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Skyway Is at the Crossroads Between Gentrification and Rejuvenation. Which Path Will It Choose?

King County recently allocated an unprecedented amount of money to develop Skyway. The question is, will there be any BIPOC residents left when it's done?

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According to African wisdom, if you want to speak to the gods, you must go through Elegua. He likes candy, black and red, and the number three. The first of the Orishas, he rules all crossroads and keeps all gates. He chooses all paths.


If you, your family, or your people find yourselves in the presence of Elegua, the course of your lives has reached a critical turning point, and the direction you take can change forever. The communities of color in Skyway currently stand at Elegua's feet.


Skyway is at the Crossroads


Skyway is one of King County's most recent targets for development. Soon after communities in the area came together during the pandemic to organize pop-up events to distribute much-needed resources to struggling residents, the county allocated an unheard-of $20 million for developments like park upgrades and a community resource center.


Some see this influx of investment as an opportunity for the residents of Skyway to finally enjoy the same amenities that their more affluent neighbors in Seattle get to enjoy. For others, these developments are the first signs of gentrification.


Those hopeful that the new developments will make Skyway a better place to live for its current residents point to community-led initiatives and a robust participatory budget process. For those that fear gentrification, there are generations of examples of development being the first step to displacement. Which path Skyway will ultimately go down will depend on whether or not community members will fight as hard for protection as they do for investments.


The Path to Development Also Leads to Displacement

Over two-thirds of the 18,000 residents of Skyway are people of color. At twenty-seven percent, the area has a more significant percentage of Black people than any other city in the state. And wealthy white people are eyeing their land. The median cost of a home increased by over $40,000 since July 2021. The cost of rent for a one-bedroom has risen by 27% in the last year alone.


While the community gives their input on what they would like to see done with the county's money, they need to forcefully push for policies protecting them from displacement and reject policies that put them in harm's way.


Gentrification may seem inevitable but displacement is preventable.

1. Acknowledge that Affordable Housing is a Trap

The development of "affordable housing" is often presented as the solution to the rising cost of housing. Unfortunately, Skyway can't build its way out of gentrification. For example, over 1400 of the 17,600 residents of Skyway live below the poverty line. The 60-70 "affordable" units proposed in the development plan for Skyway will not help them. Other solutions can work, though.


2. Stop Rents From Increasing

As communities begin to develop, the cost of housing begins to increase. As the cost of housing increases, lower-income residents, especially residents of color, are forced to move to areas more closely aligned with their incomes. Several measures can be taken to ensure that the current residents of Skyway aren't priced out or otherwise forced out of their homes. Rent control policies can be passed to protect renters from facing rising housing costs. At the same time, property tax forgiveness and subsidies can be used to keep homeowners from having to sell their properties.


3. Protect Residents From Landlords

Landlords have been developing ways to displace residents to profit off gentrification efforts for decades. In addition to increasing rent, they often turn to neglect and failure to renew expired leases by aggressively enforcing violations of rental agreements and mandating tenant-centered leases that give residents more extended leasing options and even the power to choose if and when they leave; renters can be protected from landlords' efforts to replace them with wealthier and whiter residents.


4. Make Displacement Costly

In neighboring Seattle, displacement recently became more costly. This past July, the Economic Displacement Relocation Assistance ordinance was passed. This act offers three months of rent and relocation costs to low-income residents displaced by rent increases of 10% or more and meets certain income and residency requirements. While the goal should always be to keep the residents of Skyway in their communities, there will be instances where the forces of gentrification out-maneuver them. In these instances, residents should not be forced to pay the cost of their displacement.


5. Ensure Black and BIPOC Businesses Receive Contracts

The funding from the county is slowly filtering its way to Skyway. If the plans are to build for BIPOC communities, then that funding should go to BIPOC businesses and laborers. Architects, developers, designers, administrators, and workers of color from the community need to be at the forefront of the development of Skyway. As the saying goes, if it's not by us, it's not for us.


If protections for low-income residents of color are implemented, King County's funding to Skyway for development can be a source of community rejuvenation and renewal. If these developments come without protections, they will be little more than stepping stones to gentrification. Skyway still has time to decide which path it wants to walk down. The time to make that decision, though, is fleeting. And Elegua is waiting.




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GS Potter is a researcher, analyst, and strategist with over 20 years of experience supporting grassroots and grasstops organizations, media outlets, and strategy firms. Her specialty is producing content and analysis for BIPOC communities and those supporting them.

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