In this interview, former Seattle mayor Charles Royer (b. 1939) discusses the housing crisis that faced older residents of Seattle in the early 1980s, and how the City of Seattle and the Seattle Housing Authority created a locally funded senior housing program in response. The interview was conducted in 2014 by Dominic Black.
CR: One thing that was happening when I first got into office is that older people were beginning to be shut out of their, or kicked out, of their rental housing, their apartments, because apartments were being converted to condominiums at a pretty alarming rate. So older people who were on fixed incomes were being displaced. People, I argued, who had built the city could not live here anymore, because we were in sort of a boom period in the early 1980s. And so older people kicked out of their apartments, having to move, would have relocate out to the suburbs, generally the older "inner ring" suburbs like Kent and Federal Way and Renton and places like that. Where there weren't always the services that they needed like being walk to the grocery store or being able to get to a hospital, medical care.
DB: Are these the kinds of situations that older people would then be in touch with the city about it and say ...
CR: Yes. And with the city council. I mean people who were being evicted basically from their apartments, were beginning to write us letters and you know this was before the internet so we weren't getting emails. But people were beginning to write us letters and complain that they had no notice or they couldn't find an apartment. It was well above what they could pay, there was an affordability problem as well as well as an availability problem. So it looked to me like a full-blown crisis, and so I went to the newspapers and I went to the city council and we wrote legislation in 1980 that would create a senior housing bond issue.
Fifty million dollars, a thousand units, we would build them ourselves without all the federal regulation that added a lot of cost, actually, to building subsidized housing. We'd buy the land; we'd create a model for what these apartments would look like, how they would be designed. They wouldn't be any more high-rise buildings. They would be scattered around the city in smaller configurations so that people could walk to grocery stores and neighborhoods that were already developed, near hospitals, etc.
So actually it was kind of interesting for the city to be able to create a housing program that the federal government had always done and do it without the regulation and the hassle that the federal government regulation always implied. So we were really kind of left on our own, and so it was up to the housing authority, which had the abilities to build and own and manage housing, and the city, which was able to finance it. So we had a partnership with Seattle Housing Authority to do that.