Community Post

The CD: Lots of Problems, Few Solutions

Last night I, along with about eighty residents of the area, attended the State of the Central District Community Forum at Seattle U’s Schafer Auditorium organized by Dr. Mako Fitts and Dr. Gary Perry of the Sociology Department. Along with the help of some of their undergraduate students, Drs. Fitts and Perry analyzed the effect of gentrification in the Central Area.

The students reviewed literature and spoke to members of the community and concluded that gentrification is the fundamental driving force behind the current changes in the neighborhood, and that these changes are bad for the neighborhood and the city of Seattle as a whole.

They confirmed what most residents of the CD already know: the longtime residents, who are primarily African-American, are being pushed South because of skyrocketing housing prices and property taxes, and are being replaced by predominantly affluent, white residents. Overall, they showed that the longtime residents have been in a lose-lose situation for the past fifty years. At, first the Central District was the only neighborhood they could live in, and today many are even being excluded from that.

The second half of the forum consisted of a Panel Discussion. Members of the panel were James Bible – President of the King County NAACP, Lynn Domingo – Legacy of Equality, Leadership and Organizing, Prof Henry McGee – Seattle U School of Law, Andrew Taylor – Miller Park Neighborhood Association, Prof Flora Wilson Bridges – Seattle U School of Theology & Ministry, Garry Owens – Dept of Neighborhoods, and Jim Mueller – JC Mueller LLC.

The panel was asked how the Central District has changed from their vantage point, and the audience heard very diverse view points that ranged from a decrease in young families to the death of the city’s African American voice, social conscious, and unique cultural heritage.

The evening’s commenters listed one problem after another and had a very negative and bleak outlook for the future of the African-American community in this area. What was absent from the evening, as Andrew Taylor pointed out, were any solutions to these problems. Gentrification is a side effect of the overall rise in the property values, and no one offered any ideas of what can be done to address this. The trick is how to deal with gentrification while keeping the unique culture of the neighborhood and making all of the newcomers feel welcome.

0 thoughts on “The CD: Lots of Problems, Few Solutions

  1. Not a very productive meeting, but as a relatively new resident I did find the historic information and perspective re: African AMerican culture to be useful. It’s is always important to remind ourselves of this important fact.

    One funny anecdote. As I walked into the library, somebody asked me why I was going in. My response: “I’m the white invader everybody keeps talking about.” Kidding aside, I hope folks realize that this “gentrifier” isn’t the enemy. I got the real sense of “us and them”, as I do from most of these meetings, and I hope that folks on both sides work together to make improvements everybody can enjoy.

    As the “gentrifier”, I didn’t actually “do” anything–I had a choice of where to buy, I chose to buy in a livable, affordable, and an improving neighborhood that would be economically beneficial to me as well. I cannot stop gentrification and I didn’t make it happen.

  2. The last sentence: “The trick is how to deal with gentrification while keeping the unique culture of the neighborhood and making all of the newcomers feel welcome.” That would be some trick. I don’t think the newcomers ARE welcome (I am one) so there isn’t much way to make them FEEL welcome.

  3. I agree with both cdguy and Elvis in their reports on last night’s meeting. There was little to be encouraged about in anything we were told by the students or the panel members, nor in the questions and comments by audience members, most of whom were probably residents of the CD; many of them I recognized.
    I acknowledge and respect the pain of those who have suffered from this phenomenon. I remember the kindness of the black neighbors who welcomed me when I moved here from Kent almost 18 years ago and became the only white resident on my side of my block (now four houses have white residents, two still have black residents, and one house has Asian residents). One house is new, three have been rehabbed, and three are being maintained. I miss all their little children who played in my yard and my house until they grew up and moved away. And I miss the older people who have died or moved away. And I try to believe that I did not contribute greatly to the gentrification process because I bought a vacant house from an absentee white owner. In any case, it appears to me that my side of my block typifies the changes that were written and spoken about and mourned.

    It seems to me, though, that there is more to this problem that was not discussed in the meeting last night nor in the 2003 analysis cited in Andrew Taylor’s announcement of the meeting and brief history of how it came about. Both the 2003 report and the statistics presented last night made various comparisons by racial category over recent years and decades of many measurements that included income, education, unemployment, home ownership, etc. These statistics were shown for African-Americans, Whites, Asians, and American Indians in the case of the 2003 report, and for African-Americans, Whites, Asians, Hawaiian/Pacific Islanders, and Others in the case of the forum.

