Once, long ago, in 2005, when the numbers of unsheltered homeless people were less than half what they are now and you could still rent a two-bedroom apartment in Seattle for under $1,000, the Army closed its regional headquarters at Fort Lawton, and Seattle’s Office of Housing began the process of converting a 34-acre parcel in Discovery Park to affordable housing.
Actually, the housing would exist on a mere six acres of the development. The rest of the land would be enhanced green space. The development would provide 200 units of housing for seniors, veterans, families and children.
The project has been delayed by a minority of wealthy Magnolia residents, led by litigious crank Elizabeth Campbell, who has filed lawsuit after lawsuit to prevent the development. In a 2018 Stranger piece by Heidi Groover, Campbell declared that homelessness isn’t her problem.
“I don’t consider it opposition to the housing because that’s a storyline that the housing people like to run, that the homeless people might like to run, that the city might like to run,” she said. Asked about the homelessness crisis and lack of affordable housing, Campbell cut the question short: “I’m not going to go into the homelessness thing,” she said. “The homelessness people can go into their own spiel. It’s the park that I’m working on.”
That sense of déjà vu you may feel is real. For a recent parallel, we need only look to Sand Point, another former military base that was developed into housing for the homeless.
This summer, 148 units of housing for working families and small households will open at Sand Point’s redeveloped former Naval Air Station Barracks. These will rent to those earning 30 to 60 percent Area Median Income (AMI) in Seattle.
Those units will join nearly 200 others that have already been built next to Magnuson Park. Today, nearly 500 people, half of these youth and children, already live in converted military housing at that location.
The concerns that once blocked housing for homeless people in that privileged neighborhood are now a distant memory.
A 2002 article that published in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer described the impact of that housing development.
“In the end, the Sand Point transitional housing project did not disturb the quiet, upscale Sand Point neighborhood. Crime rates did not increase, there were no noticeable traffic problems, and children faced no imminent danger from hundreds of once-homeless people who have lived nearby.”
At that point, 350 formerly homeless people had lived at the former Sand Point Naval Station. Now, according to Solid Ground, that number is closer to 5,000. That’s a lot of lives impacted.
“There has been a 180-degree change in people’s attitude towards the transitional housing project,” said Anne Lester, who lives in the neighborhood and who is a member of the Sand Point Community Housing Association. “When people hear ‘homeless’ they tend to think ‘criminal,’ but nothing of what neighbors feared happened.”
If anything, the Office of Housing’s Fort Lawton proposal, which parallels Sand Point’s in providing an upper limit of 200 units of housing for homeless people, is not ambitious enough.
Elizabeth Campbell and her Discovery Park Alliance has retained the legal services of Foster Pepper to block the development and has vowed to turn the site into a children’s park.
Seattle has no shortage of places for children to play. Discovery Park itself is 534 acres. For comparison, Volunteer Park is 48 acres. Gas Works Park is 21 acres.
Here’s another déjà vu. “The children” were recently used to block development of another homeless resource. When the former Federal Reserve Bank was under consideration for a homeless service center a half-dozen years ago, the Downtown Seattle Association derailed the homeless coalition’s application by proposing the building become Seattle’s first downtown elementary school.
That never happened. The building was predictably deemed inappropriate for that use and ultimately sold on the private market. The opportunity was lost.
Developing Fort Lawton into housing for homeless families will help those children who need it most. But thanks to Campbell, the kids will have to wait.
Tim Harris is the Founding Director Real Change and has been active as a poor people’s organizer for more than two decades. Prior to moving to Seattle in 1994, Harris founded street newspaper Spare Change in Boston while working as Executive Director of Boston Jobs with Peace.
Wait, there's more. Check out the full Feb. 28 - March 6 issue. https://www.realchangenews.org/issue/february-28-2018