Op-Ed on Affordable Housing Crisis in Chinatown/International District

The Chinatown/International District (CID)– home of Oasis, Go Poké, and Uwajimaya, is also the next target of corporate developers, who are undergoing construction in the homes of many Asian American residents. With cultural hotspots, such as Little Saigon, and Japantown “Nihonmachi,” facing the imminent threat of cultural erasure and displacement, CID residents are left unprotected by the gentrification that has enveloped the streets. As the city of Seattle experiences mass remodeling, various communities of color endure the possibility of forced relocation. In which, this is becoming the case for the Asian American population in the CID, which consists of first and second-generation immigrants, who have fought for the representation of their culture in various community spaces.

Issues of displacement are an unfortunate, but real byproduct of the affordable housing crisis in Seattle. Despite the growing homeless population, historically actions taken by the city has leaned more towards the development interests of major corporations, and less on community needs. Whether it is recognized or not, affordable housing has become a promotional tactic perpetuated by the top one percent, who have utilized this issue to justify actions such as: racial segregation and urban revitalization. As the affordable housing crisis grew throughout the years, more mixed-income neighborhoods were subjected to removal. This not only bringing economic, but also psychological stresses, in terms of how the importance of their livelihood was measured to those in the majority class.

Now examining the modern-day effects of this issue, there presents new challenges that surround the current residents of the CID. In an effort to address the affordable housing crisis in “urban villages”, such as the CID, the Seattle City Council partnered with the Housing Affordability and Livability committee (HALA), have joined forces to propose a solution. Known as the Mandatory Housing Affordability (MHA), this legislation intends to create and preserve 20,000 affordable housing units over the span of 10 years. While this plan suggests actions that will help address concerns around displacement, in actuality, it still calls for re-zoning of typically low-income communities.

The MHA legislation needs intense revision, as the projected changes outlined, do not encompass the needs of the residents it will be negatively impacting. With how the plan is currently framed, there are two options to maintain housing affordability: through the “performance option,” or the “payment option.” The “performance option” requires developers to allocate a percentage of affordable housing units for “income eligible households” that would have rent limits. On the other end, the “payment option” would call for developers to contribute money to a fund that the Seattle’s Office of Housing would oversee and decide when to spend the money. Where the potential risk comes from, is the possibility of corporate developers defaulting to the funding option, and either 1) placing money into a fund source controlled by the Seattle city council, or 2) not actually following through with providing monetary revenue. Because the City controls the fund that developers pay into, this also does not guarantee affordable units directly built in the CID. All of this will result in catastrophic consequences on the preservation of various cultures’ survival in the CID.

Nonetheless, there have been efforts made by concerned community members, who have chosen to speak up and speak out about the injustices that many Asian American residents in the CID are facing. At the forefront of advocating for their housing security, is the Chinatown/International District (CID) Coalition. Consisting of community organizers who are actively taking measures to put more pressure on the Seattle City Councilmembers, their actions have ranged from attending public hearings, to setting their own monthly meetings for the Seattle community to stay informed about recent news in the CID area. Although, the coalition has existed for one year, the work that they have accomplished has been pivotal in changing the language around how people view the CID. As noted by Michele Wong, an active member in the coalition and fellow Seattle University student, “[The CID] It’s not just a place for food and hanging out, but it’s a place where people live, survive, and thrive in. It’s one of the few places left that these communities have.”

—Delcine Hackley, third year RA