New owners at an aging Central Area apartment building have submitted plans to demolish and replace the structure with a larger complex, adding to anxiety at City Hall about the loss of less-expensive housing.
For decades, Darlene Gordon has withstood the forces that have pushed many of her friends and relatives out of the Central Area. But the 88-year-old may not be able to hold out much longer.
New owners at the building where Gordon has lived since the 1980s have submitted plans to demolish and replace the aging structure with a larger complex sure to command higher rents, adding to anxiety at City Hall about the loss of less-expensive housing.
“I never thought the change would come to our doorstep,” said Gordon’s niece, Renee Holmes, who lives with her aunt at the 19th Avenue building known as The Chateau. “Mother Gordon wants to stay in her home.”
Because the property is in Seattle’s plan to allow taller buildings and denser construction in 27 neighborhoods while requiring developers to help create low-income housing, a vote by the City Council in a few weeks matters.
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Were the council to pass the plan, a new building at the Central Area site could rise 50 feet, rather than 40 feet. The owners, whose plans call for a 73-unit complex, would be required to include five low-income apartments in their project or pay a fee of $22 per square foot into the city’s affordable-housing fund.
Five low-income units are more than none, and low-income apartments produced via the plan would need to be maintained with low rents for 75 years, whereas apartments like Gordon’s are less secure.
The Chateau’s owners have decided not to renew after 2019 a contract with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development that accommodates Section 8 rent-voucher holders at the building, creating uncertainty for Gordon and others who rely on the vouchers.
But some council members say the situation at The Chateau underscores why more must be done to help tenants in older complexes. While five units could be created under the upzone plan, 21 low-income households could lose their homes, putting many at risk.
Tenants include a disabled senior from Laos who’s lived at the building since arriving in the U.S. in 1980 and a couple with two young children who moved in recently after sleeping in their vehicle and in homeless shelters.
Thepsuwan Phonephit, a refugee, said he’s worried because he doesn’t know how or where he would find another apartment, after staying in the same place for so long.
That’s why Councilmember Lisa Herbold has proposed requiring developers who raze relatively inexpensive apartments to engage in extra mitigation. Under the legislation, developers in some neighborhoods would need to replace such apartments with an equal number of rent-restricted units or pay even more in fees.
“We should ensure we don’t end up with a net loss of housing units for low-income people,” the council member said.
When she introduced her proposal last week, Herbold said she hoped the council would consider it immediately. But Councilmember Rob Johnson, who chairs the council’s land-use committee, has shelved the idea until after the upzones are approved, she said.
Critics of Herbold’s proposal say it would discourage development on certain sites and say the rents in old buildings are bound to increase anyway, but she says Seattle should sacrifice some density to save buildings like The Chateau from the wrecking ball.
Meanwhile, the city will soon start encouraging nonprofit developers to prioritize neighborhood residents when filling new affordable buildings, Mayor Jenny Durkan said last week.
Councilmember Kshama Sawant is taking a more direct approach at The Chateau. She hosted a rally Thursday, calling on owners Cadence Real Estate to find other housing for the tenants before demolition.
“Cadence has the responsibility to make sure they have affordable and accessible homes to go to in the neighborhood,” Sawant said. “Because Cadence is going to make large profits out of this project.”
In a statement, Cadence defended its actions and sought to dampen the eviction concerns while describing The Chateau, constructed in 1963, as a building “nearing the end of its life span.”
“The permit process is lengthy and redevelopment is not imminent,” the company said. “At the earliest, redevelopment would begin in three to five years.”
A project timeline shared by the company at a meeting last month said construction would begin in 2021.
Cadence will help households set to lose The Chateau’s project-based Section 8 vouchers try to obtain new, tenant-based vouchers, the company said. Tenant-based vouchers can be used at any building, while project-based vouchers can be used at various buildings.
If The Chateau is razed, the company will comply with Seattle’s tenant-relocation assistance law, the statement said. Low-income households are owed about $3,850 each when displaced, with the developer and the city each paying half.
Holmes is determined to keep her aunt in the Central Area, one way or another. Though gentrification and other factors have transformed Seattle’s historically black neighborhood, it remains home for Gordon, who still worships at the same church she attended as a teenager.
“It’s all about the money, but what about the people?” Holmes said. “I don’t want to move her out of her environment that she’s really used to.”