After a year of meetings, a citizens task force has issued a set of redevelopment guidelines that sets the stage for a controversial rebuild of Yesler Terrace, the Seattle Housing Authority's last low-income "garden community" of duplexes and yards.
On Oct. 24, the 20-member Yesler Terrace Citizen Review Committee passed a final set of "Definitions & Guiding Principles" that gives tenants the right to return to the new Yesler Terrace, but does not require the Seattle Housing Authority to replace all 580 low-income units at the current First Hill site -- a goal many residents and housing activists had argued for to prevent the loss of public housing that they point to at other SHA redevelopments.
Instead, the document, which will serve as a basis for redevelopment planning that's set to start in January, calls for considering full one-for-one replacement without stipulating where the new units will go.
SHA executive director Tom Tierney has said that the housing authority is committed to replacing all 580 units within a neighboring area where the guidelines would allow Yesler Terrace to expand. If that happens, Tierney has said the new Yesler Terrace, which won't break ground until 2010, could have a boundary as far east in the Central District as 23rd Ave. -- 13 blocks from Broadway and Yesler Way, the current hub of Yesler Terrace and its downtown views.
The housing authority has already purchased several properties in that area, including an old apartment building where SHA might move Yesler Terrace residents temporarily or permanently -- potentially displacing low-income renters at that site, according to two committee members who wrote a minority report included with the guidelines.
The report, authored by John Fox of the Seattle Displacement Coalition and signed by Kristin O'Donnell of the Yesler Terrace Community Council, calls for one-for-one on-site replacement and says that the citizens committee did not receive adequate information about the housing authority's redevelopment plans in the areas around Yesler Terrace.
"The policies," Fox says, "aren't strong enough to send the signal we need to send, that there shall be no net loss on site, that the site won't be turned into some planner's dream of high-density, high-income housing."
In an age of declining federal funding for housing, SHA says it must redevelop to add density and make more money from its properties. But in previous rebuilds of garden communities at Roxbury Village, Holly Park, High Point, and Rainier Vista, where SHA sold land for private homes and condos and replaced duplexes with apartment buildings, Fox says the agency spent half a billion in federal HOPE VI grants and tore down half of the 2,000 low-income units without physically replacing them -- a statistic that SHA says is wrong.
The Yesler Terrace task force was created by a settlement that SHA signed to end a Seattle Displacement Coalition lawsuit over Rainier Vista. Fox says the settlement clearly stipulates that a citizen task force will oversee all redevelopment planning at Yesler Terrace.
But "to date," Fox writes in the minority report, "the task force has seen no specific plans, drawings, [or] alternatives, nor have we been apprised of any plans for rezones or other land use changes that may be needed to facilitate SHA's plans" -- which potentially includes office buildings.
That's one of the ideas shown in a short "Planning Concepts" document that the task force passed Oct. 24 with its redevelopment guidelines. At the meeting, Fox and O'Donnell objected to the document, arguing that the ideas -- which include building office towers and spending millions to straighten Yesler Terrace's street grid, says Fox -- were the work of SHA's planning consultant, NBBJ, not the committee.
Mary McCumber, a committee member from Futurewise, a growth management advocacy group, said that she felt the task force had discussed the main concepts many times. But O'Donnell disagrees, saying the ideas were presented to the group at a workshop.
"They came from NBBJ," and, like the guidelines themselves, "they're pretty vanilla," she says. "The devil's going to be in the details, and there's no details there."
"The result is that they can say they had meetings, which they were required to under the terms of the Rainier Vista settlement," O'Donnell says, "but they had better continue to have a group of citizens meeting now that they are really starting to plan."
SHA Deputy Director Andrew Lofton says there will be a new advisory group of some kind, but the housing authority hasn't settled on its makeup. "We're going to have public input and a public group that will be advising the process," he says, "but I can't tell you if we will replicate the [committee's] process."
The Seattle Housing Authority plans to give a community presentation on the Yesler Terrace redevelopment guidelines on Wed., Nov. 14, 5 p.m., at the Yesler Terrace Community Center, 917 E. Yesler Way, Seattle. A subsequent meeting on Nov. 19 in which the SHA Board of Commissioners was scheduled to vote on the guidelines has been canceled.