Read the below and substitute “Yesler Terrace” with “Big House, Small Lot” and you’ll get the idea.
I’ll write more later about what I think it might mean when two people with extremely opposite visions for what our city should look like and it’s government, fundamentally agree on something. It could mean that those of us with highly principled views about growth are just plain nuts. Or maybe it’s time to give the City Council a double flush with a significant charter amendment. That would give us all new people and a different way of sorting out whether Fox’s no growth vision is what we want, or whether we think we should grow a lot, sustainably.
From: Seattle Displacement Coalition J-Fox <;;firstname.lastname@example.org>;;
Date: September 10, 2012 7:04:42 PM PDT
To: Seattle Displacement Coalition J-Fox <;;email@example.com>;;
Subject: Outside City Hall: City Council vote on Yesler Terrace highlights leadership vacuum
Outside City Hall: September 2012 Edition Reprinted from Pacific Publishing Web Site Please Circulate
Last week’s City Council vote on Yesler Terrace highlights leadership vacuum
“Council’s decision ignores citizen concerns and highlights need for change at City Hall”
– John V. Fox and Carolee Colter
We were extremely disappointed – but hardly surprised – when our City Council approved Seattle Housing Authority’s plan for redevelopment of Yesler Terrace. This event causes us to reflect on the implications for “leadership,” or lack of it, in our city.
Our Councilmembers gave unqualified, unanimous support to SHA while completely ignoring the concerns of hundreds of community leaders and a dozen grassroots organizations.
For years Councilmembers sat through forums and Democratic district meetings and received letters and emails urging them to guarantee no net loss of public housing on site. We called for Council to keep SHA’s hands off our state and local housing funds intended to expand the stock, instead of rewarding SHA’s teardown and replacement scheme.
The Speaker of the House, Frank Chopp, wrote a letter to the Council opposing use of state trust fund dollars for the Yesler Terrace project – saying those monies are earmarked instead to expand our low-income stock and acquire privately-owned low-income units at risk of removal.
So how does our Council respond? It committed hours of staff time making calls across the state in hopes of “uncovering” other cities’ use of state trust funds for replacement housing–just to refute Chopp’s letter.
Mind you, Council spent no staff time examining SHA’s budget. If it had, it would have found tens of millions in SHA budget surpluses over the last decade. Council also would have found that these excess funds were not being used for low-income housing production (SHA’s mission) but instead placed into a “special portfolio” to fuel its move into market-rate and higher-end redevelopment.
To justify their support for SHA’s plan that includes sale of almost half the site to developers, Councilmembers Clark and Licata gave us the “conventional wisdom” that cuts in federal funding necessitated it. Had they actually looked, however, they’d have found that SHA has seen an increase in its federal allotments in recent years. Nor did Council investigate alternative plans to bring project costs down and provide savings that could have been used for more low-income units on site.
The Displacement Coalition and Low Income Housing Institute pushed Council to at least ensure excess revenues from office and luxury housing built on site would go towards more public housing production, and that housing levy money going to the project would at least be capped at $7.5 million. But all we got were promises added to the plan to review SHA’s budget and take any future requests for city funding later thru normal channels. Licata said he was pleased these changes could be made and that they were acceptable to SHA. That last part says it all.
No one on Council has the guts to say no to SHA and its food chain of development interests. In 15 years, we’ve never seen a serious council review of SHA’s budget nor has the council ever turned down an SHA request. So why should we expect this Council will ever carefully scrutinize, let alone turn down future SHA requests – that likely will run in the tens of millions for later phases of their Yesler Terrace plan?
Licata defended the agreement by saying SHA is committed to fully replacing and even adding more low-income units on site but he and his Council colleagues know SHA is only on the hook for 30% of the replacement cost of each of these 561 so called “replacement units” serving public housing eligible households. And over 100 of these will be built off-site, draining millions more of our existing limited housing dollars. Licata and other councilmembers even chose to echo SHA’s claim there will be an extra 1200 “low income units” added on top of the 561 “replacement units”.
These so called additional “low income units” will serve households up to 80% of median – meaning rents on these will run as high as $1140 a month for studios up to $1700 a month for a 3 bedroom unit. Anyone who implies these are a substitute for public housing, or calls them “low income”, or even “affordable” is out to pull the wool over someone’s eyes. Public housing serves households at or below 30% of median.
Our City Council appears to have lost its ability to provide leadership across a range of issues, whether SHA, or the Mercer mess that’s still a mess after committing $270 million of our limited transportation dollars to it. Or wasting millions on streetcars while our bus system goes begging and roads and bridges rot. Or approving a $4 billon waterfront tunnel with 30% less traffic capacity than the viaduct it replaces. Or giving away $98 million in “multi-family tax exemptions” to developers who promise only to “set aside” a handful of units renting from $1200-$1800 a month.
We need change on our City Council. That will only come when we pass an initiative to elect these officeholders by district rather than “at large”, or we in some other way restructure city government. Now our electeds only go through the motions of listening, not responding.
And frankly, we’re not sure there’s anyone left on the Council to provide a real voice for progressives and neighborhood folks to rally around to help us move the center of city politics from the corporate to community side of the spectrum.
We need leadership on the Council that, rather than simply accepting the status quo and eking out small almost unnoticeable changes, calls the Yesler Terrace agreement for what it is–an egregious sellout to development interests. Without such leadership, all we’ve got are Councilmembers reinforcing the status quo and making it harder ultimately for us to change things, to elect progressives and get things done down the road.
We will never dig ourselves out of a hole with “leadership” like that. Charlie Chong did it right. He stood up and called things for what they were, gave us a voice, and while he was on losing end of 8-1 or 7-2 votes, laid the groundwork for election later of better more responsive Councilmembers. That’s what we need.