How the new Yesler Terrace project was crafted

An architect of the new plan, before the city council for final approval next week, describes how an inclusive process welded together many aspirations for low-income housing.
A scene at Yesler Terrace today, with aging infrastructure.

A scene at Yesler Terrace today, with aging infrastructure. wshfc.org

A rendering of what the redeveloped Yesler Terrace could look like.

A rendering of what the redeveloped Yesler Terrace could look like. Seattle Housing Authority

We citizens of Seattle live in a beautiful city that has a well-deserved reputation for innovation and creative, forward-thinking approaches to progressive public policy.  We are a strong, flexible community that can embrace several driving aspirations at once.

As we prepare to celebrate the emergence of a new neighborhood at Yesler Terrace, policy makers are addressing and combining three compelling needs.  First is the provision of new, healthful, low-income housing that will serve current residents and low-income people for generations to come. Second is the region’s broad need for new housing, with good transit connections, for people of all income ranges close to downtown. And third is the social imperative that we do all we can to ensure that low-income people living in the Yesler neighborhood have the opportunity for good education and jobs into the future.

The current housing at Yesler Terrace is more than 70 years old. Both the housing and the infrastructure serving it are decayed and beyond the point where yet another patch-up job can provide useful life into the future.  People should not have to live there now, and the current housing most certainly cannot serve the future generations who will need low-income housing 10, 20, and 50 years from now.  Everyone deserves a safe, healthy place to live, whether they earn a lot of money or not.

Seattle Housing Authority, the agency I head, has planned for the reconstruction and expansion of low-income housing in the neighborhood over the past six years. We have worked with leaders from all sectors of the community, and – together – we have developed a vision for the Yesler Terrace neighborhood that dramatically increases housing options for low- and moderate-income people, and also meets other critical needs for our growing city:

•More housing close to downtown and jobs, with terrific mass transit options.

•A vibrant neighborhood, such as other parts of First Hill,  where people from all walks of life can live, work, and play together, across lines of income, race, and cultural heritage.

•And, since it is planned from the ground up, a neighborhood that can embrace goals for open space and environmental excellence.

To translate vision into reality, Seattle Housing has worked closely with Mayor McGinn and his departments and with the City Council.  Keenly aware that “the devil is in the details,” every piece of the vision has been vetted and examined for potential issues, and the concerns of citizens and residents have been heard and addressed through more than a dozen public meetings and three City-sponsored public hearings in addition to the six years of community engagement coordinated by Seattle Housing Authority.

The result of the last two years of close collaboration with city leaders is a package of carefully crafted land use controls and an historic Cooperative Agreement that the Special Committee of the City Council passed on August 16, and on which the full City Council will vote on September 4.

The plan is stronger, and the commitments tighter, because of this deep collaboration. Among the specific guarantees codified by the City are the following:

•All current residents will receive relocation counseling in their own languages, and the costs of any moves – on-site or off-site – will be paid.

•All 561 current units will be replaced within the immediate neighborhood, with strict controls on the location and timing of replacement.

•More than 1,100 new units of housing for low-and modest-wage workers will be built and, if funding allows, an additional 100 units of extremely low-income housing will be added.

•All current residents are guaranteed the right to return to new units at Yesler Terrace.

•Community services will enhance social justice through increased access to educational and economic opportunities for low-income people throughout the neighborhood, along with health care, good nutrition, and other essential services.

•City financial commitments to the neighborhood are tightly defined and constrained.


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Comments:

Posted Mon, Aug 27, 8:54 a.m. Inappropriate

The basic problem, not addressed by the article's author (because presumably he is the cause of the problem) is why the 70 year old housing is decayed and beyond repair. Why has the Seattle Housing Authority not kept its larger promise to the renters (which now just apparent to them) to provide 'healthful' housing. There are many many 70 year old houses in Seattle which have served their owners and renters very well, that are still in fine shape. Its a shameful trick, one which government is too often willing to perform to let a perfectly fine set of buildings go and then claim that the only solution is to completely replace them. It would have been far far cheaper to have maintained the buildings, to have honored the wonderful design and noteworthy history of Yesler Terrace then it will be to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to replace them. Why was this allowed to happen? Why should the Seattle Housing Authority be trusted not to do the same thing with the new buildings, supposedly built for 'generations to come'? Who will maintain them properly?

Mr. Tierney claims the new buildings are planned from the ground up- so was Yesler Terrace, that the housing will be close to downtown, as if Yesler Terrace is not. He writes that all the current tenants will be allowed back to the new housing, but fails to give a time frame. The Seattle City Council should censure not reward the Housing Authority for so poorly carrying out its mandate.

thoughts

Posted Mon, Aug 27, 11:55 a.m. Inappropriate

Seattle Housing Authority's mission is to build and maintain housing for extremely low income residents. The fact that they are willing to trade away 30 acres of prime real estate for so little in return is my main objection. I understand that the location is very desirable and it should also be densly developed, but SHA should be able to trade that rich resource for a greater yield of units both within and outside of the Yesler Terrace area. We do not need another city agency enriching developers in order to gain a few scraps in short term jobs and increased tax revenues while creating infrastructure problems (traffic, utilities, etc.) that require solutions this City has been unable to afford and is not likely to accomplish. This proposal is deeply flawed and the process should start again keeping in mind the mission of the SHA and setting more favorable goals and objectives.

