Local organizations find solutions
By Ruth Bayang
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
Incomes for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs) have failed to keep up with the rising cost of rents and home prices, according to a report, “Our Neighborhoods: Asian American and Pacific Islander Anti-Displacement Strategies,” released May 11.
The report surveyed 15 AAPI and Native Hawaiian neighborhoods across eight states, including Washington, and the District of Columbia. Compiled by the National Coalition for Asian Pacific American Community Development (CAPACD) and the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement, the report found that in Seattle, from 2000-2014, the median gross rent has increased 34 percent and the median home value has risen 79 percent.
Seattle was one of this report’s selected Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs), which are home to the largest populations of AAPI families. Most of these cities are “hot markets” where demand exceeds supply and home prices rise almost three times as fast as incomes, according to census data, leading to displacement and overcrowding of thousands of families across the country.
Rising rents, along with a surge of market-rate development replacing older affordable buildings, and an influx of refugees with limited access to quality housing, have made it difficult for the most vulnerable and low-income populations to find housing.
In the Chinatown-International District (C-ID), 25 percent of its residents are seniors, 34 percent live in poverty, and many speak limited or no English. It is adjacent to downtown Seattle, where land values average $4 million per parcel and $250 per square foot, making it costly to acquire land to develop housing.
This report also highlighted the innovative strategies used by local community-based organizations across the country to deal with displacement and rising housing costs in AAPI communities.
Seattle declared a State of Emergency for the homelessness crisis in November 2015, failing to meet its 10-year goal to end chronic homelessness because of its rapid growth.
With five buildings, InterIm CDA provides permanent affordable housing to over 700 low-income residents in the C-ID. It also provides resources for financial assistance for rent, utilities, move-in costs, furniture and household furnishings, and an array of other services.
“Our Homelessness Prevention Program is helping [the AAPI] population not fall between the cracks, not find themselves living in the streets, either on their own or with their families,” said Pradeepta Upadhyay, executive director of InterIm. “As this report highlights, we see Chinatowns and communities of color across the country shrinking down to a couple blocks, a couple restaurants, and no affordable housing.”
Counselors at InterIm also work with refugee communities in substandard housing or without homes to access quality housing, while facing reductions in federal assistance.
In 1970, the City of Seattle created eight Historic Preservation Districts, and the C-ID is one of the districts where historical physical structures are preserved and regulated through a citizens’ board. The Seattle Chinatown International District Preservation and Development Authority (SCIDpda) was created to implement tools for historic preservation and future development. Original neighborhood commercial zoning had set height limits in the C-ID at 85 feet, which SCIDpda advocated to maintain in 2008. This has kept skyscrapers right at the downtown boundary line.
The SCIDpda, along with InterIm, worked with the CAPACD in the last year to collect data and stories, and proposed recommendations for national anti-displacement policies to help protect and preserve AAPI communities.
“This report is a great platform for bringing together other low income and people of color communities … to ensure these vulnerable populations can remain in their communities,” said Ching Chan of the SCIDpda. “As Seattle is quickly becoming the next San Francisco … we are at a critical time to push for implementation of these strategies at both local and federal levels.”
In Seattle, a 7-year, $145 million property tax was levied to finance 12,500 affordable apartments for low-income and formerly homeless families, rental assistance to 6,500 households, and homeownership assistance to 800 first-time home buyers. The City is currently seeking to renew the levy at an increased level of $290 million.
Also, owners have property taxes exempted for 12 years if they include 20 percent low-income units in their developments. To date, this program has created approximately 5,000 affordable homes.
“We offer these strategies as a beacon of hope when the power of profit-driven development appears insurmountable,” Lisa Hasegawa, executive director of National CAPACD, said in a statement.
“Our intent is to link together these local efforts to generate a national conversation and to leverage our collective wisdom to shape policies across the country.”
Ruth Bayang can be reached at email@example.com.