    It seems to me that are two other groups who have affected the CD in the last decade and who deserve their own statistics in order to truly show the extent of the change. These categories would be Latinos and recent African immigrants, mostly from East Africa. I don’t know where these residents were counted in the reported categories, but if, for instance, the recent African immigrants were counted with the African Americans, when there were far fewer of them here in previous counts, it would understate the degree of change perceived by the historical African-American population. Breaking out the Latino population figures would indicate other nuances of change that are not visible in the statistics provided in these existing analyses. Perhaps someone has done some work with the subject expanded to consider these further details; if not, I think it would be useful, though probably even less encouraging than the statistics we’ve seen so far. But it might provide some insights that would help in trying to work on some solutions.

  4. Ten years ago, many homes in the Central District were valued just north of $100K. Recently, developers began buying some of these homes, demolishing them, and building townhouses. Some of these other homes were purchased by first time buyers and fixed up. These people recognized an opportunity and took advantage of it. I missed the meeting, but what was the criteria used that lead these students to conclude that the gentrification has been harmfull to the CD? Crime, litter, bike lanes, traffic congestion, restaurants?

  5. I also attended the presentation and found it to be very interesting. I’m a graduate of Seattle U and have to say I was disappointed to see that they did not interview any of the new residents who are seen as gentrifiers. It would have been interesting to see what these new residents (and yes, I am one of them) had to say. My classes at SU encouraged exploring multiples sides of different issues and I was surprised Tuesday’s presentation did not include the perspective of the new residents.

    I did appreciate the panel discussion and feel I walked away from the meeting with more knowledge than when I went into it. And that is what is important.

  6. CDguy might not publish this I understand.
    I thought that this was relevant.

    pawns in the capitalist ethnic cleansing game

    Gentrification happens when a neighborhood becomes attractive to a wealthier class of people than the group of people currently living in the area. Current residents get displaced as landlords jack up rents, property values rise to milk the wealthier class and developers build with only the newer, moneyed class in mind. The new, generally white residents, who have more political power, eventually grow intolerant of the old neighborhood culture, often a code word for the poorer, often non-white people who originally lived in the area.

    While nobody should have to live in a neighborhood riddled with street drugs and crime except Dick Cheney, making a neighborhood ‘safe’ usually involves making it unsafe for certain classes of people, who are forced out to other low-rent neighborhoods, to shelters, or to prison. The version of ‘safety’ used by city government often involves cultural fascism: overzealous code enforcement, criminalizing ‘loud music’, and certain types of street congregating because they are supposedly associated with street drug trade. The key is figuring out how to protect mixed neighborhoods that are safe, fun, and sustaining for all kinds of people including the original residents.

    Because our culture is based on race as well as class privilege, gentrification often goes down along race as well as class lines. Essentially, gentrification is apartheid by race and class. Of the multiple cultures coexisting in one area; one culture is officially recognized and gains political power. As an area gentrifies, the range of activities and people considered acceptable in the area shrinks. Urban areas become suburban monocultures were human creativity is replaced by packaged experiences OK’d by the market.

    Neighborhood gentrification mirrors global homogenization where culture and life are governed by an increasingly small number of rich, powerful organizations with no relevance to the diaspora of the immediate local. Imperialism stifles life; a Boston anti-gentrification activist shouts, “one longs for more bad taste, for more surprise, dirt and looseness, more anarchic, unself-conscious play.”

    rebel without a pause

  7. I’m a little confused by all the conspiracy theories on this issue. Do people really think there’s a coordinated underground program to drive up prices and drive out a specific race or class of people in this neighborhood?

    Housing and property prices have gone up all over the Seattle area. The cause is basic supply and demand: more people moving in, not very much cheap & buildable land left to expand into.

    I’m not sure how anyone would expect or enforce that prices in the CD stay at $100,000 while a few blocks up the hill in Madrona houses would go for $1,000,000. That just doesn’t make sense. And there’s plenty of people of all races who wouldn’t be able to afford to buy the house that they are in now. But that’s just the natural effect of living in a popular, growing place.

    There’s other demographic changes under way too, such as a new generation of younger white people who prefer the city vs. the suburbs and who unlike many of their parents aren’t afraid to live near people of other races and ethnicities. Is that really a bad thing?

    And there’s been plenty of long-time black residents who have benefited from the changes in the neighborhood. My neighbors had lived here for 50 years, but got too old to worry about maintaining a big house. So they sold, made a killer profit, and moved into a really nice retirement home near their family back east. Should they have been prevented from selling out and moving?

    Before I moved in, my house was an actual crack house. Neighbors were scared to death to leave their own houses because of the rough crowd that was always coming and going. I took a big risk in moving here and invested a ton of money in fixing up the house, yard, etc. I didn’t personally push anyone out or drive up anyone else’s property tax. The regional real-estate market took care of that.

