Major cities all around our nation are reeling from a displacement crisis. Entire communities — primarily people of color — have been financially exiled from their homes and neighborhoods. In King County’s District 2, the district I represent, areas like the Central District and South Seattle have been ground zero for gentrification. The collective social and economic toll is incalculable, and the personal stories of people losing their homes, small businesses and way of life are tragic.
We can do better. We can recognize that the inevitable growth of a neighborhood doesn’t have to mean the cruel exodus of the people who already live there. We can build housing, invest in public transit and stimulate economies in underserved areas while ensuring people can afford to stay in their homes. To me, our greatest opportunity to achieve these goals exists in Skyway.
For the uninitiated, Skyway is a diverse community just south of Seattle, north of Renton and east of Tukwila that is part of District 2. It sits atop a hill at the south end of Lake Washington and is home to more than 18,000 people. While the area median income in Seattle is $109,000, the median income in Skyway is $49,104. In light of the Central District’s displacement, Skyway is now home to the highest proportion of African Americans of any community in Washington state. And given its prime location and demographics, Skyway suddenly finds itself on the front lines of gentrification.
What Skyway represents is a powerful opportunity to get it right. Our elected leaders did not sufficiently protect residents of the Central District, Columbia City and many other neighborhoods in the region where hardworking people were unable to reap the rewards of economic growth. Skyway gives us the chance to correct the course of business as usual. Skyway can be a model for the rest of our state, and even the entire nation, for how to build housing, increase density and stimulate local businesses in an area, while enriching and uplifting the families who live there, rather than pushing them out.
Today, despite its prime location next to the major commercial and industrial centers of Seattle and Renton, Skyway still lacks sufficient access to basic amenities and resources. It lacks a community center, accessible healthy food and grocery options, and sufficiently developed streets and sidewalks. Seventy-five percent of its buildings are more than 40 years old. The area doesn’t have access to rapid transit, thus restricting the flow of funding for critically needed affordable housing. The childhood poverty rate in Skyway is three times as high as the countywide median. Exacerbating all these issues is the fact that Skyway does not have a city council or a mayor looking out for it. Consequently, it relies on its regional government, King County, to perform most of the functions of a local government, which for many reasons is neither sustainable nor equitable.
The residents of Skyway have been advocating tirelessly for resources as well as protection for their community because they know what’s waiting around the corner. The economic tsunami that pushed out the seniors, people of color, working class and low-income residents of Seattle’s core is coming for them next.
We urge leaders all over Washington state to coalesce and get this right, because so far, we have failed. We urge our federal government to invest in Skyway’s infrastructure and transportation. We urge our state legislators to give King County the ability to raise progressive tax revenues, because currently we are restricted by the state Constitution to regressive sources such as property and sales taxes. Under King County’s current taxing authority, we risk pushing out Skyway residents through property tax hikes and the increased cost of living.
We also urge our state to protect vulnerable renters through legislation like Just Cause Eviction. We urge neighboring cities like Seattle and Renton to recognize that while Skyway isn’t within their city limits, many of the most marginalized populations are former city residents who have been pushed into Skyway. City programs, like free ORCA passes for grade-school students, should include Skyway youth.
We also urge neighboring cities to create a clear plan for annexation, as is encouraged by the Growth Management Act, so that Skyway residents do not continue to live in uncertainty.
We urge the private sector to invest in existing Skyway businesses and the community-based organizations that are already working on economic development and affordable housing. Skyway needs the resources and the infrastructure to handle a more populous future. Let’s engage in a thoughtful, coordinated approach to development before it’s too late.
Growth is inevitable but exile is not. In the wealthiest corner of the wealthiest nation in the world, we have the innovative spirit and financial means to invest in and develop neighborhoods without displacing the people who call them home. When we get this right, Skyway will be a blueprint for countless other cities facing this crisis not just in Washington, but across the nation.