Veritas

Posted Mon, Aug 27, 12:10 p.m. Inappropriate

The Yesler Terrace deal is a sell-out to developers by both the SHA and the Seattle City Council--it is disgraceful. We need agencies and governments to be responsive and accountable to people of all incomes, not just those with sufficient money to take control of extremely valuable public property. I agree with Veritas; it's not just the low income residents of Yesler Terrace who lose, it's all Seattlites except the "lucky few." Land use governance and decision making in Seattle needs a major overhaul.

louploup

Posted Mon, Aug 27, 12:12 p.m. Inappropriate

And if you believe this self-aggrandizing piece of puffery, I have an igloo in Arizona for sale cheap...

mspat

Posted Mon, Aug 27, 12:25 p.m. Inappropriate

Glad there is a rendering of some towers for which SHA public land is being sold. I do understand that cities are wed to developers. The SHA piece above and the Council give NO compelling evidence that low income housing needs are met by this "carefully crafted" SHA project. I think SHA was created to meet those needs.

The project needs to be carefully reviewed by each Council member and the public before September 4 as to the funding sources and the apparently private interests that are actually being served. In my view, this egregious project should be stopped now, responsibly reconsidered, and re-conceived.

Deborah Green

debgreen

Posted Mon, Aug 27, 12:57 p.m. Inappropriate

Some quick responses to SHA Director Tierney:

1. He state's the provision of low income housing is primary goal of the redevelopment and existing units are beyond repair: With only 1 in 10 of the 4500-5000 new units serving public housing elgible households (and a net loss of public housing in the new development), clearly it is an afterthought tacked on to a market rate development scheme. It's trickle down in the extreme, with market rate housing and office developers, architects, planners, attorneys, underwriters, bond counselors, and the affluent benefiting first and poor people an afterthought. Teirney himself submitted a letter a year ago to the Council identifying a modernization and renovation cost of 100 million as compared to 295 million for their tear down and redevelopment plan. Under federal rules, SHA still must state units are beyond repair or risk HUD rejection and funding for their plan.

2. Teirney says all 561 existing public housing will be replaced. SHA is only on the hook for 30 percent of replacement cost, with rest of costs coming from existing state and local sources, so that equals a net loss of 70% of the units by my book. And only 420 comparably priced very low income units will be located on existing site and many will serve exclusively seniors or special needs groups, not families or broad spectrum of public housing eligible households....

3. Teirney says they'll add 1100 additional low and moderate income units to site. He doesn't tell you these are priced up to 80% of median. That's at rent levels well above average rent and what most wage earners in city can afford. Studios at 80% start at 1137, 2 bedrooms over 1400. Again this is outright deception to call these even "affordable" let alone low income.

4. Teirney says, their project will on require $11 million in city funds. They've specifically asked for 30 million (see draft Cooperative Agreement). The final agreement is open ended, meaning 11 million in city funds is committed up front in first 2 phases, but over life of project, there is no limit set on use of city or state funding. With 900 units planned at 80% and multi-family tax breaks and no limit set by council on how much of this they can tap, it could mean 80 million in tax breaks right there. It's very possible over 25 million in state housing trust funds will be used also on the so called replacement units.

Like Ronald Reagon used to say: "if you just state a lie often enough, people come to believe it".

- John V. Fox, Coordinator Seattle Displacement Coalition

jvfox

Posted Mon, Aug 27, 3:02 p.m. Inappropriate

It would be helpful to know the rental rates of each and all of the 561 units...not percentages of median blah blah blah, but actual monthly rent amounts and security deposit numbers.

animalal

Posted Mon, Aug 27, 8:55 p.m. Inappropriate

Thank you for developing this project. I am excited about Seattle constructing a new integrated, environmentally substainable, high-rise neighborhood, one that it also inclusive of a wide range of income levels and uses. We should learn from and extend beyond the best practices development globally, and locally in Portland's South Waterfront and Vancouver's Olympic Village.

Normally I agree with "thoughts" comment above that 70 years is not too old, and the current buildings should have been maintained better. I opposed the new Youth Corrections Facility for that reason. But in the case of Yesler Terrace, the low rise "suburban" neighborhood is a poor use of this land near the city center. Even if the buildings were only 10 years old I would support the replacement of 561 units with 5,000 units on the same property.

chadnewt

Posted Thu, Aug 30, 1:08 a.m. Inappropriate

Mr. Tierney, that was a whole lot of words to justify the latest city sellout to rich developers. Does it bother you that, at long last, your entire career comes down to being a shill for some rich guy who makes you dance like a puppet? What does it feel like at 2:30 in the morning when you assess your life? I hope, for your sake, that you were paid off. It'd be especially pathetic if you simply gave away what might have at one time passed for the slightest shred of integrity.

NotFan

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