Wednesday, September 26, 2007

The Straw Man Gets a Workout

I remember a great story I heard a number of years ago from an activist with the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless. Apparently, there was a very pro-environment candidate for office who wasn't so hot on the whole human needs thing. He was dogged during his campaign by Tree Man.

A guy in a tree suit showed up everywhere the candidate did holding his sign. "Would you care for me if I was a tree?"

City Council voted to finalize the Capehart Housing acquisition in Discovery Park on Monday, which was a surprise to approximately nobody. It was good to see political leadership from Sally Clark and Peter Steinbrueck that upgraded the one-to-one housing replacement language and made it non-contingent on the Fort Lawton deal going through.

I was surprised to see Tom Rassmussen quoted in the Post-Intelligencer describing the inappropriateness of the park for "people in transition."

An editorial in the PI makes the same point.
We did have some concerns, however, about access to shops and transportation.

For example, the nearest bus stop we could find was close to a mile away and basic drugstore supplies required a trip of more than two miles. It appears that the Seattle City Council agreed, and voted to knock down the homes.

Have these people ever been to a ghetto? But even this is beside the point. Perhaps some people have argued for use of the housing for homeless people, but most folks I know feel that the housing should be maintained as workforce housing until its useful life is exhausted. Tom is arguing against a position nobody supports.

Most people who know about housing — and I count Rassmussen in this category — know that there is a relationship between availability of workforce housing and housing for the very poor. As available options become scarce, those on the bottom rungs of the market start getting knocked off. We all get this.

This is why the Capehart housing should be preserved for however long this is possible.

We've seen portrayals, most notably by Tim Ceis, of this housing as some sort of rotting from within, asbestos-laden, lead paint hazard that any sane person would pretty much tear down on sight, but this is belied by the fact that the families who will live there into 2009 find it perfectly habitable. In fact, everyone who sees it tends to describe it with the same word. "Nice."

There has been a false dichotomization of this issue along the lines of park and green space supporters versus homeless advocates. I don't see it that way. No one I know is making the argument that housing, once built, should never come down. And certainly no one is arguing that housing should be rebuilt on the Capehart site.

Contrary to the Post-Intelligencer's editorial yesterday, there isn't anything in Monday's decision to move ahead with purchase that necessarily commits the City to immediate demolition of the Capehart housing.

The question is whether this housing gets bulldozed in 2009, when the last family moves out, or whether another decade or so of use can be squeezed from this resource at a time when housing affordability in Seattle is at a crisis point.

In the end, no matter what, nature wins. The housing comes down and the park space expands. What needs to be considered is whether this can be a win for people as well as the trees.

From what I understand, there are some potential issues here having to do with the City's authority to provide housing that is above the low-income level, but one would think that this could somehow be worked out. Times like these call for creative solutions. It seems that some sort of compromise can still be achieved, if the will is there.


donna.pierce said...

Tim, will this blog entry show up in any form in Real Change? Or might you send it to City Council members (with or without the Tree Man!)? Or, revised, as a reply to the PI editorial? It summarizes the situation well and cuts through the fog of the false choice that has been propounded.

Tim Harris said...

You're right. I'll rework it today as a letter to the PI. Thanks Donna.

Revel said...

I first moved to low-to-median (approx 14k-28k income)housing at the southern tip of Seattle in 2000.

It was Green River country prior to the green river killer arrest. It it sat on a steep slope above the Duwamish River and below Military Rd S. There was one bus into Seattle hourly for limited hours weekdays, and you had to go through 150 feet of slough to get to a hidden stop. Sometimes it was tricky going the 2 miles up the vertical crawl, past the country club golf course, to Burien for groceries. If you could hike a mile up the hill at night to the "Heroin sev" (7-11 mart), you were doing alright.

All said, that apartment(which had just been converted from transitional business family housing) was total heaven as far as stability and improved quality of life. I would've happily gone to Capehart, as well.

Thank you for what you're doing!

Bill said...

A good (sic) deal of what's being said by electeds and their rasputins is the typical politics of discrediting. In this case it's about housing being unacceptable, and by extension, advocates for housing just aren't savvy to recognize what good housing is. It all makes me howl. I lived on Education Hill in Redmond for six years, which is hardly in the boondocks. Yet the most of the time we were there the nearesr market/drug store was 2.5 miles away. We rented, but in the mile around us were homes exceeding $1M. Does Tim Rasputin Ceis think that no one who is low-income owns a car, or cannot buy groceries and get home? His logic approached Conlin's who stretched opposition to impugn us by saying we must think the poor don't deserve good parks. What all of us deserve is honest answers, and from the top down in Seattle at the moment there is a vacuum of honesty about Discovery Park. It is easy to recognize such a political vacuum because all comments defending it stink to high heaven. Such is the case with Capehart. Truly sad to see not one of them willing to break from the pack and speak frankly, save a resolution that may mean nothing. Being truthful would sorta-coulda-mighta be like Sims coming out against the ultimate-save-us-all-from-congestion transit ballot issue. What about Seattle leaders leads them to be covert and consequently not-as-smart-as-they-are (OK, debatable) instead of being upfront, getting things done, and winning hearts and minds? It's like it is all about deals for those who have,... an easy and almost inescapable conclusion

Anitra said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anitra said...

(I couldn't edit my comments, so I had to delete and rewrite.)

This will have a wider effect. The next time any other city in King County moves to destroy housing, Seattle and King County officials will have zero credibility in opposing it.

Whatever my personal opinion of our political leaders' heartfelt commitment to increased housing, I still regret losing whatever weight their public pose of support had in influencing others.