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Black life is draining out of Seattle, Census shows

South King County has long been a place where people with modest incomes could find a home.

Now more people are coming, driven by high rents in Seattle. And a University of Washington researcher has found that African-Americans are among the most affected by this wave of displacement.

Tim Thomas of the University of Washington discovered the trend while digging deep into Census data.

“There’s this massive shift of African-Americans in Seattle moving away from where opportunity or higher-income areas are,” Thomas said.

Rising rents have driven African-Americans from the neighborhoods they were forced into originally by housing policies that targeted them.

Now they are being forced to move on. It’s a migration of historic proportions: Thomas’s maps show a strong migration of poor people heading south in 2010, which grew stronger by 2015. The maps also show African-American life draining out of Seattle and dispersing south, to cities like Renton, Kent and Auburn.

“You see the migration of race as well as the migration of poverty,” he said. “This massive shift of African-Americans moving south — that's a big story.”

But as many of the displaced discover, rents at their destinations in south King County have also been rising, adding to the pressure and narrowing the escape route.

“You can see that housing affordability moving farther and farther south,” said Nathan Phillips, executive for south King County at the YMCA of Greater Seattle. “It’s also moving north from Tacoma. It kind of meets around the Auburn area. There’s just nowhere else for it to go.”

Because there are fewer places to be displaced to, people crowd into available apartments.

“We have multiple families living in places right now, because they cannot find separate places for themselves,” said Gwen Allen-Carston, a member of the Kent Black Action Commission.

They also look for alternatives.

“If your household income goes down by $50 a month, that might be enough to displace you to kind of one rung down on the housing ladder which is sometimes old converted motels, mobile home parks or for some families even homelessness,” said Phillips.

“There’s not a lot of room left at the bottom of the ladder.”

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