Wednesday, November 12, 2014

What is up with Rents in Seattle?

     I have lived in Seattle for almost 15 years and up until very recently, I rented.  I had my reasons.  It took me a long time to acclimate to Seattle's weather, I was working in jobs that had strong career possibilities outside the state and I pondered living closer to family.  I turned a corner a couple of years ago and realized that I loved my job and I loved my community and I wanted to stay here.  Shortly thereafter, I started looking in earnest for a place to own, and I recently found one. 
     One reason the decision to buy rather than rent was watching what was going on in the rental market.  When I moved to Seattle in 2000, I thought it was outrageous to rent a 3 bedroom house in West Seattle for $1100 a month.  I had grown up in Nevada and moved from there to staff housing on a Job Corps Center in Astoria Oregon, where my rent for a four bedroom mansion on the edge of the Columbia had been $650 a month.  We coughed up the $2200 to hold the place and, because me and my partner were both working, we found that the good wages in Seattle allowed us to rent a nice place and save money.  Over the years, that formula stayed true.  My income went up, and so did the rental prices, but it seemed to be at about the same pace. 
     In 2011, I moved into the apartment I am getting ready to move out of now.  The rent was reasonable.  The apartment was a little run down, but had nice amenities like a gas fireplace and washer/dryer, so it seemed worth it.  Shortly after I moved in, one of those behemoth property management companies took over, and everything changed.  Every year the rent went up, along with the fees that we paid for parking, storage, etc.  I would have been fine with that, but no money was coming back into the building.  The elevator was old and slow, carpets in the common areas and hallways were literally wearing out from the lack of care, and even items such as window latches were not being fixed when requested by tenants. From my perspective, the property management company was bleeding the property dry by getting as much as possible for rent while doing as little as possible to keep the building up.
    An article in the Seattle Times from August of 2013 titled "Soaring rents force lifestyle changes" cited how market forces are permanently altering the familiar face of many neighborhoods.  The article states: "Low housing inventory, a growing population of young tech company workers and changing attitudes about when to buy a home are still contributing to rent increases throughout the Seattle metro area." 
    What effect will this have on our fair city?  My concern is that rising rents will drive many musicians and artists out of the area.  Why would someone continue to live here if the cost of living is so much lower in Portland or Austin or Nashville?  Those who have to because of family or other obligations will stay, others will head to where they can make a living while still having time and energy to pursue their passion. 
     I was already feeling good about my condo purchase when it closed last week.  It felt even sweeter when I reached my apartment door and found a note about my rent going up another $155 a month on January 1, 2015.  When I added up the cost of rent, parking and storage in my building, the principal and interest on my condo (in Eastlake) is lower.  It's sort of a no-brainer for me, but not everyone has that option.  I hope Seattle pays attention and starts to address the rising rent issues before we start going the way of our sister city San Francisco.  It's not looking pretty over there.

Thursday, March 01, 2012

Another reason I'm having a hard time "quitting" Seattle

People that know me well know that I struggle with the Seattle winters. I don't mind the rain, its the absence of sun. But something about the weather here also produces some amazingly creative people. This is a story of how I met one of them.

In January, it snowed pretty hard here. I was off work because my building was literally not open. I knew I had the day off, so I picked up my acoustic guitar and walked carefully down the hill to 15th Avenue in Capital Hill where a bar called the Hopvine has a Wednesday night open mic. I arrived early to a nearly packed bar. Lots of 20 and 30 somethings were using the weather as an excuse to party on a school night. I knew I was literally twice as old as some of the bar patrons, but I care less about that the older I get. I had some soup and signed up to play.

Since I was early, I led the night off. I opened with Neil Young's "Out on the Weekend," then played a cover of a friends song and one of my own. The crowd was attentive and receptive, and I was pleased. The next up was a lovely young woman with a great voice. Third up was a young man that introduced himself as Jonathon and said that he had been writing some new material and wanted to try it out. He played a mahogany Guild guitar and I noticed right off that he was not only an exceptional singer but that even though he was playing to a room where half the people weren't even listening he approached the songs like he was singing in a stadium. He was intense and focused, and the songs were amazing. The next thought I had was that he was very young, extremely good looking and that he was probably going to be famous some day.

