Next City describes the changes occurring to the thirteen neighbourhood district councils in Seattle. These groups of activist homeowners have “held virtual veto power over nearly every decision on Seattle’s growth and development.” While in the past these homogeneous older and affluent resident councils have “shaped neighbourhoods in their own reflection” they also contributed to building a city that is livable, although expensive.
Last July the City of Seattle cut their ties with these groups signalling “their intent to seek more input and feedback from lower-income folks, people of colour and renters-who make up 54 per cent of the city”. Instead Seattle’s department of neighbourhoods developed a 16 member “Community Involvement Commission” which is “charged with helping city departments develop “authentic and thorough” ways to reach “all” city residents, including underrepresented communities such as low-income people, homeless residents and renters. Finally, DON will also oversee and staff a second new commission, the Seattle Renters’ Commission, which will advise all city departments on policies that affect renters and monitor the enforcement and effectiveness of the city’s renter protection laws.”
It is no surprise that in Seattle just as in Vancouver the homeowner dominated neighbourhood councils generally argued “against land use changes that would allow more density (in the form of townhouses and apartment buildings) in and near Seattle’s traditional single-family neighborhoods, which make up nearly two-thirds of the city. Including more renters and low-income people in the mix could dilute, or even upend, those groups’ agendas.”
The neighbourhoods department of the City of Seattle found “that while the population of Seattle was becoming younger, more diverse and more evenly split between homeowners and renters, “residents attending district council meetings tend to be 40 years of age or older, Caucasian and homeowners.” In the words of City Council member Sally Bagshaw “If you’ve ever gone to some of these community meetings, they’re just deadly dull, and the same 25 people have been there for 100 years.”