News Sep 2, 2010 at 4:00 am

Dilapidated Housing Projects May Accidentally Be Preserved as Historic Landmarks

Kelly O


Tear that crap down! It's no different than military housing of the same era! Sure, put in some towers, but make sure to really, really screen who gets to live there. I say make it a 65+ retirement community. The city should sell half of the property to developers who will build housing for the non-low-income housing market.
Making Yesler Terrace historic is like giving a blue ribbon to the shittiest building you can find. It's in shambles and it's frankly a damn eyesore. "with towers that contain up to 5,000 mixed-income residential units [and all the tenants lived happily ever after]. The redeveloped site would also include up to 1.5 million square feet of office space [I love that movie!], 100,000 square feet of retail space [OMG LET'S GO SHOPPING], and eight acres of parks and open space [holy shit, eight whole fucking acres of green space in Seattle, my God!]."

And they want to make it historic, so it can sit and rot as a shithole in the ground? Thanks a whole lot, Fox. Historic my ass.
Why can't SHA fulfill it's mandate to build and manage affordable housing? They should be a community asset. Instead, SHA wants to continue dabbling in the development game while screwing the people they're meant to serve. The numbers of people living in cars is proof of their failure. We already have a glut of over-priced, poorly built, mixed-use hives.

This ridiculous action by Fox proves their failure. SHA, and by extension HUD, haven't followed their original mandate in over 20 years.
"Eight whole acres" is well more than a quarter of YT's 28 acres. Your assignment, A Friend, is to list the names of private builders who have devoted a quarter of the acreage they're developing to parks. John Fox is opposed in his marrow to everything Seattle Housing Authority does or proposes. His purpose to enlarge his own importance and not, and never, to do anything constructive for residents (I'm one) of Seattle Housing Authority's developments. This rouser makes his own rubble on the backs of the poor he claims to care about. Give him no more ink, please.
I doubt may of these commenters have spent much time in Yesler Terrace, or understand what redevelopment would mean for the community that lives there. These are some of the poorest and most vulnerable people in the city -- they are refugees from wars across the globe, they're people with physical disabilities, and more. They have not been given simple answers to simple questions: how many units of affordable housing will be there in the end? Will they have the right to return? Where will they go in the meantime?

The community is right to be skeptical. SHA did this before to several other public housing developments -- New Holly, for one -- that did wonders for getting white people to move in, but resulted in a NET LOSS OF LOW INCOME HOUSING. It's not SHA's fault either -- HUD has stopped giving money to maintain facilities like these, but throws millions around to develop "mixed income" neighborhoods.

If our goal is to create mixed income neighborhoods, why not condemn and tear down a Queen Anne Mansion, or a Wallingford apartment building? Why is it that we must take the last pieces of permanently affordable real estate in the city and turn half of the land over to developers?
The new development will include around 1,800 units on site of low-income housing. That is much more than the 561 currently at the site, and the new units will have all these amenities, like not being run-down piles of shit.

The added benefit is the mixed income living (5000 total units, of which over a third will be low-income) will do good for various issues that tend to be prevalent when dealing with socio-economic situations often found in projects.

Someone pointed out that SHA has been getting into the business of mixed-income and mixed-use buildings as if it were a bad thing. I couldn't disagree more. Anything that helps ensure that the buildings and units are as self-sustaining as possible is a good thing. And mixed-income and mixed-use does just that.

As for Fox's complaint - I understand that he only cares about the 30% median income and lower folks. I get that. There is nothing to say that the new units won't have a substantial amount of reserved housing for the 30%.

But the 30% has to be spread throughout the city, and should not be concentrated in one area. We're talking about more than tripling low-income units for a wide swath of low-income folks, and low income comes in many forms - 30%-80%. Screwing over the poor for the interest of the poorer is an awful form of class warfare, IMO, and Fox should back off and instead focus his efforts on expanding 30% units throughout all of the SHA buildings.
@5: "They have not been given simple answers to simple questions: how many units of affordable housing will be there in the end? Will they have the right to return? Where will they go in the meantime?"