Jonathon played three songs. The person running the open mic asked him if he wanted to play a fourth and he considered it, then said, "no that is all I have worked on." He took a seat next to me in front of the stage and we talked for a while. I asked him how he liked the Guild he was playing, complemented him on his songs, and he said he liked the original I had played. I finished my "Arnold Palmer" (yes I drink the same thing that 10 years old's order) and walked back to my apartment.

Last night I went to the Fremont Abbey Arts Center to see Jonathon Blue (from Motopony) Gregory Paul and Jonathon Russell (from the Head and the Heart). Jonathon Blue was amazing. I don't quite understand how he makes three guitar strings sound so good, but the effect is that every syllable of his thought provoking, clever and oftentimes hilarious lyrics can be heard. Gregory Paul was also incredible, much more laid back but with songs that soar and harmonies from his female back-up singer that were flawless. Finally, Jonathon Russell took the stage, and that is when I realized that it was the same person who I had met at the Hopvine that snowy night two months ago. He held the 250+ people mesmorized for over an hour as he played one gorgeous melody after another. He ended the night by bringing his band up on stage to sing one with him. Finally, he put a record on a phonograph sitting next to his guitar stand and said, "thanks for coming, now I'm just going to hang out." I would have enjoyed the show anyway, but remembering how unpretentious and kind he had been the night I met him a couple of months ago made it all the more memorable.

Sunday, January 01, 2012

Money isn't everything

I was having dinner with my niece Selina from Las Vegas the other night before the Star Anna show we attended at the Tractor Tavern in Ballard. I shared with her that the same morning I had turned down an offer for a job that would have paid me more money than I've ever made in my life. The job was interesting and important. I would have been working with people I respect and they promised me a lot of autonomy. They were guaranteeing me a month of vacation each year, a relocation allowance and performance bonuses. So why did I turn it down? The true answer is probably too complex to write in a few sentences, but I can lay out the broad strokes here. First, I love what I do right now. I manage a mediation program that touches peoples lives in a powerful way. I have been in the position for 2.5 years, and I feel like I am just hitting my stride. Second, while I could always use MORE money, I make good money, enough to provide for my means, save for retirement, even travel and buy things that support my passions, like playing music. Third, and probably most important, I have a support community here that I have fostered for 11 years that would not be easily duplicated, especially in a small community like the one this job was going to be in. I realized going through this process, that my reliance on a support system that allows me to stay sane and serene and to serve people who are in true need forms the base on which all of the talents and abilities that I bring to the table is built on. If I take away the base, all bets are off on the rest. I felt a lot of grace as I made this decision. Doing things for the right reasons seems to solidify my faith in myself and in the people and things around me. Life is a gift, and I was given a little snapshot of how blessed I truly am.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Bad Theater in a time of crisis

