Working with developers and Seattle’s culture constituency, the city has released a report with 30 ideas — some already in play — to shelter artists and communities of color from rapid development and skyrocketing rents.
Artists across Seattle know how this story goes: They live in (or move into) cheap neighborhoods, and help incubate dynamic communities that are attractive to developers. Then developers show up and plop down residence/retail “multiuse” projects. Eventually, rents rise so much that the artists and others who made the neighborhood interesting in the first place have to flee. Rinse and repeat.
The city’s Office of Arts & Culture has spent four years wrestling with proposals to fix that cycle and has just released its 92-page “CAP Report: 30 Ideas for the Creation, Activation and Preservation of Cultural Space.” (You can read the whole thing at seattle.gov/arts. For context, the 2017 “Out of Reach” report by the National Low-Income Housing Coalition shows that in Washington, minimum-wage laborers need to work 86 hours a week to afford a two-bedroom rental home — and that’s the whole state, not just Seattle’s extra-sharp rent spikes.)
The CAP team, made up of developers, city employees and arts workers, proposes some changes that are already underway (zoning tweaks giving developers financial incentives to make room for affordable arts spaces) and some that would require new legislative work (requiring developers who displace one cultural organization to replace it with another).
“Some of these ideas would require collaborative lifts” across governmental departments, said Matthew Richter, the city’s cultural space liaison.
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Richter compared the CAP proposals to LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design). LEED, he said, began an incentive system that “helped developers who don’t even particularly care about the environment. But that has shifted the way the development community thinks about sustainability.” The goal of CAP, he said, “is to shift the way the development community thinks about cultural space as well.” Other ideas in the report include LEED-style certification for buildings and cultural stakeholders and more nimble permits for pop-up cultural events and centers.
“At this writing, there are 62 construction cranes working within the city limits,” Richter wrote for the CAP report’s introduction. “Rents are rising faster than anywhere in the country. Vulnerable communities, the ‘canaries in the coalmines’ of displacement, are disappearing from the cultural landscape. Some of the first to disappear are communities of color and arts and cultural organizations.”
In an interview, Richter put it more bluntly: “Those are the constituencies who created value in this town, and now are being displaced by the value they created.”