Residents of north Seattle want affordable housing, but are skeptical of the city’s plan to get that housing built by encouraging more development. That was the dominant message heard at Monday night’s public hearing in Northgate.
I attended the meeting expecting to find voices from Seattle's far northern district, District 5. After all, the meeting was held in Northgate's community center. But mostly, they didn't show up.
The vast majority of the nearly 100 speakers who signed up to give testimony came from north Seattle's southern belt: Wallingford, Ballard, Greenlake and Fremont.
Speakers from these neighborhoods spoke about the loss of a sense of community and places to park along the street. They spoke of Seattle's shrinking tree canopy.
Irene Wall came from Phinney Ridge. She told the Seattle City Council members up front, “I think the city of Seattle has an addiction problem. And it’s not an addiction to opioids. It’s an addiction to growth.”
Alice Lockhart lives in the Licton Springs neighborhood. Outside the meeting, she argued against the prevailing mood. "I honestly don't think us older white folks who got us into this mess have a leg to stand on. I think we should listen to the millennials on this. They're saying: More housing in the dense urban core."
Many speakers channeled their concerns over Seattle's pace of change at the city's affordable housing plan, which they said would accelerate the wrong kind of growth.
Lee Pate of Crown Hill acknowledged growth has brought improvements to her neighborhood, which used to be known for its many strip clubs. But she said the plan must be reworked so that it more closely aligns with the specific needs of her neighborhood.
Of the city's Mandatory Housing Affordability plan, she said "MHA is coming in with a club; we need a scalpel."
Some speakers came from other parts of the city to support the plan. Patience Malaba, an employee of the advocacy organization Futurewise, handed people stickers and signs so their support would not go unnoticed.
Only a handful of attendees came from Seattle’s far northern neighborhoods. Northgate resident Abdu Issa lives in Northgate. He came to watch, but did not testify at the meeting.
He told me he supports the city’s plan, but it should go further "to make the city more affordable for people like me.”
By "people like me," he said he means members of the disappearing middle class. Issa has a job as an electrical engineer, but faces regular rent increases he cannot afford.
Issa said we should be cranking out apartment high-rises all over the city. “That way," he said, "in a small area we can accommodate a lot of people.”
The City Council hopes to adopt the affordable housing plan later this year. But with a new mayor considering her own take on the city's contentious issues and with neighbors voicing their concerns over the city's current path, a spokesperson for the City Council was unable to guarantee that timeline.