1. see #6.
2. yes.
3. relocated into vacant units in later phases of development, other HA properties, or given vouchers to rent in the open market.
Low-income housing projects in Chicago that seemed like a good idea at the time turned into decades of crime.

Holly Park and High Point were recently re-built as mixed-income projects, Park Lake (King County: White Center) is currently in the process of being rebuilt as a mixed-income project.

Since sales at mixed-income projects are likely to be negatively affected by the current housing downturn, and the jury is still out on whether or not turning crime-laden low-income projects into mixed-income projects reduces crime at those projects, it seems like a good idea to wait to see how things go at the other mixed income projects.

Throwing all of our eggs in the same basket at (relatively) the same time seems unwise.
I actually work in a building right in the middle of Yesler Terrace. I definitely agree that these buildings are run-down and don't necessarily serve the residents. And that the historic landmark approach may be, at best, a leveraging move to get this project to better serve the current residents. But #5 is correct, SHA has taken on several of these redevelopment projects and the end result is always dislocation of large numbers of residents, including folks who've lived in a particular community for years and years. A project gets underway, folks get moved out, and most of them never find their way back into the community they've called home for years.

And while it may not be SHA's fault exactly, due to how HUD is allocating funds, but it seems like SHA doing this is counter to the second part of their stated mission --"The mission of the Seattle Housing Authority is to enhance the Seattle community by creating and sustaining decent, safe and affordable living environments that foster stability and self-sufficiency for people with low incomes." This project doesn't seem focused on sustaining this community, but substantially shifting who it serves. Sustaining this community would mean finding somehow to deal with all the infrastructure/building problems this community deals with. And maybe that means some rebuilding/renovating/etc., but in the meantime, SHA should be helping residents relocate somewhere AND guaranteeing them a spot in whatever renovated/rebuilt living space might result.

And finally, while I understand this project might be dictated by HUD funding priorities, it seems to me that building mixed-use developments like these in the housing/real estate environment we're currently is a risky investment for SHA. I'm a little bit skeptical about lots of middle-income folks moving into a revamped Yesler Terrace. The explosion of condo and townhouse buildings with only half-occupancy seems to be a persistent issue, and adding a new mixed-income community at the expense of an existing low-income one doesn't make the sense it might have even just five years ago. Though I suppose I could be wrong.

Basically, while I think there has to be a better solution to this whole thing than pushing residents out and rebuilding this community as a mixed-income one. SHA seems to be embracing this one size fits all approach to communities like Yesler Terrace, with results that never serve the community's current low-income residents. They are becoming part of a system that actually works against the people they claim to serve.
Does John Fox have anything to say about the mostly Japanese neighborhood that was bulldozed to create Yesler Terrace in the first place? Or the dozens of African-American households that were displaced as well?

Yesler Terrace is a force for the perpetuation of poverty. The way the project and the buildings in it are designed and oriented, and the sheer acreage, makes the creation of a neighborhood impossible. It violates every tenet of urban design, and it will always be a ghetto as long as it stands. It is separate from the city that surrounds it, devoid of commerce, economy, or life.

The public housing ideas of the 1940s have been wholly discredited in the eyes of every observer except John Fox.

Tear that shit down, put the street grid back the way it was, connect the blocks on all the edges INCLUDING THE HILLSIDES, and let the city grow into it again.
Fox is right to question this. I find it highly unlikely that they will be able to offset the high cost of new construction by providing low income housing in the current quantities. Why aren't they proposing some sort of multi-stage renovation/rehab project on the existing buildings instead of scrapping everything? There are empty condo/townhouses strewn all across Seattle and the outlying areas. Can we halt our obsession with brand new building projects for a bit and work on making livable housing scenarios for everyone?
#7, I'm glad you're so certain of these answers. It'd be great if you could cite sources other than commenter #6. Because the fact is, even though you're so certain it's all taken care of for Yesler Terrace, NONE of these questions were answered for other SHA HOPE VI redevelopment. If magically they will be better now, I'd like to see some proof.

