If you attended Real Change’s panel on the proposed development of Fort Lawton in Magnolia Feb. 27, you were in for a treat. That is, if your tastes err on the side of an aggressively intense atmosphere (seriously, I could feel the electricity buzzing through the room). The room was packed with painfully out-of-touch, older, rich White people who are far too involved for anyone’s good and the rest of us teetering between tearing our hair out in frustration and vehemently driving home the point of the panel: We need more affordable housing. Like, now.
The panel featured Elizabeth Campbell, Magnolia resident; Flo Beaumon, associate director of Catholic Community Services; Susan Russell, Real Change vendor and housing advocate; Marco Vargas, Catholic Housing Services Ozanam House program manager; Gail Luxenberg, executive director of Habitat for Humanity; and Lindsay Masters from the Seattle Office of Housing. Heidi Groover from The Stranger served as moderator.
During the panelists’ introductions, it became clear that there were four people who had experience in housing services and would lend helpful information to the discussion of how Fort Lawton will be developed and one person (can you guess?) who has a very convoluted way of saying she hates poor people. Predetermined questions for the panelists gave the service providers a chance to explain their understanding of what the development would look like and how it would work based on existing models of affordable housing.
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Gail Luxenberg outlined the plan for building housing for seniors and veterans, low-income housing for people earning up to 60 percent of the area median income and workforce housing, which consists of townhomes that will be mortgaged to working-class families to promote home ownership. Sounds like a great plan to make a dent in the current homelessness and housing crisis we’ve been in.
But it’s clear that Campbell, as evidenced by her involvement with several Magnolia alliances and community groups, is committed to keeping poor people on the streets for the sake of ensuring that Seattle is in the running for a nationwide nature beauty pageant that no one else knew existed.
It’s clear that Campbell is committed to keeping poor people on the streets for the sake of ensuring that Seattle is in the running for a nationwide nature beauty pageant that no one else knew existed.
My point here is not to tear NIMBYs (Not In My Backyard) limb from limb (I mostly do that during my free time), but I wonder how one can sit in front of currently and formerly homeless people and tell them she cares more about Seattle residents having access to a couple of acres of land adjacent to a park than about families having a safe place to sleep at night. An unlikely hero during this event was Vargas. What a cool guy. He welcomed the opposition to ask questions and make comments, because their neighborhood will undoubtedly be changing with this development. He expertly dispelled myths about the links between chemical dependency and homelessness, as did Beaumon. He admitted that people in Ozanam House do use, or have used in the past, but it has not had any negative impact on their community. All three complaints he’s received from neighbors since 2009 have had to do with the patio furniture not matching the color scheme or the grass not being watered enough. Beaumon mentioned that a majority of the people who struggle with addiction are housed. Kudos to Vargas for responding to ignorance and misinformation with an eloquence and grace that I can only dream of having.
One of the most memorable parts of the evening for me was one of Vargas’ closing comments. He said he understood Magnolia residents’ desire for a beautiful, sprawling park but they would be stepping over the bodies of homeless people in that park if we do not take this opportunity to build deeply affordable housing.
Vargas said he understood Magnolia residents’ desire for a beautiful, sprawling park but they would be stepping over the bodies of homeless people in that park if we do not take this opportunity to build deeply affordable housing.
It all comes down to this: We need more long-term affordable housing to make Seattle livable and sustainable for everyone, not just those who really want a weirdly large acreage of public park. There’s room enough for both.
Bri Little is the organizing and advocacy associate at Real Change.
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