A funny thing happened on the way to holding separate meetings for Yesler Terrace residents who are worried about the housing complex’s future redevelopment: They got a voice, just not their own.
At the June 27 meeting of the Yesler Terrace Citizens Review Committee, which is working on broad concepts for how the Seattle Housing Authority’s 30 acres of low-income housing will be rebuilt on First Hill, a consultant who has met with tenants stepped up to tell the committee that it needs to have more residents on it – specifically people of color from each language group at Yesler Terrace.
That’s exactly what residents and housing activists were advocating last year during the formation of the committee, which includes three residents out of 20 members. The committee is currently crafting guiding principles that will allow the housing authority to rebuild Yesler Terrace as a mixed-income community with market-rate housing – something a few residents have questioned loudly at past committee meetings.
In April, the committee’s chair, former Seattle Mayor Norm Rice, decided to set up separate resident meetings, with the housing authority hiring facilitators Mayet Dalila and Marcia Tate Arunga to gather input at two meetings held in June.
As Dalila told the committee on June 27, their report includes six unsolicited recommendations aimed at reducing what they call widespread tenant mistrust of the committee and the housing authority. Among the suggestions, the housing authority needs to do a better job of distributing meeting notices and information, and take intercultural communications training to reduce conflict with African Americans, Hispanics, Somalis, Vietnamese and other groups who live at Yesler Terrace.
Dalila also said the committee itself should have representatives from each language group at the table so they can report back to their communities, rather than relying solely on interpreters at meetings, as the committee does now. “The community by and large would feel more at ease if they had more participation,” Dalila said.
After the meeting, Rice said that it wasn’t up to him – he’d have to ask the housing authority’s board of commissioners before adding any members. “We are a creature of the commission,” he said. “I don’t assume to take authority from them.”