Exit133 is about Tacoma
Psst, Tacoma, they're talking about you...
An article on Next City today takes a look at Tacoma - the revitalization of its downtown, and questions around livability for all residents of the city - especially some of those with lower incomes. The title of the article asks a question:
Can Tacoma Build on a Successful Downtown Revitalization?
The Next City article focuses on the impact of the University of Washington Tacoma campus on Tacoma's downtown, and then looks beyond that downtown reviatalization to what the economic picture looks like for the city's residents as a whole. Although the article doesn't call out Tacoma's slow recovery from the recession directly, it does point to some of the symptoms of the slow road to recovery: an unemployment rate 1.2% worse than the statewide average, and 18% of Tacomans living below the poverty line - 5% worse than statewide numbers, and slightly worse than Tacoma's rate in 1989. The article goes on to quote Michael Mirra from Tacoma Housing Authority.
“Considering the relative cost of living, Tacoma is the housing bargain of the West Coast, ... And yet, it’s still unaffordable to many of its residents.”
A middle class, middle-of-the-road, average income in Tacoma will buy you more house than it will in Seattle - not exactly a well-kept secret around here. But for the poorest residents of Tacoma, housing is scarce, and affordable housing not subsidized by federal dollars is even more so.
Although the article's author (who lives in Philadelphia, by the way) stops just short of fully advocating for an increase in Tacoma's minimum wage, he does suggest it could be one solution. He also mentions a state-level Working Families Tax Rebate program that pays matching state funds out to those receiving a federal earned-income tax credit as another possible help... if the state adopts it. Another possibility he raises, if somewhat obliquely, by quoting Tacoma's Director of Economic Development, Ricardo Noguera, is the idea that attracting higher paying jobs to the city would improve average incomes, bringing more money into the local economy.
Maybe a local university, more established, more mature, with growing enrollment numbers, and new program offerings could be part of attracting those jobs.
UW Tacoma turns 25 this year. The campus has come a long way since its first graduating class of just four students back in the early 1990s. From a campus population of 176 students in its first year, UWT has grown, awarding nearly 16,000 degrees and certificates in the last quarter century. This fall the University will welcome a class of 4,500 when classes begin this fall.
With this growth, the University has changed the fabric and feel of downtown Tacoma. Every storefront along Pacific between South 21st and 17th is rented out. There's outdoor seating for restaurants, and busy stops for buses and the Link. UW Tacoma embraces its character as an "urban serving university," with a diverse population of students that includes everyone from Running Start teenagers getting an early start on their degrees, to returning and retired "non-traditional learners," some of whom haven't seen the inside of a classroom in decades. It makes for a diverse learning environment.
It has also meant a solid growth in foot traffic and development radiating out from the campus. In the last few years, the University hasn't just rehabilitated and filled its own campus buildings, it has also acted as a key partner in projects including the City's South Downtown Sub Area Plan. That plan lays out a vision for development in the southern half of the downtown core. It also does some of the early heavy-lifting like environmental impact statements that would have been left to individual developers in previous years.
UWT has lifted the tide in downtown Tacoma, and sent ripples beyond the city into Pierce County. Some of the newer and more innovative programs in particular could contribute to growing more solid, well-paying jobs, and keeping some of those graduates right here, in Tacoma. Of course that doesn't solve the problems of housing stock, and not everyone is destined for a four-year degree, but it's a start...
So, maybe the real question is what else can Tacoma do to build on its downtown revitalization?
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