Many people showed up for over two and a half hours of comments in front of the City Council Wednesday, voicing concerns and support for the Seattle Housing Authority’s dramatic plans for a redeveloped Yesler Terrace. The City Council is expected to vote on the proposal soon.
The plan would replace existing low-income housing with new tower units. The plan is funded in large part from land sales to developers who would likely build high rise office and condo towers. I’m not going to summarize all the comments, but I highly suggest watching the testimony (video posted below).
One big moment of the hearing was Yusuf Cabdi’s resignation from the SHA Board of Commissioners. After several years on the board, he said the SHA is not adhering to its mission. From his letter of resignation (posted at Slog):
I no longer feel that SHA is living up to its mission of providing housing to most needy families in our city. Yesler Terrace is a clear example of how the agency is moving away from its commitment, and engaging very risky projects that will cause irreparable damage to affordable housing stock in the city Seattle.
After five years on the board, I get disillusioned with the service it provides to the tenants and its lack of public accountability and transparency.
The biggest issue of the night was a concern that people living in Yesler Terrace today would be displaced and would not be able to return to their neighborhood. The SHA has said residents would have a secured spot in the new housing, but critics say there are no mandates and that the plan could go wrong.
Another issue is the massive gentrification that comes with a redevelopment like this. The new Yesler Terrace development will, according to the plan, have more subsidized units than it does today. However, if property values increase dramatically due to all the new high-rise projects, the number of affordable (but not SHA or subsidized) housing options in the nearby area could dry up.
Many people also said they feared the lively, positive community that exists today could be lost in the new plan.
While some people wanted to stop the plan entirely, others had suggestions for changes. Several people suggested involving a third party arbitrator to watch over the tenants’ rights and make sure promises of relocation are adhered to.
One young man made a strong case for saving the unique Yesler Terrace urban farm, which provides local healthy food as well as community space and good youth working opportunities.
Several people noted that there should be accessible opportunities for low-income people to start businesses in the new retail space that will come with redevelopment. Yesler Terrace currently houses many independent, home-based businesses from day cares to urban farming and more, and these businesses are great way for people to find stability and support their families.
Aside from concerns, there were many people who were supportive of the plan. Several were from unions who said there could be job opportunities in the construction work and from environmentally-friendly building advocates who see Yesler Terrace as a unique opportunity to be a revolutionary green living neighborhood (for example, see our post about District Energy plans there).
Here is the video of the hearing:
And here’s a recent City Inside/Out with good background on the issues: