The neighborhood of Yesler Terrace has defined what's "right" for its future. What has emerged is a comprehensive plan to develop a healthy community. The effort merits the support of the Seattle City Council.
By Norman B. Rice and Stephen Sundborg
Special to The Seattle Times
If you are going to do it, do it right.
That phrase is a fitting summary of the planning effort to redevelop Yesler Terrace, the 70-year-old apartments that have provided affordable homes to low-income Seattle residents on First Hill.
Determining what's "right" when creating a community is complex. The "right" housing design, residents, community services, educational support and employment opportunities can't be dictated. Rather, they have to be discovered and defined by the people who call the neighborhood their home.
Six years ago, Seattle Housing Authority embarked on a remarkable journey of community engagement to establish a common vision for the future of Yesler Terrace.
The Seattle City Council will soon act on a package of legislation that will set the stage for the housing authority to begin rebuilding.
Guiding the community's future was a citizens committee representing residents speaking nine different languages, neighbors, schools and employers. This extraordinary citizen-engagement effort focused first on building trust among many stakeholders. Through this dialogue, they defined "guiding principles" around social equity, economic opportunity and environmental stewardship. These principles are now the heart and soul of the plan that will steer the development of this neighborhood for generations to come, reaching beyond housing to include every facet of what makes a healthy community.
Central to the plan are these steadfast beliefs:
- First, the housing at Yesler Terrace must be replaced. It is no longer healthful housing for the present residents and will most certainly not stand to serve future generations who will need affordable housing. Social justice — not to mention common sense — requires that the 561 worn-out units be replaced. It's no longer practical to fix up and patch together solutions to overused housing, water and sewer systems.
- Second, as these obsolete structures are demolished, all must be replaced on the existing site or within a few blocks, and all residents currently living at Yesler Terrace must be given firm rights to return. Seattle Housing has made these promises, and is working in partnership with the city of Seattle to institutionalize them into a binding agreement.
- Third, and of immense importance, Yesler Terrace redevelopment needs to be about more than building new housing — it must be about building a great neighborhood for people of all incomes and backgrounds. The goal is to create a place where the racial and income-based inequities of poverty are eased and people have an opportunity to participate in pathways to education and economic opportunity.
Seattle Public Schools, Harborview Medical Center, Neighborcare Health and Neighborhood House — all with deep roots in this neighborhood — have partnered on this work, along with many others in the effort to expand access to education and employment for those living close by.
Seattle University, for example, has connected university students, faculty and staff with children and youth in the neighborhood to help them be successful in school and employment.
The Seattle Foundation is engaged in the planning as well, seeing it as the opportunity to proactively integrate all the strategic elements of a healthy community into neighborhood life.
The neighborhood of Yesler Terrace has worked tirelessly to define what's "right" for its future and what has emerged from the process is far more than a development plan. Its efforts merit our support.
As the City Council and the rest of the community consider the plans, we hope the city will respect the dialogue that preceded these proposals and seize this chance to redefine the center of our city as a place where great housing and equitable opportunity are available to all.
Norman B. Rice is president of The Seattle Foundation and a former Seattle mayor. Father Stephen Sundborg is president of Seattle University.