Even though City Councilmember Rob Johnson represents the 4th district, located north of the Ship Canal, he is passionate about maintaining housing affordability across all sections of the city. We recently sat down with him to discuss this issue.
Johnson recognizes the importance of protecting our most diverse and vulnerable neighborhoods, regardless of council district. He is committed to respecting the voices of all community members, always willing to listen to YCC partners and consider their ideas and concerns in shaping City policy and programs.
Johnson brings a combination of deep roots in Seattle and technical urban planning skills to his job. He is a fifth generation Seattleite, busy raising a sixth generation. His motivation for keeping Seattle an affordable place to live comes from his family ties. Among his 20 first cousins, those who chose relatively high-wage careers have been able to stay in Seattle; those who chose to be teachers or environmental activists have not.
He wants his children to be able to live in Seattle when they grow up regardless of career choice. “It isn’t easy,” he notes, “66 people are moving to Seattle every day. We are not building enough housing for all these new people, let alone building affordable housing for those who have already been displaced.”
This is why Mandatory Housing Affordability (MHA) is so important, he says. “It’s the brass ring for which Seattle has been reaching for decades: how to get both more market rate housing and affordable housing at the same time, not in competition with each other. MHA strikes that balance. It encourages the development of market rate housing while generating resources for affordable housing.”
As new housing is built under MHA, he will make sure that the City tracks how well the program’s performance component is working to produce new affordable units quickly in neighborhoods throughout the city.
Johnson recognizes that MHA by itself is not enough. In each neighborhood where MHA rezones are being considered, Johnson makes a point of understanding neighborhood concerns and responding with companion legislation to articulate how the City will address them. For the Central Area and Chinatown-International District, this has meant a focus on reuse of publicly-owned land and other approaches to give each community a long-term ownership stake and cultural anchor as a counter to displacement.
He appreciates working with YCC and partners to understand community priorities and come up with creative and innovative approaches. He welcomes the way YCC has brought diverse voices to the table in an intentionally collaborative way, both at public meetings and in work sessions between the public meetings where diverse voices are often missing.
Johnson encourages YCC and partners to stay engaged with the citywide MHA rezones in the coming year to keep diverse voices involved and a focus on anti-displacement. “Great ideas get generated when YCC is at the table;” he says, “the outcomes are much better when YCC and partners are engaged. Finding ways to have YCC at the table with us [the Council] to find creative solutions is going to be critical.”
Johnson also anticipates another round of neighborhood-specific design-focused workshops and welcomes YCC partners’ participation. Overall, he is optimistic that Seattle can get ahead of displacement by employing all the available tools—MHA, effective use of public land, good urban planning, and continued engagement with diverse communities.
Community members celebrated the Juneteeth holiday on June 19 by breaking ground on the new Liberty Bank Building at 24th Avenue and East Union Street.
The redevelopment of Liberty Bank will help preserve affordability in the neighborhood by bringing 115 units of much-needed affordable housing. Rents for one bedrooms are anticipated to range between $504 and $1,008, depending on income.
The project partners intend to honor the legacy of Liberty Bank in design, but also by creating affordable space for local businesses and fostering community for residents in the neighborhood. In addition to the 115 affordable apartments, the new six-story building will also include 2,695 square feet for local businesses on the ground floor.
Community partners in this innovative redevelopment include:
- Africatown Community Land Trust
- The Black Community Impact Alliance
- Capitol Hill Housing
Other partners include Walsh Construction, Mithun Architects and the City of Seattle.
Check out the Liberty Bank Building Website for more information.
A few years from now, the intersection of 12th and Jackson at the heart of Little Saigon will look and feel completely different. Many of the one- and two-story retail buildings with parking lots in front will give way to multi-story apartment buildings, ground floor retail and underground parking.
The southwest corner will also be transformed, but in a different way. A 400-square-foot public open space will beckon area residents, employees and visitors to sit outside, visit together, and enjoy bubble tea or a take-out meal from a local Southeast Asian restaurant.
This is a rare opportunity to use privately-owned land as public open space. Asian Pacific Properties, which owns the parking lot and adjacent retail building, is making this land available at no cost for the good of the neighborhood. The retail tenants are willing to help maintain the park.
An Huynh, Public Space & Community Coordinator for Seattle Chinatown International District Preservation and Development Authority and project manager for the park, noted that the idea for the park came out of a long-standing community concern that Little Saigon has almost no public open space and very few trees or patches of green. “While Little Saigon’s cultural character is expressed by all the Vietnamese businesses clustered around 12th and Jackson, the streets and sidewalks could be anywhere,” said Huynh. “This park will show private property owners and developers and the City, as owner of the right of way, how the area’s Vietnamese heritage can contribute to its livability.”
For two days in September, the site was transformed into a temporary park, as part of worldwide PARK(ing) Day, with around 50 sites in Seattle. In March, at an open house at Summit School, community members responded to a variety of design options. A $5,000 grant from Yesler Community Collaborative early in 2016 assisted the community in implementing its vision.
For Huynh the process of designing the park has been rewarding. She has enjoyed getting to know the local business people and appreciates their design ideas, “The couple that owns Bubble Tea Fresh Fruit suggested tiles because they are colorful and remind them of home,” she said, “or a tall tree because the neighborhood doesn’t have any shade. From these points of feedback, you get into a conversation about what it means to have a business in Little Saigon. Now I walk in and we pick up where we left off. We’ve established a relationship from this little project.”