As to my original questions:

1. # of units: From SHA's own mouth: "We've guaranteed we'll replace the current 561 units in the neighborhood—or very close to it." This is far from the 1,800 you are promoting.

2. Some reference or citation, other than "yes"?

3. You don't have to believe me. HOPE VI redeveloments have displaced thousands of people across this city, and tens of thousands across the nation. If somehow this one will be totally different, I'd like to see the plan for it.
@12 -

""Through mixed-­income housing, we have the opportunity to build something like 1,800 units for low-income people," says Virginia Felton, spokeswoman for SHA."

Read the entire piece, and my entire post, before sounding stupid. The 561 that SHA is referencing is specific to the 30% group, the 1,800 for the entire swath of low-income groups that SHA provides subsidized housing for.

And see Fnarf's comment for more reason to bulldoze the entire project.

1. i'm promoting?
2. per HUD regulations regarding demolition and disposition of Public Housing Agency properties.
3. define "displaced" (i think you mean "thrown out on the streets"), and provide evidence that the SHA has done this. as i know it, this is not the policy of the SHA. all units that have been demolished have been replaced, either on the original site, or off-site. per the Faircloth Amendment, if you give up a subsidized unit, you don't get it back, and you can't get more. so why would they reduce the inventory they have, and lower the money they get from the Feds?

You're never too poor to pick up trash around your home.
Oh for fuck's sake, Seattle! Go ahead, put the Chihuly vanity project at Seattle Center! Designate Yesler Terrace a protected landmark! Do it! Do it!


Is it the weekend yet? :(
I prefer the po' be kept in well-defined areas and buildings like this so we know what areas to not walk around in with nice shit or cash. Why don't the residents get together and use some elbow grease to clean up the place?
John Fox comrade Mr. X continues the fight for their unique brand of "nothing should ever change...ever" NIMBYism Seattle. Screw the working poor...supporting people with low paying jobs doesn't qualify as compassionate enough. You gotta be a bleeding, drunk, fighting, ambulance riding, pissing, anti-social drug addict for the Disgracement Coalition to give a damn about you... These clueless complainers decry the divide between rich and poor, they also help foment this problem by only sticking up for the very poor. Mr. X bitches constantly about the middle class being pushed out of Seattle, yet he complains here when the city wants to provide new workforce housing, in an area NEAR JOBS. Typical and predictable perma-activist who likes to hear himself circles...
Awesome, just wait until it falls down on everybody. Great idea.
All the Yesler Terrace buildings excepting the community center and the steam plant were already rejected for landmark status. This happened a few months ago, maybe June? They're not even close to earning designation, for a long list of reasons.
So even if these two buildings do end up designated landmarks, it seems pretty unlikely that Fox will get his way with the whole neighborhood. Maintaining/renewing the original community center seems like a cool feature for the residents, regardless of income level, and is something that can be worked into denser plans.
The residential buildings at Yesler Terrace were once at the vanguard of modern design when they were built before World War Ii. Ill conceived architectural modifications, the construction of I-5 which wiped out a large portion of the site, and finally an attitude of demolition by neglect from SHA have all contributed to the demise of Yesler Terrace. The remaing portion of the site has historic value, but the buildings have been significantly altered.

Issues like rodents are specious at best and indicate that SHA is not doing enough to control the existing population. Rats are definitely an issue on the hill if not throughout the city.

From a social point of view, when I worked at Harborview over ten years ago the neighborhood was quite functional from social perspective, and this is something we should consider before razing it and ref-forming it. Many of the arguements against keeping Yesler Terrace could be applied to Pike Place Market or Pioneer Square for that matter. They can be seen as old, decrepit buildings with a large population of rodents typical in the area.
Cienna --- Kristin O'Donnell, here -- you quoted me in the article. Sort of. If I said Yesler Terrace buildings were intended to be temporary when I spoke to you, that's not what I meant, nor is it mostly true. I was referring to the three-story buildings near Harborview and west of Boren, buildings that were not part of the original Yesler Terrace plan, which lack the private open space which is associated with apartments in the original community, and which are in much worse condition than the rest of the neighborhood.

