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A Fresh Look At Yesler Terrace's Redevelopment

Seattle's Yesler Terrace neighborhood is on the brink of major change in 2014. A visit to the neighborhood rapidly reveals the transformation underway, with flattened bulldozed lots and half-demolished buildings.

The large-scale redevelopment of the neighborhood, located east of downtown, is being led by The Seattle Housing Authority (SHA). The area is part of the SHA's and the US Department of Housing and Urban Development's Choice Neighborhoods Initiative, a program meant to "transform distressed neighborhoods with public and assisted housing into viable and sustainable mixed-income neighborhoods."

Dating back to 1941, Yesler Terrace is the first racially-integrated housing project in the United States - built in a wartime era when public housing came to the fore. The SHA claimed the need to demolish what was then the home of a large Japanese-American community, an area they described as a "total slum filled only with prostitution and poverty," in order to build low-income public housing.

Today, Yesler Terrace is home to an incredibly diverse population, with immigrant families from around the world. In fact, nearly one-third of the neighborhood's residents are foreign-born. Yesler Terrace also has Seattle's largest low-income community, with 86% of the population earning below 30% of the Median Seattle Income.

The redevelopment's slogan is 'Renewing Yesler's Promise.' But what does this really mean? According the SHA's plans, this equates to transforming Yesler Terrace into a vibrant mixed-income neighborhood "for the benefit of the entire city" which will be done through creating nearly 6,500 rental and privately owned housing units. All existing public housing units will be demolished or renovated. Different numbers of units will be set aside for various income brackets based upon the Area Median Income. Those who earn less than 30% of the Area Median Income will have roughly 10% of the housing stock designated for them while Market Rate housing will make up more than 70% of the units.

The project will take place in different phases, with Phase II beginning this year. The first phase includes the renovation of Horiuchi Park and the building of replacement units East of Boren Street with construction taking place along the First Hill streetcar line, which will connect Yesler Terrace to downtown. The second phase, which will last until 2019, will see the construction of units built West of Boren. The SHA promises that the redevelopment "will preserve the vibrant, diverse qualities of the existing neighborhood and will feature upgraded affordable housing and homes for all income levels." The entire redevelopment is estimated to take 10 to 15 years.

Many concerned local activists have critiqued the project, arguing that Yesler Terrace is not a massive failure and cannot be compared to other infamous public housing projects in the US such as St. Louis' Pruitt-Igoe. Some claim that Yesler Terrace's redevelopment is really just a façade for gentrification. John Fox, the head of the Seattle Displacement Coalition, has argued that the project is a "market-rate development scheme." Other critics have voiced concerns over the potential displacement the redevelopment will cause for Yesler Terrace's low-income residents.

Yet, the Seattle Housing Authority has gone to great lengths to ensure that the neighborhood's redevelopment will benefit its current residents. Nearly $4.5 million dollars will be spent to help current residents "overcome poverty" through initiatives in education, enhancing economic opportunities, and increasing access to healthcare. All current residents have been guaranteed replacement housing in the new development plans. In addition, low-income residents currently living in the neighborhood are being hired in the construction process.

While Yesler Terrace's redevelopment has been greatly controversial, it is impossible to predict the effects the redevelopment will have for current residents in 20 years time and if Yesler Terrace will ultimately resemble the vision put forth by the Seattle Housing Authority.
· 'Moving Forward - Yesler Terrace Redevelopment in 2014' [Seattle Housing]
· All Yesler Terrace coverage [Curbed Seattle]
Written by Alyssa Campbell