How Seattle's economic boom is destroying the city

Jeff writes, "While reading Cory's recent post about leaving London reminded me more of the unaffordable real estate in Vancouver, British Columbia, it resembles some of the dramatic effects of Amazon and other technology companies driving incredible growth and development here in Seattle.

Jeff's article is very good, but to my view, it misses out the two most important facts about housing crises in cities with economic booms: first, that we have evolved from treating homes as places to live, rather, they are primarily viewed as assets. This is incredibly corrosive. Housing ranks just below food on the hierarchy of human needs. Stability in your shelter is the key to stability in every other area of your life. Precarious housing undermines family life, education, and work performance. The key to eliminating homelessness is giving people homes, because addiction, mental health crises and other problems of homelessness are made drastically worse by not having a home. Treating housing as an asset class means that governments want to make it more expensive — if a government presided over a doubling in the price of food, it would be viewed as monstrous. If it doubles the price of housing, it it lionized for "increasing property values."

The second fact is that the reinvention of homes as assets is a symptom of the widening wealth gap. Owning more than one home, becoming a landlord, and lobbying for less protection for tenants and more rights for property owners — all this springs from the existence of an ever-richer, ever-smaller class of landlords with ever-more political influence.

I'm presently reading All That Is Solid: The Great Housing Disaster, an outstanding book on the UK and global housing crisis by Oxford geographer Danny Dorling, and it is eloquent and infuriating on the subject. In many places with "housing crises," the actual number of bedrooms per person is higher than at any time in history — London is one of those places, incidentally — but those bedrooms are very badly distributed.

The truth is that Seattle's dramatic transformation is radically affecting the quality, affordability and style of life here for nearly everyone. We're amidst a huge boom, largely driven by Amazon but expanding as more Silicon Valley companies join the San Francisco-ization of our Emerald City.

According to The Seattle Times, "In 2014, King County smashed a 24-year-old record for the number of newcomers — and we're on pace to set a record again in 2015 — off to the fastest start of any year yet. "

Traffic's evolved into a huge mess — into, out of and across the city. Housing and rental costs are rapidly increasing, forcing many people away and making moving difficult. Homelessness is up 21 percent from last year. Amazon's hiring of white males is raising the city's 2010 ranking from the fifth whitest nationally; The Seattle Times just reported, "King County is the whitest of the nation's 20 most-populous counties. " As many of these men move into the new, pricier developments on Capitol Hill, they're driving out the gay community and contributing to an increase in hate crimes. It's also making straight dating more and more difficult and growing the prostitution industry.

How Our Success is Ruining Seattle [Jeff Reifman]