Norm Rice and Tom Tierney made a promise to the tenants of Yesler Terrace last week: Any redevelopment of Seattle’s 60-year-old public housing complex will come with “full replacement” of each and every low-income unit standing at the site today.
Seattle’s former mayor and the director of the Seattle Housing Authority, which owns the complex, said it’s just a question of how far away the new units will be from the site of today’s Yesler Terrace.
In a meeting called by Rice, who chairs a citizens committee that’s creating guidelines for turning the 30 acres of Yesler Terrace’s duplexes and apartments into a mixed-income community at 12th Avenue on Seattle’s First Hill, Tierney said the replacement units could be built as far east as 14th, 19th, or 23rd avenues — an area where SHA has recently purchased properties using its power of eminent domain.
Tierney named the streets as possible borders for a new “Yesler Terrace neighborhood” that Rice’s committee, which started meeting in October, will define later this year, with no redevelopment to start before 2009.
He said later that the Central District properties, which include the Baldwin Apartments on 13th Avenue and several houses on 12th, weren’t purchased for the redevelopment but could be used to relocate tenants or build replacements for today’s Yesler Terrace — a concern for residents and housing activists, who fear SHA will segregate low-income tenants off site, away from the future Yesler Terrace’s commanding downtown views and new, private homes.
“We promise to replace every single unit that is here currently,” Tierney told a group of 35 residents at the Yesler Terrace Community Center. “We would hope not only to create new housing to replace [what’s here today], but actually increase the number of units that are available to low-income people in this part of town.”
“It’s the perfect neighborhood for affordable housing,” he said after the meeting. “If we aren’t expanding the footprint of Yesler Terrace, we would still be building housing” in the area of the Central District properties.
Rice called the meeting to address tenant demands raised in part at a Feb. 27 meeting of the 19-member Yesler Terrace Citizen Review Committee. Among them, tenants and activists have called on SHA to commit to replacing all 561 of Yesler Terrace’s low-income units, guarantee that all of today’s low-income tenants get to come back, and allow daycare or other businesses at the new Yesler Terrace — an issue tied to how the rebuild will be financed and new rules that might govern it.
At previous SHA redevelopments that turned NewHolly, High Point, and Rainier Vista into mixed-income communities, daycare businesses aren’t allowed under the rules for federal tax-credit financing — today’s primary source of public-housing funding.
Last week, Tierney told tenants that it’s possible SHA can work around tax-credit rules by finding other funding for some of the new apartment houses that are expected to replace the duplexes at Yesler Terrace today.
A number of those who attended the meeting said later, however, that they didn’t buy Rice’s and Tierney’s assurances, particularly in light of an announcement Rice made that, from here on, their input will be taken at small meetings held separately from those of the committee.
“I’d like [them to] give us a guarantee to come back,” said an East African mother who runs a daycare at Yesler Terrace and asked not to be named out of concern it could affect her tenancy. “But at Rainier Vista and NewHolly, they promised the same things and they didn’t do it.”
By CYDNEY GILLIS, Staff Reporter
The Yesler Terrace Citizen Review Committee’s next meeting, which is open to the public, is set for April 25, 5-8 p.m., at the Yesler Terrace
Community Center, 917 Yesler Ave., Seattle.