1. KIRO 7 had a report over the weekend about a protest at the Lockhaven, a Ballard apartment complex whose new landlord is hiking rents dramatically, forcing many tenants out of their longtime homes.
The tenants marched through Ballard to protest their new landlord, John Goodman of Goodman Real Estate (GRE), who bought the 22-building Lockhaven complex and plans to renovate its 138 units—presumably to attract tenants who can pay higher rents. One Lockhaven resident said Goodman raised her rent from $900 a month to $1,500.
I have mixed feelings about this. On one hand, obviously, a two-thirds rent increase is more than most low- and middle-income people can afford.
On the other hand, real estate is a business, not a charity, and landlords are in business to make money. Rents at the Lockhaven have been jaw-droppingly low ($900 for one bedroom, $1,100 for two) for an area where market rents average $1,800 to $2,000 a month. If those rents aren't sustainable for a new landlord, that new landlord is going to raise them. That isn't fair, but it isn't illegal, either—the Lockhaven is a private apartment complex, not a low-income housing project.
In the absence of rent control, which is currently illegal in Washington state, it's hard to see the Lockhaven protest as much more than a last-gasp effort to draw attention to gentrification in Ballard. That may be a noble goal (I'd argue that anyone's who's been to Ballard in the past five years is well aware of it), but a better goal might be changing city laws so that displaced tenants at least get more relocation assistance and more time to find a new place before their new landlords kick them to the curb. Oh, and to support more density, so those richy-rich new residents can move into fancy new condos instead of putting upward pressure on rents in existing buildings. The kiosks won't be affected by the upcoming Metro funding cuts; according to Metro general manager Kevin Desmond, who talked to reporters last week, the kiosks are funded entirely by federal money.
2. Hey, looks like our transit system is ahead of Washington, D.C. in at least one respect. No, our escalators don't work any better than theirs do. But we do have real-time arrival signs at many of our downtown bus stops, courtesy of OneBusAway and King County Metro.
Meanwhile, the Washington Post reports, D.C. is testing real-time arrival screens in a handful of government buildings, with the goal of eventually installing them inside and outside Metro stations and perhaps inside apartment buildings and businesses.
In Seattle, real-time transit information kiosks have been springing up all over downtown, starting with RapidRide stops. The kiosks won't be affected by the upcoming Metro funding cuts; according to Metro general manager Kevin Desmond, who talked to reporters about the cuts last week, the kiosks are funded entirely by federal money.
3. Speaking of bus cuts: The Washington Policy Center—a libertarian think tank that recently discovered the concept of "regressive taxes"—now says that Metro should just chill and really think before making cuts to bus service, because obviously they haven't done that in the more than a year that they've been warning voters that they'll have to cut service by 17 percent without a new funding source.
The WPC offers some suggestions for Metro to close its $75 million annual funding gap without any cuts to transit service. Here they are, with my responses in parentheses.
• Dip into the rainy day fund (hmm, I thought fiscal conservatives supported building up savings, not tax-and-spend?);
• "Open a dialogue with union executives" (as Desmond noted last week, the union is already in arbitration over its contract, meaning that a dialogue is ongoing, and isn't going very well);
• "Rigorously control operating expenses" (Metro has already cut costs and increased operating efficiencies to the tune of $148 million a year); and
Transit planning sure is harder than it looks.
4. Elevation D.C. has an essay about efforts in cities, including Seattle, to "activate" alleys with art, restaurants, retail spaces, events, street furniture, and more. The photo essay is especially worth a look, as is one of the blogs Elevation D.C. links to: Alleys of Seattle, a very cool photo blog (that's one of their images on the front page) that focuses on Seattle but also features alleys in cities around the world, from Melbourne to Tokyo. Check it out.