The boundaries and type of development that could replace the 580 low-income rentals at today’s Yesler Terrace are quickly shifting, with commercial office buildings now a possibility.
On May 23, a citizens advisory committee that is working on guidelines for redeveloping the 30-acre site – a First Hill complex of tree-lined duplexes that is the Seattle Housing Authority’s last “garden community” – voted to replace each public-housing unit one for one within a new, as-yet unfinalized boundary that could be up to a quarter mile away from today’s complex and its views of downtown.
An SHA planning consultant from Seattle architectural firm NBBJ called the distance an easy walk. But, “A quarter mile is a long way to walk with two bags of groceries,” said Yesler Terrace resident Kristin O’Donnell, one of the committee’s 20 members.
The consultant also showed the committee slides illustrating how “stair steps” of high-rises would maximize density and views at the site. One rendering included small office buildings.
The agency plans to turn the aging Yesler Terrace into a mix of public and private housing similar to its rebuilds at NewHolly, High Point and Rainer Vista, where land sales to private home builders helped pay for rebuilding the public housing – at a loss, the Seattle Displacement Coalition argues, of nearly 1,000 permanent units, or half the public housing units at those sites.
To prevent that at Yesler Terrace, which won’t break ground until 2010, the coalition’s John Fox, a committee member, called for full replacement of all public-housing units on site, arguing at last week’s meeting that it will cost SHA more money to displace tenants and buy more land to house them than it would to put everyone at Yesler Terrace, which SHA already owns.
“What’s to prevent the housing authority from doing what it did at NewHolly, High Point and Rainier Vista?” Fox asked the group. “Do we want the housing authority to implement a plan to halve the number [of units]?”
SHA Director Tom Tierney countered that the agency has used other sites to replace all the remaining low-income units torn down at NewHolly, as it intends to with High Point and Rainier Vista. But with federal housing funding in decline and the HOPE VI grants that the agency used at the other redevelopments no longer available, Tierney said the agency must realize value from – that is, sell parts of – Yesler Terrace in order to rebuild it.
“This is going to be one of the significant discussions, I know,” Tierney told the committee. But to rebuild Yesler Terrace, SHA needs “to tap into the value in this land instead of protecting dirt.”
The housing authority has recently acquired a number of properties just east of Yesler Terrace where displaced tenants could move during construction or permanently. They include about 30 units each at the Ritz Apartments and the Baldwin Apartments on East Yesler Way between 12th and 14th avenues, along with a former Pizza Time outlet at 12th and Yesler, and four lots to the north on 12th where SHA intends to build new housing in the future.
Tierney said the agency is also looking to buy a warehouse next to the Baldwin along with other properites in the area. But he promised the group that SHA would replace any low-income or affordable units it redevelops at the Ritz or Baldwin, potentially displacing current tenants of those buildings.
The committee agreed to add language to its guidelines, which are not yet finalized, that it will consider redevelopment plans in which no low-income units would be lost on site. The group also agreed that SHA should present it with scenarios showing just how much land might have to be sold to rebuild the site’s low-income housing.
Whatever those future plans, many committee members expressed alarm that SHA would consider putting low-income residents in high-rises at Yesler Terrace.
“That was tried 50, 40, 30 years ago,” said committee member George Staggers. “It creates social issues and other issues that this city does not need to deal with.”
By CYDNEY GILLIS, Staff Reporter
The Yesler Terrace Citizens Review Committee will continue discussion of its draft guidelines at its next meeting, set for June 27, 5-8 p.m., at the Yesler Terrace Community Center.