I was listening to Alternative Radio the other night, and I heard Richard Wolff's talk entitled "Capitalism Hits the Fan." It disturbed me more than anything I've read in a long time, so I purchased the transcript, and I'd like to share a little of it on this blog. If you'd like to purchase a copy for yourself, here is the link:
Richard Wolff is a Professor of Economics Emeritus at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst.
I'm just going to point out some of the highlights, but listen to the entire talk, its worth the time investment, and the transcript cost me $4.00 from the Alternative Radio Site:
--U-6, an employment statistic that the Bureau of Labor Statistics keeps, which measures not only the unemployed, but those who are working part time but want full time work and those who have stopped looking, is at 17.5%s or one out of six in the U.S., between 20 and 30 million.
--Currently, the government says we are working at about 70% capacity, meaning 30% of the tools, equipment, machines, office space, mall space is sitting empty, idle.
--30 Years ago, the U.S. was one of the least unequal societies in terms of the distribution of income and wealth, now we are the most unequal.
--Between 1934 and 1941, FDR and the federal government created and filled 11 million jobs, paid by taxing corporations, which used to pay $1.50 for every dollar collected from individuals and the wealthy, who used to be taxed at rates as high as 90%.
--Last year, when Obama tried to end the Bush era tax cuts, the debate was about raising the tax rate on the wealthiest from 35% to 39%, and it was defeated.
--While there are plenty of places to throw blame, Wolff points the finger at Capitalism itself, which, by nature is highly unstable.
--The current federal budget, voted on by both democrats and republicans, shows the government spending $3 1/2 trillion and bringing in taxes on individuals and corporations of $2 trillion. The difference in what we plan to spend and take in is $1 1/2 trillion, which is $ 1,500 Billion, which is our deficit for ONE YEAR.
--The Republicans entered the budget debate saying they wanted to slash the deficit by $100 billion. The democrats said that is too much, we can only trim it by $30 billion.
--When you compare the true size of the deficit ($1,500 billion) with the debate about reducing it between $100 and 30 billion, you see that the debates were as Richard Wolff describes, nothing more than "bad political theater."
--The way to reduce our deficit is to tax the wealth. That is the answer.
--The way to change the system long term is to change the way corporations are organized, from merely protecting the needs of the shareholders to looking after all of the employees of the organization as well.
Employee owned organizations seem to be the most logical answer to this problem, but that's my own two cents worth, and I am not an economist. What I do know is that the system is broken, and until we as a society own up to that, we are living in denial, which means we will continue to be unable to face the disease called capitalism. I'm ready to pull my head out of the sand, what about you?

Monday, April 25, 2011

Life is NOT a TV show (or is it?)

I was on the bus this afternoon when I witnessed the following series of events. A disabled man with a walker boarded the bus and then sat down. A woman sitting next to the disabled man suggested that a woman sitting across the aisle move to make more room for him. As the man got up to move to the other side of the bus, the bus started rolling and the man fell. I and another passenger caught him on the way down and he landed fairly softly. As we were helping him get back in his seat, the woman who had suggested for him to move started yelling that the bus driver shouldn't have taken off when she did. A middle aged man came to the bus drivers defense and got into an exchange with the woman who was being critical of the bus driver. I'm not going to take sides about what happened next. I don't think either person communicated very well.

The woman who was critical of the bus driver said to the middle aged man at one point, "I don't know why you are telling me this and you'd better get out of my face." The man made an unkind counter remark and went a few rows back to sit down. The bus driver gave the man who had fallen down a piece of paper and asked him to write his name and phone number down so that someone from the transit company could follow up with him. It was at this point that the middle aged man who had intervened earlier decided to re-engage with the woman who was being critical, and things went from being tense to violent. After a hostile exchange, the man called the woman a sociopath and the woman called the man out for a fight. When he did not take her up on it, she spit in his face twice. The bus driver asked the woman to leave, and as she was leaving the bus she continued to hurl insults at the man, question his manhood and challenge him to a fight. She finally got off the bus as the driver called the Transit Police.

There is a TV show in its first season that is called "Fairly Legal." The star is a beautiful young mediator who, when she is not mediating high stakes legal issues intervenes when she sees people on the street who are about to get into a conflict. She solves an issue between a bicyclist and a driver and also (the most far fetched) between an armed man and a convenience store clerk. For the bicyclist and motorist, she chided both of them for focusing more on drinking their coffee than watching traffic and sent them on their way. For the clerk and the would be robber, she led them through a quick negotiation and reality tested what might happen to each of them if they fail to resolve the conflict. I have to say that I was not thinking of the fact that I was a mediator as I watched the two people I described earlier argue on the bus. I was watching the trajectory of the young woman's spit and trying to stay clear of it. I was also watching the way the man was trying to shame the woman into seeing the error of her ways and how this approach was failing. Could this issue be mediated? I don't think so. Mediation, at least the model that I have been trained under, doesn't fit into scenarios like this one when people aren't really playing by any rules. Mediators are all about rules. We suggest where people sit and make them agree to all sorts of things, such as one person talking at a time, not using "hot button" words etc., and usually have them agree to these rules and the confidentiality of the process before anyone says a word.

