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Seattle’s Assessment of Fair Housing

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Access to housing and services for older adults and those with different capacities are critical to the success of our communities. We have new tools to help move public and private policies in the right direction—encouraging safe, vibrant productive lives for everyone in Seattle. The City of Seattle, King County, and community and private sector partners continue to fight the impact of discrimination against people in protected classes (i.e., race, color, religion, national origin, sex, familial status, and disability) under the federal Fair Housing Act of 1968.

The City of Seattle and Seattle Housing Authority (SHA) worked together for almost two years to determine which private sector actions and federal, state, and local government policies and practices impact people’s housing and community assets and service needs. This resulted in the 2017 City of Seattle and Seattle Housing Authority Assessment of Fair Housing.

While the report focuses on information describing the City of Seattle, comparison data and analysis is available for the regional Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA), including all of King County. In plain English, the Assessment of Fair Housing answers questions like those listed below, using U.S. Census and American Community Survey data as well as community input:

  1. How segregated and/or integrated is Seattle and the region in terms of racial and ethnic groups? And how does that impact access to housing?
  2. What communities have greater exposure to environmental hazards or pollution?
  3. Which communities have greater or lesser access to transit?
  4. Is access to economic opportunity, community amenities, and proficient schools shared equitably among all our City neighborhoods? If not, where are the concentrations of poverty or inequity? Does that pattern affect certain groups of people more than others?
  5. What role do private, subsidized and publicly supported housing development, zoning laws, growth management and land use planning play in all these issues?

What does the Assessment tell us?

Many participants noted that the assessment’s data and analysis validates the experiences people encounter daily as we live, work, play and interact in Seattle. Consider these points as an invitation to delve deeper into the section of the report they represent (see Section V: Fair Housing Analysis).

  • Segregation/integration—Seattle still reflects historic patterns of racial and ethnic segregation with predominately white households living in north Seattle and concentrations of people of color in south Seattle. Since the 1990 census, as more people move to Seattle, it is also true that Seattle is becoming more racially diverse. If you compare neighborhood by neighborhood, Seattle’s racial integration is increasing, predominantly in areas where multi-family housing is available.
  • Disparities in access to opportunity—There is a consistent pattern of lack of access to opportunity for people in protected classes, regardless of where they live in the city. Some impacts, such as access to environmentally healthy neighborhoods, are clearly tied to specific locations in Seattle, such as the Duwamish and SODO. Generally, neighborhoods in the north end of the city have fewer barriers to education, employment, and transit opportunities and less exposure to poverty.
  • Disproportionate housing needs—Affordability is critical to the desire for Seattle to be an economically diverse, age-positive, family-friendly, and welcoming city to all people, regardless of their background. Where housing affordability disparately impacts people in protected classes, it rises to the level of protection under the Fair Housing Act. For example:
    • African Americans in Seattle have the highest rate of severe housing cost burdens than any other race or ethnicity. Thirty percent of Black households, spend at least half their income on housing. Coupled with the fact that African Americans also have the highest rates of unemployment, the multiplier effect on housing stability increases.
    • Homeownership among different race and ethnicities also differ. Whites slightly more likely to own than rent, while only 22 percent of Black and 27 percent of Hispanic households own their homes.
    • Families in Seattle experience special housing challenges, due in part to the overall shortage of low-cost larger units.
    • Public housing resident profiles also demonstrates higher rates of African-Americans, older adults, and elderly and adults with disabilities than in Seattle overall, particularly in the Public Housing, Project-Based Section 8, Housing Choice Vouchers, and the Rental Housing Programs.
    • Seattle’s Building Code, adopted in 1976, required 5 percent of all new developments with more than 10 units to be accessible to individuals with disabilities. Since 1984, when tracking began, an estimated 6,070 accessible units have been built city-wide. The accessible units do not have to be rented or sold to someone with disabilities. ACS data documents from 2009–2013 show 27,027 Seattle residents with ambulatory disabilities (non-institutionalized) who are competing for accessible units.
  • Disability and access analysis—Throughout the development of the assessment report, it became clear that access and discrimination against people with disabilities (intended or unintended) receives much less attention in the public and private sector than many other protected classes. In part, this is due to a perception that there are relatively few people with disabilities that create demand on public and private systems. Often, we think only of those who rely on wheelchairs as those who may need access to housing and services. In reality, the number of non-institutionalized Seattle residents with a disability (55,239, including cognitive, vision/hearing impairment, limitations in independent living) is greater than the number of people who reported as African American/non-Hispanic (45,193), the Hispanic population (40,110), or those who have limited English proficiency (53,868).

What are the City and SHA doing to address the issues? The City and SHA committed to an extensive work plan as part of the 2017 Assessment of Fair Housing (see Section V Fair Housing Goals & Priorities in the report’s Table of Contents). Examples of activities that focus on older adults and people with disabilities include:

  • Incorporate the goals and strategies developed by Age Friendly Seattle and the Area Agency on Aging.
  • Work with the Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections to include all units permitted for accessibility modifications in the City permits database to better identify gaps in our housing stock.
  • Leverage the work on the City’s ADA Coordinator to ensure ADA compliance and disability access in all City-owned public access buildings.
  • Prioritize creation, preservation, and rehabilitation of a wide range of subsidized housing option for older adults.
  • Adopt Universal Design principles that minimize barriers for those with mobility limitations and other disabilities.
  • Increase the number of older adults and adults with disabilities who access public benefits like the Utility Discounts Program and property tax discount savings programs.

If you would like to know more about Seattle’s Assessment of Fair Housing, e-mail Debra.Rhinehart@seattle.gov.


Contributor Debra Rhinehart does strategic planning for the Human Services Department’s Homelessness Strategy & Investment division focusing on fair housing, community and economic development and services for vulnerable populations.

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