    So why should I be made to feel like a creep just for living in my own neighborhood? Where’s the justice in that? And why else did people of all races spend so much blood, sweat, and tears to eliminate the de-jure and de-facto segregation of specific races to specific neighborhoods?

  8. I have to concur with “unwanted”. Similarly our house was the reputed crack house in the neighborhood and a police hot spot. We have invested a lot into improving our house and neighborhood and yet have experienced several small acts of vandalism — most recently with both of our cars being vandalized (not broken into fortunately).

    I have no desire to drive out any classes or races, but I do have a desire to have my property and rights respected and not have blatantly illegal activities such as drug deals going on in my neighborhood. I think that this is what most people, “new” or “old”, in the neighborhood want.

    It is just not realistic to expect a neighborhood to remain constant in the way that it once was, nor that it should always remain that way. Change will continually come when you live in a city, hopefully for the better in most people’s eyes and with the efforts that all of us as neighbors put into the community we live in.

  9. There may not be many new ideas here, but I decided to share a few thoughts. (There are more than I planned.)
    Learning the history of any area and respecting it and ensuring that it continues to be reflected is good for all.

    1.One African American friend was concerned that Zillow undervalued property in minority areas. Obviously that concern reflects a different concern.

    2. Capping the housing prices would be known as redlining. This was an issue 25 to 35 years ago when banks capped loans or simply did not make them available for property in some areas of the city.

    3. Many who have sold property here invested the gain it another parcel.

    4. There was a generational shift as many heirs of the original African Americans (and some whites) moved to the suburbs or to other areas of the city where they now own property. I think that grown children often desire a new experience.

    4. Seattle’s issues of affordability cannot be the responsibility of the Central Area alone. All citizens of Seattle must share the concern. The prices here are still comparatively reasonable in COMPARISON to other areas of the city. The people here are human and I would guess as kind and empathetic, if not more, toward fellow humans as in any other part of the city. But, the expectation that residents (new and old) are more responsible than others to solve the affordibility issues of Seattle can wear on all.

    5. Residents of Seattle deserve safe clean neighborhoods with good schools. The desire for these basics for the rich, the poor and the middle class should neither be surprising nor open to question.

    6. The term gentrification rings false. To me it implies that a city at some time neglected an area to a degree that it was a crime. It implies that decent living conditions can only be afforded to affluent areas.
    I’m just not sure why all discussions of this area are always framed as gentrification. What is the history of this word? The meaning of which is a bit ambivalent. “The restoration and upgrading of deteriorated urban property by middle-class or affluent people, often resulting in displacement of lower-income people.” The ambivalence comes from the idea that a neighborhood had been allowed to to deteriorate. Should lower-income people live in a crime-ridden deteriorated neighborhood? This neighborhood has always been a bit eclectic. Actually one gentleman on the panel did address this very briefly.

    7. A demoralized area likely to fall victim to the whim of speculators, who by definition, use an area as an investment. The neglected homes are then subject to being torn down and buildings that don’t really reflect the character of the neighborhood appear. During the past 30 years some speculation was always going on. Not an activity that can be outlawed, but a stable neighborhood is less likely to be appealing for purely speculative activity

    8. I moved to the area 30 years ago as a graduate student. It was more affordable than some other areas. I liked the older homes, the ambiance of an older neighborhood and the diversity. At the time it was a bit neglected but nothing dramatically wrong. My neighbor was an African American man retired from Boeing interested in the concept of using all land for growing food and his attractive yard reflected his interests. He eventually sold his home and moved to an area where he could grow more crops. (Before her death his wife had enjoyed a small flower garden which he continued to maintain.)

    The end: Some of the problems arises from the fact that this is an undergraduate project not a product of long time experienced research. I was disheartened, for instance, that they had obviously not spoken to the principal of Garfield which was prominent in one piece.
    I have long believed in the neighborhood and love to see the homes being restored and enjoy the movie theater and other recently added amenities. I have more ambivalent feelings regarding the larger buildings which seem out character, I know that some of these are to be expected. In the meantime, I hope the neighborhood should not be characterized as a place where residents should be grateful for just any development. There are many good people here (new and long-time residents) and many nice homes. Again, most residents want a safe clean neighborhood. Us against them. Them against us. This not very productive thinking or framing.

    Maybe tracing the history and focussig on the period between 1930 or 40 to the present would help. Draw a timeline and gather some facts. More facts less conjecture would help bring residents interested in urban history and development together.


  10. @ Evol:

    “but what was the criteria used that lead these students to conclude that the gentrification has been harmfull to the CD?”

