Seattle is the country’s fastest growing city of the decade and that’s thanks in part to our booming tech industry. But rapid growth has its downsides. In our city, it’s meant a huge housing shortage and a homelessness crisis. While people point fingers at tech workers flocking here for jobs, some of those same techies are organizing to help make Seattle a more inclusive space.
One of those organizers is Ethan Phelps-Goodman, a former Facebook software engineer. In 2016, he founded Seattle Tech 4 Housing, an advocacy group that’s organizing tech workers “to step up and play a constructive role in shaping an equitable future for Seattle.”
We caught up with Ethan to learn more about his work and what he loves about the the Emerald City.
Tell us what you do in 10 words or less.
I organize tech workers to support progressive housing reform.
Lots of Seattleites blame tech workers for our housing crisis. What do you make of that?
The influx of wealth from the tech boom is one of the primary drivers of the housing crisis. So the blame placed on the tech industry is in one sense entirely justified. But in another sense the blame is misplaced: The fundamental problem is not that we’re a wealthy city, it’s that our public policies fail to make good use of that wealth.
I can imagine a future where the tech boom makes everyone in Seattle better off. But until we get there, I do think the tech community has a particular responsibility to push for reform.
What’s Seattle Tech 4 Housing done that you’re proud of?
We run a volunteer program that connects skilled volunteers from the tech industry with nonprofits working on housing and homelessness. We’ve seen a tremendous need on the nonprofit side and a tremendous desire to help on the tech side, and we hope that making these connections will lead not just to good projects, but to better understanding and empathy on the tech side and more engagement on policy issues.
We’ve [also] organized tech community turn out to every major housing related public hearing this year, making sure a pro-housing message is heard from tech on issues ranging from affordable housing at Fort Lawton, to the citywide Mandatory Housing Affordability program, to backyard cottages.
Now onto Seattle: Where are the two places you’d take an out-of-town guest?
Gas Works Park, for the way it epitomizes Seattle’s combination of natural beauty and vibrant urbanism, and the Smith Tower Observatory Bar, for its history, architecture and views.
What’s your favorite hidden gem in our city?
Freeway Park [in downtown]. Under-used and under-appreciated, but I’m still impressed every time I walk through it.
What’s the best advice you ever got from someone about living in Seattle?
Make an effort to explore all of Seattle’s many neighborhoods. There’s something special everywhere you go.
What are five Seattle people or orgs everyone should know about?
- Africatown Seattle – @AfricatownSEA
- Forterra – @ForterraNW
- Seattle King County Coalition on Homelessness – @Homeless2Housed
- Sol Villareal’s newsletter, “Sol’s Civic Minute” – @CivicMinute
- Erica C. Barnett – @ericacbarnett
Learn more about Seattle Tech 4 Housing here. Know someone else we should introduce folks to in The Evergrey? Hit reply and let us know.