Today, the City Council voted unanimously to approve the $290 million Yesler Terrace redevelopment package, even as low-income housing activists and members of International District residents turned out in force, pleading with council members to delay the long-awaited vote.
The objections raised today by activists were not new. The Seattle Housing Coalition once again lobbied for more extremely-low-income housing and residents from neighboring International District repeatedly asked the council to delay the vote until the Seattle Housing Authority—which is orchestrating the rebuild—unilaterally committed to developing a Vietnamese cultural center.
“Once you approve this rezone, there is no leverage within the community to keep SHA at the table,” testified Quang Nguyen, speaking on behalf of the Friends of Little Saigon. "We ask you to delay this vote."
While council members were unwavering in their votes, they acknowledged that their proposal wasn't without flaws. "I understand your disappointment," council member Nick Licata said, calling the legislation package "the least bad decision that's available, considering that [federal] funding for anything else just isn't available."
Two weeks ago, council members passed over 20 amendments to address a slate of objections to the rebuild.
Still, today many people testified the council didn't push hard enough to accommodate the city's most vulnerable residents.
"This is a market-rate development scheme," John Fox, head of the Seattle Displacement Coalition, testified today. Fox presented the council with a letter signed by 80 community members who opposed the project. "It's robbing Peter to save Paul. It will mean more homelessness, longer waiting lists for public housing in this city."
Fox has long criticized the Seattle Housing Authority for its plans to use grants and city Housing Levy funds to replace YT's 561 extremely low-income apartments with 5,000 mixed-income units—but only 661 units (tops) will serve the extremely low-income households that have historically comprised the area.
In response to the criticisms raised, city council members pointed out that:
· More than 1,100 new units of low-income and subsidized housing will be built, along with up to 661 units of extremely low-income housing.
· All current residents will receive relocation counseling in their own languages, and the costs of all on- and off-site moves will be covered.
· And all current YT residents will be guaranteed the right to return to new units at Yesler Terrace.
"We know there will be tremendous overturn in the neighborhood and that we will have to deal with the impacts," responded council member Richard Conlin. "We are not simply going to pass these ordinances and resolutions and walk away... we will work with SHA and the community to make this work as best as possible."
But moving forward, Licata urged activists to refocus their goals to "preserve the community as much as possible." As an example, Licata urged SHA to make a promise to keep Yesler Terrace "child friendly" by committing to relocating children with families back on site as quickly as possible.
"Without community, you're just building buildings," he said.