Displacement of Residents in South Seattle Could Undermine Environmental Goals of Transit Oriented Development TOD

Transit Oriented Development (TOD) holds the promise of making our communities more livable and environmentally sustainable.  However, the displacement of residents related to gentrification and destabilizing factors within a community could significantly derail progress toward Seattle’s environmental goals.

The reduction of carbon emissions is critical to addressing climate change.  Yet the goal of getting more people out of their cars and using alternative sources of transportation like transit, walking and biking  could be seriously undermined if TOD serves primarily middle- and-upper –income households.

Rainier Valley residents at risk for displacement are more likely than potential in-coming residents to the neighborhood to be regular transit riders. Potential in-coming residents are much more likely to be auto-oriented.  In fact, the current residents of the Rainier Valley have low auto-ownership compared to the rest of the city and use transit often.

Seattle residents with lower incomes use transit more frequently to get to work (23 %) than their higher-earning neighbors (14%). They also use transit more frequently than low-earning residents throughout King County (13%) or high earning workers (10%). This stark difference demonstrates that TOD gets the best transit ridership from ensuring low-earning workers can stay in transit rich neighborhoods like Rainier Valley.

But displacement threatens to push current residents outside the city and into area suburbs.  Regardless of income, living outside of Seattle forces the majority of suburbanites into cars. For example, suburban areas south of Rainier Valley, where most people of color have located over the last decade, enjoy less frequent and lower density transit service. The numbers of jobs accessible by public transportation decreases the farther workers live from the urban core. In Rainier Valley 56% of all jobs in the region are accessible by public transit in less than 90 minutes. However, in Renton and Kent the access drops to 40% and 37%.

Additionally, new immigrants and people of color are the region’s fastest growing populations. Unless TOD includes these groups, new immigrants and people of color are likely to follow regional patterns and locate in the suburbs. Once there, the Puget Sound region will miss an opportunity to curb sprawl and focus new population growth in dense transit-rich neighborhoods.

For more information on gentrification, displacement and public policy solutions in South Seattle, read the full report: Transit Oriented Development that’s Healthy, Green & Just.

Five Ways Policy-Makers Can Promote Racial Equity in South Seattle

Puget Sound Sage advances the following principles to inform planning and public policy designed to encourage Transit Oriented Development (TOD) in Rainier Valley. This list should not be viewed as comprehensive, but a starting point to deepen public and private sector commitment to incorporating racial justice into TOD initiatives.

1. Existing Rainier Valley residents should benefit from TOD investment and be able to thrive in place.
2. Creating quality jobs for Rainier Valley residents should be elevated as an equity strategy equivalent to creating low-income housing.
3. Affordable housing should be incorporated into TOD that meets the needs of low-income families and communities of color and scales to create adequate opportunity.
4. Community-serving institutions and businesses are needed to stabilize existing low-income communities of color as gentrification occurs.
5. Racial equity outcomes, not racial diversity goals, should drive TOD planning.

For more information about gentrification, displacement and public policy solutions in South Seattle, read the full report: Transit Oriented Development that’s Healthy, Green & Just.