Puget Sound Sage recently published a new study titled, “Transit Oriented Development that’s Healthy, Green, and Just: Insuring Transit Investment in Seattle’s Rainier Valley Builds Communities Where all Families Can Thrive.” The report’s fact-driven analysis raises great concerns about the future of the Rainier Valley if policy measures aren’t taken to prevent displacement of residents in this wonderfully diverse Seattle neighborhood.
The promise of Link light rail is that it will spur dense, vibrant, and highly desirable places to live. While new housing and commercial space has not built up as quickly as hoped due to the down economy, the real estate value near the Link stations have increased by 500% in anticipation of this growth. This valuation shows the potential for Link to promote development, but it also raises a challenge to make sure the people who need transit the most still have access to it and are not displaced from their community.
The rapid increased value of station areas is an especially big issue for the Rainier Valley, where 39% of residents earn less than $30,000 per year (compared to 16% of other Seattle residents), and where the fabric of the community is built around cultural, ethnic, and racial identities and connections. The families are more reliant on transit than the average Seattleite and are more likely to use the Link Light Rail for weekly activities like grocery shopping, in addition to commuting to and from work.
The southern portion of the Link Light Rail is well-placed through a community which needs this service, but with this amenity comes the possibility of gentrification and the risk of displacement. Over the last decade, the white population in Rainier Valley has increased by 17%, whereas communities of color have increased by only 5% (numbers essentially flip-flopped for larger Seattle and King County). Light rail started service just started in 2009, so other social, economic, and political trends were likely at play as well. However, the recent addition of light rail will not reduce these pressures and the trends could be exacerbated.
In addition to a social justice and community preservation issue, the study points out that the displacement of Rainier Valley residents could undermine the sustainability benefits of TOD. The study expresses concern that pushing current transit riders into suburbs could force these commuters into driving. At the same time, higher income individuals who are more likely to own a car will now live in the transit-rich neighborhoods. The net effect could be more people driving and burning fossil fuels than if affordability and displacement were addressed.
The study says that policy measures are immediately necessary to halt the process of irreversible gentrification of the district. Several key recommendations are listed in the report. Some include: preserving land now for community TOD in the future, encouraging high-quality accessible job creation along the light rail line, updating Seattle’s Zoning Incentive Policy to encourage affordable housing, and encouraging communities of color to participate in the decision-making process.
Although Rainier Valley’s fate is yet to be known, Puget Sound Sage’s close examination clearly highlights the threats of displacement and possible preventative action steps. As we move forward, Puget Sound Sage, Futurewise, Transportation Choices Coalition, and other advocacy groups will make sure the City of Seattle starts to address this problem. And at the same time, Transportation for Washington campaign will also be working in Olympia to find new solutions for expanding access to affordable transit choices and for creating policies and funding tools that can build great, healthy communities for all people.
Author: Amy Taylor, an intern at Futurewise, is a senior at the University of Washington where she is double majoring in Psychology and Community, Environment, & Planning.