Build It All

On the Jewish calendar, we are in a period known as the “three weeks.” It is a three week (!) period that stretches from the 17 of Tammuz (July 24) to the 9th of Av (August 14) that commemorates and memorializes the destruction of the ancient Temple of Jerusalem. The three weeks are a period of liturgical mourning culminating in the 9th of Av, which is a fast day.

While we are far removed from the Temple, and its system of animal sacrifice and hereditary leadership is not something we desire, the continue to mourn because of the symbolic nature of that location. It was a central location for the community at the time and served as a gathering place and point of spiritual connection. Its loss was devastating to the community at the time.

It is interesting that while we commemorate destruction, I look around our city of Olympia and see that there is much construction currently underway.

Several building projects are going up around town, mostly related to housing. A recently completed seven story housing project sits on Columbia Street downtown, while a low-income housing building is going up by the Transit Center. Townhomes are being built on 11th near state offices and more apartments are under way on Adams near the newly renovated Thurston County Bank building (which also includes new apartments). [All this in addition to new stores opening and other renovating and moving, and the new state office building going up across from the Capitol Building.]

As these projects were getting underway, there was and continues to be debate in local media, on Facebook and other places as to what this all means, especially with relation to housing. The question is, what type of housing we need, and what does it mean for our community.

On the one hand, the argument against market rate housing is that it ignores the real need for homeless services and just prices out those who can not afford it. Terms like “gentrification” are used. At the same time, those who want to build up downtown argue that what is needed are people who are willing to live, shop and work in our city center, and this is what market-rate housing brings.

I’m sensitive to all these arguments, and in response to all of this I feel the answer is: Yes. Build it all. We need it all.

Market-rate and affordable housing are not mutually exclusive. We should most definitely not ignore the real needs for social services and affordable housing at the expense of market-rate housing. At the same time, we should welcome all those who wish to live downtown. Having all would lead to a vibrant and diverse downtown and not exclude one population for the sake of another.

And, to be frank, nonprofits rely on charitable donations. We should welcome in those of greater means who are willing to invest in our community, not just by living and shopping downtown, but by supporting the myriad of services and nonprofits that rely on donations. State and city funds are not enough. Turning away potential funders and supporters will just hurt our social service network in the end.

So while we are building, we need to keep building: we have needs for more shelter beds, better access to services and the new day center—the Providence-helmed Community Care Center—that should be opening this fall. The warming center we helped host at Temple Beth Hatfiloh this past winter demonstrated some of the real needs and lack of services in this community. We need to continue to have the will and the desire to make all of this a reality.

The Temple in Jerusalem meant many things to the community at the time, so much so that its loss is a devastation that echoes through the centuries. We mourn its loss while at the same time hold out hope to recreate what it represented—a place for everyone, regardless of status or station.

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