By Assunta Ng
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
Lately, the worst and best has struck Beacon Hill.
What is interesting is the increasing crimes on Beacon Hill (with a population of close to 10,000) doesn’t deter buyers from buying real estate there. Some owners have received great offers, even though their homes are old and should be torn down. Beacon Hill’s housing prices are generally lower, even homes with views, compared to the other parts of the city. Suddenly, those who didn’t have any intention of selling their properties are now re-thinking that.
One reason for the hot real estate market is the presence of the light rail. The Beacon Hill station is a part of Sound Transit’s Central Link line, which runs from SeaTac Airport through the Rainier Valley and downtown Seattle to the University of Washington. With Seattle traffic ranked among the worst in the United States, the station is a vital asset.
Since the rail’s opening in 2009, Beacon Hill’s property values have risen. With many high-tech companies relocating to Seattle, such as Amazon, the growth spurs housing demand for employees, which requires more transportation options and a central location.
It took me only four minutes to drive from our Chinatown office on South Jackson Street to the top of Beacon Hill on 15th Avenue South. Suddenly, Beacon Hill is being viewed as one of the most desirable neighborhoods with views of downtown, Elliott Bay, First Hill, Rainier Valley, and depending on the cloud cover, the Olympic mountains and Mt. Rainier. Beacon Hill was also recognized for having the largest Olmsted-planned green space in Seattle, known as Jefferson Park and the nearby Food Forest project.
Bettie Luke, a long-time resident, said the open reservoir next to Jefferson Park has walking trails, a children’s play area, a zip line, picnic benches, and a skate park.
The expansion of El Centro de la Raza next to the light rail station, with a plaza, affordable housing, and cultural center, is a blessing, said Luke. The Beacon Hill Library is another plus.
Asians being the largest ethnic group
What draws residents to Beacon Hill is its diversity. It has “raised” a generation of diverse and trailblazing Asian American leaders, including former governor Gary Locke, current San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee, Ron Chew, Bettie Luke, Dale Hom, Al Sugiyama, Rep. Sharon Tomiko Santos, Herb Tsuchiya, and Faye Hong, just to mention a few.
Beacon Hill has the highest number of Asian American residents, 57 percent compared to only 30 percent in the Rainier Valley, according to the 2010 Census data.
The longstanding presence of Asian Americans (on Beacon Hill) is a product of discrimination in Seattle history, said Dale Hom, a long-time resident and author of “Walk Don’t Run: Growing Up Asian in Seattle.”
Beacon Hill was the first available space for Chinese and other Asian families to move out of Chinatown, according to Doug and Art Chin’s book “Uphill: The Settlement & Diffusion of the Chinese in Seattle.”
According to the Seattle Department of Neighborhood’s Seattle Historical Site Search, Beacon Hill “did not have restrictive covenants found in more exclusive neighborhoods like Mount Baker, which precluded Asians and other minorities from purchasing homes in the area.”
First came the Chinese, who were originally recruited to work on railroad construction and in logging camps and canneries starting in the 1860s. They were followed by other Asian families who were interested in living in residential neighborhoods. Beacon Hill was considered a step above the immigrant-concentrated, low-income Chinatown and Yesler Terrace housing project.
Beacon Hill challenges
“I’m concerned about the character of the community changing, said Hom. “Single-family dwellings are disappearing, more multi-family housing units are under construction, real estate prices and increased taxes may displace longtime residents.”
Realtor Ginny Kwok said that even rundown Beacon Hill houses can fetch as much as, or exceed, $400,000 because of the land’s value. Tearing down a house on a 4,000-square-foot lot, and then building four nice townhouses, with each selling at over half a million dollars, Kwok said — that’s over $1 million profit. Many new townhouses are all over 15th Avenue South and nearby streets.
One solution to preserve the neighborhood is “stop selling your homes,” said Norma, an Asian American who has lived on Beacon Hill for 70 years, and requested that her last name not be revealed.
It’s not just residential, retail has been affected, too. Retail rents have soared for small businesses, such as Inay’s Kitchen near the light rail station.
What would happen if some developers bought out the property where the Red Apple grocery store is located, to build apartment buildings, as some fear? Where will people go to shop for food? Despite the availability of Asian grocery stores on Beacon Hill, the mainstream grocery stores are just as vital in the community.
Luke said the increase in crime, including shootings and intimidation of walkers and at bus stops, and house break-ins are a cause for concern.
According to areavibes.com, Beacon Hill has a higher property crime rate than Seattle in general. Beacon Hill ranks No. 1 in burglaries, according to the Seattle Times. The neighborhood has had 25 times the number of forced-entry residential burglaries compared to downtown.
The average resident household income combined on Beacon Hill is still low compared to other city neighborhoods, according to the Beacon Hill Council survey last July (see sidebar), funded by the City.
To be safe and not attract attention, Norma said she doesn’t carry any purse or bags with her. She also keeps all her money in her pocket.
Beacon Hill is at a crossroads. Is the city aware of it?
“The city needs to preserve the uniqueness of communities, while gentrification happens in an evolving Seattle,” said Hom.
The question is how. Is Mayor Ed Murray’s proposal of urban villages part of the answer? Will the villages reduce crime? Will they preserve the heritage and history of Beacon Hill?
Perhaps, Beacon Hill requires more than just urban villages.
Assunta can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Purpose of the Beacon Hill survey (in July 2016)
In late fall of 2015, the Mayor’s Office of Planning and Community Development presented the proposed expansion of the urban village to the Beacon Hill Council (BHC).
The City wanted to know if there was support from the community for the expansion of the urban village. The BHC applied for a Department of Neighborhoods grant to fund mailing a survey (in Chinese, Somali, Spanish, Tagalog, and Vietnamese) to all Beacon Hill households.
The BHC conducted the survey with 1,117 residents. 70 percent of the respondents said that they were “not familiar with the proposal to expand the Beacon Hill Urban Village.” 51 percent said they would support it.
What action will the City take from the survey?
The BHC is taking input from the affected communities, and will have an environmental impact statement process, so affected folks can give input.
The BHC is working on a more specific input on what it wants for Beacon Hill in the mayor’s proposed 2035 Seattle Comprehensive Plan.
Beacon Hill Council Board of Directors
Maria Batayola, Chair
Mira Latoszek, Vice Chair
Lee Nathan, Secretary
Amy Kaminishi, Treasurer
Linda Jensen, Director
Dove John, Director
Roseanne Lorenzana, Director
Miguel Maestas, Director
Kathryn Rathke, Director
Erik Stanford, Director
Susan Lee Woo, Director