    According to Rebecca Andrews’ 2003 thesis on CD gentrification (a pretty good read), gentrification is harmful in so far as it uplifts the neighborhood while forcing out existing residents. “Equitable” development would improve the neighborhood (businesses, parks, infrastructure, less crime, higher property values) while allowing residents to stay and benefit.

    I think it’s up for debate. As a recent “invader” I don’t want anyone pushed out and I value the diversity (most of Seattle seems creepy-white-homogeneous to me now).

    On the other hand, none of the problems I see here (drugs, violence, gangs, lack of investment from the city) are caused by new arrivals.

    I don’t fully understand the resentment towards newcomers. Sure, people don’t want to give up territory to outsiders. But are my iPod and latte so much more offensive than direction-less teenage boys breaking into homes and mugging people, or shooting each other?

    Existing residents should focus on parenting and community involvement (not being apathetic about drugs, providing good role models, supporting small business and education). Folks here need to fix their shit, and be less concerned with a few more outsiders (uhm, neighborly educated professionals).

  11. This is all so disheartening. That people cannot come to grips with the facts. That in recent history this has been an area where your children are gunned down before they are 18, where drugs and prostitution are rampant and the area as a whole was on a downward spiral. That they will concoct elaborate conspiracy theories and even have the audacity to equate the situation to apartheid. It’s ridiculous that these pseudo intellectuals are given any sort of attention. It’s embarrassing.

    I too live on and that was once one of the worst crack houses on the block. A raid once pulled over 25 guns out of the house. My friends (even the black ones) thought I was crazy for buying there. I thought was crazy when there was a shooting a week for the first month last summer. That said l love the potential of the area. I love the rolling views at Judkins. I love that there are all kinds of people. That I can eat great Ethiopian food. That I can be at Lake Washington in 4 minutes. I’ve lived in between beacon hill, the id and now the CD for the last 10 years. The views and the convenience to downtown. All I want to do is live quietly, take care of my property , pay my taxes and listen to the Commodores at Red Apple when I buy groceries. If I wanted to live in Bellevue I would have. But, I’m bad, because some undergrads did a half ass study? Take that bullshit somewhere else. People will concoct a story so goddamn elaborate to protect their own egos or in this case to fit their preconceived version of the story.. Must be the boogie man at work. It’s got to be.

    Property values ebb and flow along a timeline. Areas get cool and then they suck. Bad areas clean up and other areas get worse. There is no master control. There is no white Wizard Of Oz pulling strings behind a curtain.

    Seattle is stuck between a rock and some water. You can’t just build out farther and farther. Do you really think those projects with million dollar view of the city on Yesler will be there in 5 years? Do you even think that they SHOULD be there? Shit changes. Have some ambition and foresight and plan your future on your own terms.

  12. Many people in the CD agree that what we like about the neighborhood is the diversity, the unique cultural mix that is reflected here as opposed to Bellevue for example. I don’t want to see the area turn into yet another boring cookie-cutter landscape, dotted with Bed Bath & Beyond, franchise food and the Gap. Yet these types of businesses tend to move in as property values increase and more affluent buyers come to an area. I would be happy to see 23rd and Union lose the drug trade and and murders. I’d like to see it developed into a reflection of the best the CD can offer (e.g. no Starbucks, McDonalds) or the cheapest crappy townhouses that turn to blight in 5 years.

    It seems like what we need is different zoning and tax rules. Why can’t the City offer landlords tax abatements for renting to individual or very small chain places? I think the City offers tax abatements to longtime residents on limited incomes (which have to be paid off on sale of the house).

  13. “making a neighborhood ‘safe’ usually involves making it unsafe for certain classes of people, who are forced out to other low-rent neighborhoods, to shelters, or to prison.” . . . Forced out to prison? Who is doing this? Forced out to a shelter? How does this happen? Please explain how one can avoid these “unsafe” consequences.

    “The version of ‘safety’ used by city government often involves cultural fascism: overzealous code enforcement, criminalizing ‘loud music’,” So the law shouldn’t be enforced? How does that work? Laws written to keep loud music at bay are meant to protect us and keep the peace. Babies are sleeping, people are trying to talk on the phone or simply have a face to face conversation or watch a tv program, in their own home. It’s rude, intrusive and disrespectful.

    “and certain types of street congregating” . . . What types might these be? What are these people doing while there are congregating? Why would they be associated with street drug trade?

    “The key is figuring out how to protect mixed neighborhoods that are safe, fun, and sustaining for all kinds of people including the original residents.” . . . Get an education, parent your children, keep kids in school, work, maintain your home or property, and respect your neighbors, whatever their ethnicity.