THE Seattle Housing Authority’s current plan for redevelopment of the 28-acre Yesler Terrace is heading for final City Council approval.
There are more than $290 million of taxpayer dollars — more than the financing plan proposed for a Sodo arena — yet our locally elected leaders have not held our housing authority to the same level of scrutiny. The proposed plan the council is considering is deeply flawed. It does not ensure one-for-one replacement of the public housing in the same location.
The housing authority is seeking rezoning permits from the city to replace public housing serving very low-income families with a combination of low-, moderate- and high-income housing. This includes more than 4,000 high- and moderate-income units and about a million square feet of high-rise office space — almost equal to the amount of office space in Columbia Tower, our city’s tallest building. The housing authority also intends to sell off almost half of the land to private developers. This added density and lucrative uses will bring in tens of millions of dollars in revenue.
Still, Seattle Housing Authority says it can afford to replace only 420 of the 561 existing public-housing units on the same site. The remaining 141 will be moved off-site a few blocks east. That means only one in 10 of all the new units will serve the people the housing authority is chartered to serve.
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A site that has helped generations of immigrants and low-income families get on their feet, including former Gov. Gary Locke, now will serve primarily higher-income groups.
Just 18 months ago, the housing authority’s director told the council no city funding would be needed.
Now, under the council’s draft agreements, the Seattle Housing Authority would cover only land and operating costs, meaning 70 percent of building replacement units comes from existing limited city and state sources intended for expansion of our low-income housing stock.
In total, the housing authority says it needs at least $30 million in direct city subsidies, including money from the voter-approved 2008 parks levy. Funds earmarked to address a backlog of neighborhood needs would be used, and the authority is seeking multifamily property-tax breaks potentially worth more than $80 million.
The City Council appears ready to approve at least $7.6 million from another levy, the housing levy, and millions more in state housing trust funds to help the housing authority. Voters passed the housing levy to house the homeless and expand our limited low-income stock, not assist Seattle Housing Authority in a teardown plan. It’s robbing Peter to pay Paul.
The housing authority easily can afford to replace and even add public-housing units from revenues generated from the on-site market-rate development. The authority’s budgets have shown healthy surpluses over the past decade.
Since 2000, the housing authority has spent $70 million to $80 million to acquire nearly 1,000 market-rate units. Selling off some would cover any budget shortfalls at Yesler Terrace. The housing authority also is holding more than $40 million in the state’s Local Government Investment Pool that could be used.
The City Council has a long history of giving the housing authority everything it wants.
When Councilmember Nick Licata recently proposed a cap on use of levy funds, Councilmember Mike O’Brien said he was “not comfortable with the intent to not approve any more levy dollars.” Licata’s idea was shelved.
The council should require the Seattle Housing Authority to replace all 561 public-housing units on the existing site, and increase the number. The 141 “replacement units” built off-site are not replacement units. They consume extra dollars and land we need to expand our stock of very-low-income units.
Equally important, the housing authority should be required to pay for the project itself without our precious housing levy and state trust fund dollars going into what largely is a market-rate development scheme.
John V. Fox leads the advocacy group Seattle Displacement Coalition. He lives in Seattle.