Talking Belltown, with Councilmember Lewis

Updated: Feb 5


this January, Rise Up Belltown sat down with Andrew Lewis: Belltown's newly-elected voice on the City Council
Congratulations, Belltown friends. You have successfully survived to the end of January.

Maybe that means that you can officially start drinking again, or eating carbs again, or consuming whichever vice you chose-to-drop-for-all-of-one-month-if-that. Or maybe it just means that you successfully avoided stray bullets on the way to the bus stop, and are now free to resume your daily grind of trying to not get booted by the rising rents.


I don’t have any medals to hand out, because – well, because who has the time to make medals? But since you’re obviously entitled to some kind of something for your January suffering, I will submit to you instead this tiny offering: a very small piece of something that almost-might-maybe­-but-probably-not-but-possibly resembles what some people call hope.

Some small bit of hope for this community we call Belltown.

I know.. it’s not what you wanted. But Santa isn’t a billionaire, so this is what we get. We get a little piece of hope that something might go better in Belltown than we previously thought it might. It may not be much, I realize, but at least it’s the truth!


This month, Rise Up sat down with Belltown’s newly-elected City Councilmember Andrew Lewis, and his District Director Parker Dawson, to talk about homelessness, affordable housing, the threat to our neighborhood’s historic commercial heart, and about gun violence in our community.

Yes, you read that correctly. At Rise Up we believe in bringing the public into the public meeting room, so we recorded everything for the very first episode of our actual, official, Belltown-focused Rise Up Podcast.


Not a podcast fan? No probs! Download the transcript, instead.


Short on time? No probs! We’ve given you the highlights below.


The good news? Councilmember Lewis is full of energy and passion, and seems ready to get creative to help stop displacement in Belltown. The bad news? The Opera isn’t over until the Valkyrie sings. If we want to keep our community intact, we will need to keep showing up. Period. They say that history is written by the victor, but the truth is that history is written by the ones who both showed up and brought a pen.

Rise Up Podcast

Season: 2020

Episode 1:Talking Belltown with Councilmember Lewis

(the abridged version)


Evan Clifthorne, Rise Up Belltown

Let’s start with one personal question: What is one of those things in your life that you are mildly (perhaps healthily) just a little bit jealous of? What is something that you think is cool?


Andrew Lewis , Seattle Councilmember for District 7

“…the nightlife scene in Belltown is somewhere that I've spent a lot of time in the last couple of weeks, just because I've been in the neighborhood, and it's a part of the city that reminds me of what the Ballard I grew up in was like. So I kind of wish I had more bars like Mr. Darcy's, or Lava Lounge, or Neon Boots, [or any of the great bars in Belltown]. There’s just a certain level of intimacy and character that those kinds of businesses have, and it’s great to have a neighborhood of those within my council district.”

Evan Clifthorne, Rise Up Belltown

Our first question is on homelessness. What are the options for the city to pursue a response to homelessness in Belltown that is rooted in services and support? Especially for both youth homelessness adult homelessness?


Andrew Lewis , Seattle Councilmember for District 7

“…If you look nationally, and even internationally to see what cities who have gotten ahead of chronic homelessness have done, it's “housing first”, paired with a “permanent supportive housing” strategy. I think one problem that we've really seen in Seattle is we really do not have a sufficient amount of permanent supportive housing to completely implement a housing first strategy.”
“…I think one problem that we've really seen in Seattle is we really do not have a sufficient amount of permanent supportive housing to completely implement a housing first strategy”

Evan Clifthorne, Rise Up Belltown

So we shouldn’t be sweeping encampments?


Andrew Lewis , Seattle Councilmember for District 7

“…if there is an encampment that is posing a public safety or public health risk, then that encampment should be removed. But I think the problem is, when we're not offering a place for someone to go, it's not going to provide a long term solution out of our homelessness issue.”
“…There's no example of a city anywhere in the world that has essentially criminal criminalized poverty, and then gotten out of the homelessness crisis that way. You know, it's not a moral way to do it, it's not an affordable way to do it. We need to focus on permanent supportive housing, which works.”

Evan Clifthorne, Rise Up Belltown

In Belltown we have 17 units of affordable housing in the Wayne Apartments that is currently at risk of demolition. How do we keep people in their homes in the first place? Do you see that as being part of the work of this select committee to think about prevention in addition to sort of new housing?


Andrew Lewis , Seattle Councilmember for District 7

“…Preserving old buildings that are built to last can be an effective strategy to prevent displacement and to preserve existing affordable housing stock from being torn down.”
“…I do want to flag that one possible issue is unreinforced masonry. The building I live in is unreinforced. That partly is why it's more affordable … as we preserve these historic buildings, there are going to be certain costs that have been deferred for a long time around unreinforced masonry or other kind of essential upgrades, and that is that is a consideration. But I think generally, preserving existing affordable housing is a very good strategy.”