The Yesler Terrace community was designed as a showpiece for New Deal housing initiatives. It was intended to be --- and still is -- a place where families who can't afford private sector housing can have light, views and access to the outdoors. The original buildings used good materials and were well-built. If there was funding available for repairs (including replacement of the sewer system, which is years older than Yesler Terrace) the apartments could be restored for many more years of providing homes for families in need.

Many of us who do live here in Yesler Terrace are sad to see the neighborhood go. We'll miss our yards. We'll miss our neighbors. We'll miss being close to jobs, transit, social services and medical care. We doubt if buildings with elevators will be great places for poor families with children. We worry that the time between tear-down and move-back may be decades. We can look east on Yesler Hill and see the vacant lots that were left by the Model Cities bulldozers more than forty years ago. We can look at the east side of Rainier Vista, razed almost four years ago.

But money for subsidized housing is scarce -- congressional, media and yes, public opinion seems to be it is a failed experiment. Nobody likes public housing much, except perhaps the people who live there and the people (thousands of them) on the waiting lists.

If you all are paying attention, you'd notice that the residential part of the neighborhood wasn't nominated for preservation last month. You might also want to know that the nomination request was submitted not by John Fox or the Yesler Terrace Community Council, but by the Housing Authority, likely with the hope that nomination would not ensue.

Many who live here will miss our neighborhood -- as will folks on the long, long waiting list, because units will likely not be replaced for a long time (and hey, folks, if you think public housing is a shithole, you ought to check out the places where people on the waiting lists must live--) Historic Preservation, however, would not have saved the community. It saves the buildings. It neither provides money to maintain the buildings, nor does it preserve the use. So --- There goes the neighborhood.
--not the buildings west of Boren. The buildings EAST of Boren, which were built to house war workers, and intended as temporary.
So, guess what? The money isn't there. Developers are not civic-minded these days. If it doesn't "pencil" it doesn't get built. SHA has to partner with private companies, and low income housing that close to downtown, the hospitals, and the new streetcar? Not going to "pencil out" for developers unless the low-income stuff is MASSIVELY subsidized.

And the money isn't there. Neither is the will.

We need to decide if we're willing to pay for low income housing or not. We (via SHA, via our government) aren't putting enough in to entice the privateers to build the project with 100% replacement at 30% of median income. We just aren't ponying up enough.

Want to force the developers hands? Fine. Want to pony up more tax dollars? OK. Want to fight with every other city in the country for some federal dollars for this project? Go for it.

But without more money and more will, we will not replace 100% of these units at 30% of median income. Will. Not. Happen.
There's a huge point I haven't seen anywhere in this thread: The point of the private development is to subsidize the low-income development. The views and the location a gold mine...which SHA will use to provide housing for those in need.

SHA's mission should be to provide housing in walkable, transit-accessible locations, including some near hospitals. If some people have to move a few blocks away, well, we've all done it in our lives. As for yard, the ideas sounds good, but it means helping fewer people.
Good reporting, good comments and comment # 25 hit the nail on the head. It would surprise everyone if they knew what it takes to subsides a 3 or 4 bedroom apartment for a family at 30 %AMI vs a family at 80% AMI. The real problem is no one is will financially to help fund the short fall.
i think this is ridiculous. tear it down. it's an eye sore. who WANTS to live with rats?
hello? Its called capitalism. Love it or leave it.
I don't trust the SHA to do much in the way of housing people who are desperately in need of housing. Most have poor, little or no credit and many have had an eviction for non-payment at non-subsidized apartments because of job loss or illness. These two factors will prevent someone from being housed in an apartment managed by SHA. It's a sham public service.
I wonder why no action has been taken against SHA for allowing Yestler Terrace to deteriorate? This is America, we sue everyone. Can't someone sue SHA?

Please wait...

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