I don't think we should scrap the eight stage interest based mediation model. It works well, especially in work place mediation. I am becoming more aware of the model's limitations though. If mediators really want to make a difference in the world, and I think we do, we need to look at models that can help us intervene when people are out of control and not able to play by the rules. I'm not sure what these new models might look like, but it is an interesting question to ponder, don't you think?

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Tax the Super Rich or Face A Revolution?

I'm sharing a story I read on Market Watch. Mind you this is not a lefty website, nor is the author. He's an "insider" trying to get people's attention. I think he may be on to something. History will tell.

Monday, January 31, 2011

The Ten Commandments of Social Networking

1- Thou shalt not treat Facebook as your God. Facebook has received a tremendous amount of press, but it is still essentially a way for people to share pictures.

2- Thou shalt not believe everything you read online. Case in point, networks announced that Representative Gifford's was fatally wounded based upon an anonymous source on Wikipedia. The thing that is great about the internet, access for all, also makes it quite likely that you will occasionally read something that is totally nonsense, such as a Twitter feed from Sarah Palin. Likewise, don't assume you know someone if the only impression you have of them comes from what they post online. The person is letting you see the parts of them they want, sort of like an iceberg, much more is below the surface.

3- Thou shalt not take thy spouse or bosses name in vain online. The same norms of social etiquette that have applied to people for ages apply to your online posts. If you are mad at your boss or your ex-lover, tell it to a few close friends if you must, but don't post it online. It's sort of like Eddie Vedder getting drunk and getting on the mike at a Baseball stadium. Just because you can do something doesn't mean you should.

4- Remember the sabbath- Once a week, turn off your phone, computer, etc. and take a walk. See the sky, the trees? Smell the air? See that cute guy/girl on the bus who isn't listening to his/her Ipod or texting on his/her smart phone? Strike up a conversation. Sure it feels weird for a bit, but isn't it ten times more interesting than anything you've read online for the last, say 2 years? You know it is.

5- Honor thy father and mother. Remember when you friended your Mom on Facebook? Remember that post you just made on FB "got real drunk last night and masturbated to pictures of your mom?" Your mom and your Grandmother just read that.

6- Thou shall not murder your career. It's nice that you have a cool job where you can get drunk at work. It's fun to post pictures of you using a beer bong in front of your work computer. A small disturbed sub-group of your friends are thinking about following you on Twitter. Even if you delete it later, it lives on a server somewhere forever, and it can come back to haunt you. Do you think this is going to be your last job? Do you think potential employers might do a Google search on your name? What if drinking at work is not so OK with them? Go ahead, roll the dice.

7-Thou shalt no commit adultry (even if its all in your mind). If you are married or in a committed relationship, don't say anything in a chat or private message that you wouldn't post on a wall on FB. If the message you are getting ready to send to your daughters hot friend does not pass this test, stand up, back away from the computer and do 25 sit ups. It can never hurt.

8- Thou shalt not steal intellectual property. If someone has blogged it, played it, painted it, drew it, or twittered it, it's their property. You can probably get away with using that photo you like on your album cover if you photo shop the shit out of it, but don't use it unless you get permission. See the last sentence of commandment three for the reason.

9-Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor. This means don't lie. It's just a good rule to follow. Enough said?

10- Do not covet thy neighbors online Friends. I saw a presentation about Social Networking sites which stated you cannot keep meaningful contact up with more than 150 people, nobody can. If you think this is overstated, try this test. Take a look at your list of Friends on any social networking site. Now, ask yourself this question, how many of these people would pick me up at the airport if I asked them? Those are your friends.***

***Paraphrased from something I heard Chuck Prophet say at a show at the Tractor Tavern in 2010 (see Commandment #8)