Feeling Displaced In Southeast Seattle, District 2
If you want to track displacement from Seattle’s Central Area, just follow the restaurants. Jackson’s Catfish Corner in Rainier Beach started on East Cherry Street. That former restaurant, a neighborhood mainstay, was sold last year and is now boarded up.
The founder’s grandson Terrell Jackson decided to revive it down south. Jackson is currently serving takeout from a tent on South Henderson Street, but soon he’ll move to a nearby address, sort of a fixer-upper.
“I’m going in there with a positive mind,” Jackson said. “It’s my responsibility to now go out there, sweep every morning so people can see me with my Catfish Corner shirt on.
“People can see me and say, ‘Hey, Terrell and his family are doing a difference down there.’ I’m going to put trash cans on the corner so people can start using the trash cans and things like that.”
Jackson’s wife, Rachel Jackson, said they’ve simply followed their customers who have already moved south.
“Everyone is kind of migrating more south from the Central Area,” she said. “So now it seems that there’s a lot of people that want us here. So many customers have come to us and like, ‘I’m so happy that you guys are down here now, it’s easier to get to you, because we don’t go to the Central Area anymore.’”
Capitol Hill and the Central Area are not part of Seattle’s new District 2, but the housing prices in those trendy neighborhoods are clearly causing ripple effects in Southeast Seattle. Community organizers say they’re hoping for collaboration between the two council members who will be elected this year to represent these neighborhoods.
District 2 extends south from Mount Baker and and Sodo to include Rainier Beach and Seward Park. It’s the city’s only district where there are more people of color than whites – or “majority-minority.” Asians are the district’s largest ethnic group, followed by white residents and then African-Americans. One thing many residents agree on: Rising housing costs are causing anxiety.
In recent elections, the area that makes up District 2 had by far the lowest voter turnout in the city – just 45 percent.
In a classroom at South Seattle’s New Holly housing development, some adults at East African Community Services are trying hard to get the right to vote. They’re studying for their U.S. citizenship exam, which involves language comprehension as well as civics. Volunteer Carl Shutoff is trying to help these immigrants navigate the quirks of written and spoken English.
“I say caw-ffee. And my wife says, ‘coffee.’ OK, so, it kind of depends where you live,” Shutoff tells them.
Madjou Diallo from Guinea said his biggest challenge is passing this exam. Beyond that, setting down roots.
“The big one is a house,” Diallo said. “The house here is very expensive. Very expensive.”
Housing was mentioned repeatedly as the most urgent concern for voters in South Seattle. Responses to a KUOW elections questionnaire included:
"The rent is out of control."
"The average wage earner cannot afford to buy a home."
“It is sad to see communities and people of color being displaced and priced out of South Seattle.”
(Want to weigh in for your district? Take our survey.)
Composer Wayne Horvitz runs a live music club and restaurant in Columbia City called The Royal Room. It’s just one nightspot in a now-thriving neighborhood.
“There’s just tons of stuff going on here now,” said Horvitz, who has lived here since 1989. “I don’t need to really leave this neighborhood that much to hear music, to see films. And that wasn’t true before.”
But he knows that vibrancy can drive up rents and home prices, making life harder for his friends and neighbors.
“The most important thing is that housing stays affordable,” he said. “Everybody’s saying it; I want to see them to do more than say it. Having come from New York, it’s why we moved to this part of town.”
Some residents are seeking refuge in South Seattle from the even higher rents on Capitol Hill. Horvitz said he was shocked to learn that his son paid $500 a month for a tiny bedroom. “I mean, I lived in some pretty intensely weird places in New York, but still, I had a toilet!"
Pat Murakami, who owns two tech-support businesses in District 2, made this plea to the city:
“Stop building more subsidized housing in the areas where it’s concentrated,” she said. “And then do something to bring jobs to the area.”
Murakami points to businesses along Martin Luther King Jr. Way, which she said are struggling in the wake of light rail construction. She said that process cost the district some jobs.
Alavy Les is one of the survivors – his family’s Olympic Express restaurant is the only original tenant in the shopping center next to the Othello light rail station. The family is Muslim, from Vietnam, Cambodia and Malaysia. Les says they opened Seattle’s first halal Oriental restaurant.
“We saw a niche for that, and actually God blessed us a lot with the success of this restaurant for over 25 years,” Les said.
Now he and his brother run the business. And he likes the light rail line.
“For our business, actually, it’s good,” he said. “We see more foot traffic coming through our restaurant. I myself support the light rail, I like it, the transportation’s easy for people to get around.”
Les said he lives close by the restaurant and his neighborhood has changed “big time” since he was growing up. But he’s mostly content – he said South Seattle has an undeserved reputation for crime, which it is overcoming.
He’s raising his kids here and he’s concerned about the cost of housing, but he’s optimistic about the outlook for the area.