilmember to liberalize rules allowing mother-in-law apartments in single-family communities.

Our complaints to the HUD Inspector General freed up more Section 8 vouchers for North End neighborhoods and stopped misuse of Section 108 economic development funding for downtown projects–dollars that were supposed to go to lower-income neighborhoods and communities of color. Our complaints to the Justice Department and the City’s Office of Human Rights on behalf East Africans helped free up jobs for their community promised to them under the HOPE VI program. And our survey of the state’s low-income housing tax credit program exposed discrimination against people of color by landlords of projects that had received those funds – precipitating rule changes ensuring more of those dollars went to nonprofit housing developers.

We’re currently deeply involved in an effort to secure a city law requiring developers to replace every unit of low-cost housing they destroy and to fight any changes in zoning until this and other anti-displacement measures are implemented by our city government. We’re looking forward to the election of new, more responsive councilmembers to help with this cause.
Upzoning: the current form of dividing rich and poor, white and people of color

Yes, there’s a long history of Seattle leaders using land use and zoning to segregate, exclude or drive out people of color from our neighborhoods. Nowadays it’s called “upzoning”–notwithstanding Shaun Scott’s Orwellian up-is-down and down-is-up “hard data”. It’s obvious what he’s doing here, much like the rhetoric we heard from Rob Johnson during his tenure on the City Council and regurgitated regularly by Councilmembers Mosqueda and Gonzalez. It’s an intentionally polarizing narrative, hatched for the sole purpose of marginalizing those who simply care about what happens to their community in the face of runaway growth.

As Scott told a U-District advocate before the primary, if given the chance, he’d “upzone every inch of Seattle”. Let’s make sure when we cast our ballot he doesn’t get that chance.

Of course, it’s true that increasingly few in Seattle can afford to buy a single-family home (without public assistance the city offers to some homeowners – more is needed). But what Scott and other upzoning zealots overlook, intentionally or naively is that there are over 15,000 low-income households including seniors and families of color in Seattle who own a home, and most are paying far more than a third of their income in housing costs, deemed unaffordable by HUD. These folks are trying desperately to hang on in the face of rising property values and taxes, pushed even higher by recent upzoning.

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