By Robert Gorrill
Density is heralded as the key to Olympia’s future. With density, so the argument goes, Olympia’s housing crisis can be resolved and the projected influx of some 20,000 people over the coming decades can be accommodated.
Density, in theory, entails ecological and social benefits to cities. However, the rhetoric of ‘density,’ as it’s deployed in Olympia serves to justify gentrification, while failing to contend with real concerns surrounding housing and the environment. On the basis of density, city politicians and Olympia residents have supported major market-rate developments in downtown, such as the Views-on-Fifth project.
Projects like these won’t solve Olympia’s housing crisis or address Olympia’s expected growth. They will, however, further gentrify Olympia, contributing to the housing crisis by fueling displacement and increasing rents. The evidence of this pattern can be found in major cities across the U.S. Research shows that large proportions of luxury housing sit empty, challenging notions that these projects will increase density. Units are hoarded by the wealthy as vacation homes or as forms of investment to then be immediately resold as the price increases, while no one actually lives in them.
Olympia’s housing crisis and expected growth are significant problems, but the capitalist market can’t solve them. Gentrification under the guise of “density” is a charade benefiting developers, landlords and banks, but with devastating consequences for marginalized and working-class people. Strong housing justice and environmental movements are the only hope for dealing with Olympia’s housing/growth issues.”