The city council got a look at the proposal to redevelop the Central District's Yesler Terrace as a mixed-use, mixed-income development under the federal HOPE VI at its briefings committee this morning. (The council is discussing the redevelopment proposal in briefings, rather than a special committee of the whole, which means that there is currently no public comment period for people to weigh in on the controversial proposal. Redeveloping Yesler Terrace involves dramatically increasing density and displacing residents, at least temporarily, while construction is underway.)
The council will hold special meetings to take public comment on the Yesler Terrace proposal later this year.
Some of the highlights of the latest proposal, and how it would compare to the existing, New Deal-era Yesler Terrace---Seattle's first public housing development.
• Currently, the 503 households at Yesler Terrace include 1,231 individual residents. Of those, Seattle Housing Authority director Tom Tierney told council members today, 27 percent are "elderly" (a term SHA defines, somewhat generously, as 62 or older). Yet none of the existing Yesler Terrace units are accessible to those with disabilities or difficulty, say, climbing stairs.
"We need to plan for housing that accommodates seniors … better than the current housing does," Tierney said.
• Yesler Terrace, unlike more recent redeveloped housing complexes like New Holly and Rainier Vista, is overwhelmingly made up of very low-income households. Currently, 86 percent of Yesler Terrace residents make less than 30 percent of the area median income, and the average household income at Yesler Terrace is $14,072, or just 17 percent of the area median. None of Yesler Terrace's residents make more than 80 percent of median.
All that will change, of course, with redevelopment, which will add thousands of new housing units, including market-rate units, to the land where Yesler Terrace now sits. SHA has proposed replacing all 561 units that will be displaced (that number is larger than the household unit, 503, because it includes some short-term units run by the YWCA) "in the immediate neighborhood" and at the redeveloped Yesler Terrace. According to SHA, 90 percent of the people living at Yesler Terrace say they want to come back once it's redeveloped. SHA has committed to ensuring that as development moves forward, at least 281 of the existing public housing units will be available for rent at all times.
• SHA will push for more "family housing" --- that is, larger units suitable for families with children---but can't guarantee that the market-rate housing won't be dominated (as Seattle's housing market is in general) by smaller units tailored toward singles, empty-nesters, and couples. "It's beyond our ability to promise the mix of family housing in the market rate housing, because it will have to depend on whether there's a market for family housing near downtown," Tierney said.
• Resident (tenant and homeowner) "satisfaction" has been higher in HOPE VI projects like New Holly and Rainier Vista than it has at SHA projects as a whole, Tierney said. Satisfaction at Yesler Terrace ranked lowest of all SHA's developments. "We've changed what were isolated low-income communities and have integrated them into the city," he said. "You can't really tell between someone who is paying $50 in rent in public housing and someone who has bought a home." Meanwhile, crime at redeveloped SHA properties has decreased, he added.
The council is pushing the mayor's office to send down legislation by June.
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