Designer Mackenzie Waller of Framework, a multidisciplinary design firm, is using the community input to shape a welcoming and safe community space made of long-lasting materials. The intent is to create as space that celebrates those who live and work in Little Saigon. Huynh expects construction of the park late this summer, along with installation of painted crosswalks at 12th and Jackson.
Sam Assefa (Office of Community Planning and Development), Steve Walker (Office of Housing), Erin House (Seattle for Everyone), Councilmember Sally Bagshaw, Mayor Ed Murray, Marty Kooistra (Housing Dev. Consortium), Maiko WInkler-Chin (SCIDpda), Doris Koo (YCC)
On April 14 Mayor Murray signed legislation to rezone parts of South Lake Union and Downtown that will fall under the Mandatory Housing Affordability program (MHA). MHA requirements for Downtown/South Lake Union will result in an estimated 2,100 additional affordable units over the next 10 years. MHA legislation was passed and enacted for the U District in March of this year. YCC partners have joined with Housing Development Consortium Seattle-King County, Seattle for Everyone, and others over the past year to help shape the framework and advocate for this legislation to create more affordable homes to help counter the displacement forces now threatening core Seattle neighborhoods.
YCC’s Doris Koo and others joined Mayor Ed Murray as he signed Seattle’s Downtown and South Lake Union MHA rezones into law. The signing ceremony took place at the Bush Hotel, where the mayor also announced proposed MHA legislation for the Chinatown-International District and Little Saigon.
Under MHA, all new development is required to either include rent-restricted homes for low-income families or make a payment to support affordable housing. MHA will produce an estimated 6,000 new affordable housing units in Seattle over 10 years.
>>More information on Mandatory Housing Affordability
How do existing neighborhood businesses stay, grow, and thrive as Seattle grows? This is one of the questions that inspired Sue Oliver, Executive Director of Seattle University’s Innovation and Entrepreneurship Center, to secure grant funding and found the Resource Amplification and Management program, dubbed RAMP.up. It is a collaboration among student volunteers, professors and local small businesses to strengthen neighborhood businesses in the YCC neighborhoods.
Partnerships between university business schools and local businesses are not new. But what sets this one apart is its emphasis on accountability over time. Knowledgeable business students are not just swooping in, doing a quick analysis, making recommendations and leaving. Participating businesses have a dedicated SU team over a longer, more strategic time frame. The team connects businesses with existing resources and providers.
Volunteers are drawn from a pool of both generalists and specialists, and they bring important cultural competency skills to the table. Thus, students gain consulting experience in the real world, and business owners gain important technical and personal support for stabilizing and growing their businesses.
Still in its first year of operation, RAMP.up is focusing now on local businesses and testing service provider support models. In the next several years the program expects to scale its operations to serve more businesses.
Sue Oliver (right) with RAMP.up student consultants
Even though the program is just getting started, its early accomplishments are significant:
- 15 neighborhood businesses served
- 12 service providers served
- 15 team members (staff, interns, and volunteers)
- Three consulting firms ready for partnering
- Six Albers/business classes in partnership
- Business training program in process (train-the-trainer)
- Student training program in place
- Volunteer training and service awards program in process
According to Oliver, the ultimate program goals include sustaining a vibrant local community with a wide variety of locally-owned shops that are inviting to customers, and developing a sustainable, effective model for business-community-campus engagement.
With funding support and convening assistance from Yesler Community Collaborative, several Seattle-area organizations have come together to forge an innovative, collaborative approach to workforce development in healthcare.
Using the Seattle Housing Authority’s Job Shadowing Program as proof of concept, the Housing Authority, Keiro Northwest, Seattle Jobs initiative and others are seeking funding for an innovative program to train low-income residents of subsidized housing in the skills needed to obtain jobs in the growing field of healthcare.
The goal is not only to prepare people to enter the workforce, but also to provide on-going training and upward mobility. Thus, employees will be able to move from providing basic health care services in a skilled nursing facility to higher skill positions with an acute care provider such as a hospital. Both types of employers benefit. The skilled nursing facilities will be able to keep entry level employees longer, thereby getting a good return on their training investment. The hospitals will have a pipeline of well-trained, experienced employees for their positions.
Doris Koo (L) with Jeff Hattori, Ron Jenkins and John Kim
Ron Jenkins from the Seattle Housing Authority, Jeffrey Hattori from Keiro Northwest and John Kim from Seattle Jobs Initiative recently presented this concept to a meeting of YCC partners. They have been working together over the past year to help develop this new model.
In 2015, the first Job Shadowing program partners included Seattle Central College, Harborview and Swedish Medical Centers, and the City of Seattle. The program offered 14 Yesler Terrace adult residents the opportunity to take an ESL class taught by a Seattle Central College instructor. This language training, which focused on job-specific vocabulary, was coupled with 150 hours of paid ($13.00/hr.) job shadowing experience for each participant.
Eleven of the initial 14 participants are working today, most in a field related to their job shadowing. Four work in food service positions, three in janitorial positions, two in home-care positions, one as an Uber driver and one as an SHA Industrial Sewing Program Assistant.
For the second cohort in Fall 2016, the partnership was expanded. New partners included The Northwest School, Skyline, Keiro Northwest and Horizon House.
Eight out of the fourteen participants in the 2016 cohort are working today, most in a field related to their job shadowing. Unlike the first cohort, five participants were offered jobs at the place they job shadowed; Harborview and the City of Seattle each offered one participant a job, and Keiro Northwest offered jobs to three participants!
The Healthcare Workforce Development Cohort is looking to go beyond traditional recruitment and retention strategies to provide career pathways to healthcare workers along a broader spectrum of skill levels and employers