Evan Clifthorne, Rise Up Belltown

You talked extensively in your campaign about Seattle's urgent need for affordable housing, as you've been discussing. You specifically talked about this idea of using cross-laminated timber (CLT), also called tall timber -- basically cheaper, more sustainable residential buildings -- because you can build out of a of a material that is cheaper, or perhaps more sustainable, is that right? How quickly can Seattle get “tall timber” buildings right now?


Andrew Lewis , Seattle Councilmember for District 7

“…My understanding is that some of the big benefit is, you can shave off something like six months of construction time, and so that can help speed the the project along, which can save money in terms of the construction … I am a supporter of increasing the city's building code to allow the higher cross-laminated timber buildings without the concrete base.”
“…We could throw in an additional density bonus for CLT buildings so that if you do provide a certain percentage of affordable units on top of what you already have to pay in mandatory housing affordability, maybe we'll give you another story of CLT. And that is something that I'm interested in looking into.”
“…Maybe we give a bigger benefit if you build your affordable housing on site, instead of paying in lieu? We need to look at those kinds of strategies, and I think it would make sense to try to compound the benefit by also linking it to the sustainability benefit, so we can try to fight global climate change while at the same time making more room for workforce housing.”

Evan Clifthorne, Rise Up Belltown

Our third question is about displacement. We’re all for welcoming newcomers to the neighborhood, but so far everything that gets built seems to only displace the working class, the artists, the musicians, and now even our small businesses and our community center. We’ve asked before for a temporary special zoning district that would push the pause button on displacement-based development, while we figure out how to save or replace those 17 units, for example.

In short, would you theoretically support establishing some sort of “community and affordability district” in Belltown?

Andrew Lewis , Seattle Councilmember for District 7

“…Yeah. I'm really happy to have a conversation about how we might do that because, as I mentioned earlier, that business district is really important to me …"
"...the Wayne Apartments provide very unique affordable housing that you can't find in any district of the city, let alone in District 7."
…The historic designation should stay in place unless the landowner can show that they can get no viable economic use out of the property.”

Evan Clifthorne, Rise Up Belltown

Right now, the developer’s argument seems to be that, for the Wayne Apartments by themselves, they can’t make enough money on the site to leave it standing. But instead of just tearing down the Wayne, they’re proposing to tear down the entire block!

Shouldn’t there be an analysis that looks at the entire development site, to see if the development could still make money, even while leaving the official city Landmarks alone? Shouldn't we at least ask the question:

"Could new construction be developed on part of the site and at the same time preserve the existing historic land?"

Andrew Lewis , Seattle Councilmember for District 7

“…As a lawyer, it just seems to me that there should be a higher standard to show that you can't get any viable economic use from that building. And that's just to say that maybe we do need to look at strengthening our ability to protect these historic buildings when they get acquired by landowners who then try to undermine that historic protection in order to build some tall glass tower or a Whole Foods in the bottom, or whatever they're going to put in – but something that's not going to add character to the Belltown neighborhood.”
“…So I'm happy to talk about any potential strategy to preserve business districts like the one we're talking about. But the one potential issue that I would flag is that here in Washington state for better or for worse, we have very strong property laws. We've got to be careful to design something that wouldn't constitute a takings or implicate the takings clause of the Fifth Amendment.”
“…it's business districts like Belltown that make a great city and we need to figure out how to protect and expand them rather than displace them.”

Evan Clifthorne, Rise Up Belltown

It is no secret that shootings have become too regular in Belltown … is there a way or a strategy to have somebody (whether it's a Belltown community liaison, or a community service officer assigned to Belltown through SPD, or whomever) that can zone in specifically on gun violence?


Andrew Lewis , Seattle Councilmember for District 7

“…First, all of us [in Seattle government] agree that at every level of the discussion of public safety, we simply don't have enough patrol officers. If you have an ample and sizable patrol force, you can engage in more proactive policing strategies that can that can reduce long term public safety problems.”
“…If a nightlife district has a reputation for having, for example, pairs of patrol officers that walk the street at night that, for example, check up on all the small business owners and small business owners can build rapport with them. It leads to a reduction in crime. There's a deterrence effect to that.”
“…one thing I did want to flag for your listeners is we're working with the Seattle Municipal Court to restart Community Court. We used to have this in the City of Seattle. It went away about four years ago. It's a great way to provide resources, services, and accountability to low level offenders who right now, on a lot of cases, are just kind of like plodding through the system.”
“…we need to make sure that we have service-based interventions for a lot of folks who are committing crimes of necessity and crimes of poverty, and who currently don't have access to those things.”

Thanks for reading! We hope you enjoyed these highlights, and hope it brought you a little closer to the conversation. Don’t hesitate to reach out with your questions or comments!

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