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Guest Columnist: Seattle Housing Authority @ Yesler Terrace – Taps City Budget, Displaces Working Families

Money TalksMarch 22, 2012 – Reprint

Surveys of recent purchases of land for mid and highrise development on Capitol Hill and First Hill indicate these properties are selling at a value on average of $270 sq ft.  SHA estimates assume a price of $195 per sq. ft.  Using the higher figure based on comparables for that area, that simple adjustment ensures revenues which preclude the need for any city funding.  But, assuming SHA still needs an addition $30 million to balance their budget for this project, there are other ways of raising these revenues, short of raiding city coffers.  This chart demonstrates these facts. We can provide a copy of those comparables upon request and access to other references sources.

Newly released documents reveal SHA will ask the City for over $100 million for redevelopment of Yesler Terrace – including Housing levy dollars,  Block Grant Funds, General Fund, Utility funds, Multi-Family Tax Exemptions, Parks Levy monies, and Bridging the Gap dollars

The City Council will soon decide whether to approve a “Cooperative Agreement” committing these limited city dollars to the $293 million Yesler Terrace Project

– critics say “NO” and point to recently released budget details indicating that SHA easily can afford to complete this project without use of any city resources

To top it off, SHA’s $293 million project results in a NET LOSS of Public Housing serving the poorest households in our city!

The Displacement Coalition urges all Seattle residents to call their council members and the mayor and tell them “NO” to use of any City Funds and “NO” to any project that results in a NET LOSS ON SITE of desperately need public housing units!

Summary with more details and links:   The Department of Planning and Development recently released their recommendations calling for approval of rezones and agreements allowing SHA to go forward with redevelopment of the Yesler Terrace which now contains 561 public housing units serving the poorest citizens of our city.  Their recommendations approve development of over 900,000 square feet of highrise offices, 80,000 square feet of office space and 5000 mostly market or near market rate units on the site 28 acre site.  But what’s especially disturbing, a review DPDs recommendations subject to council review and final approval later this year, reveal that SHA will seek over $100 million in limited city resources, including use of  Housing levy dollars, Block Grant Funds, General Fund, utility funds, Multi-Family Tax Exemptions, Parks Levy monies, and Bridging the Gap dollars. To top it off, less than 410 of the existing public housing units would be replaced on the current side after its redeveloped.

Total amounts of housing revenue SHA seeks for Yesler Terrace would rival the total value of our current voter approved 7-year housing levy and result in a project that has fewer very low income units on site serving public housing eligible households.   Other city dollars our city needs for neighborhood bridge repairs and other infrastructure in our communities also would be drained, if the Council finally approves these draft agreements.

Citizens groups express outrage and say SHA “can easily afford to build this project themselves and replace all 561 on site without use of one dime of city revenue!” To demonstrate this, the Coalition has posted on our website sources that are available to SHA, short of city funding.  For example, SHA will realize an enormous profit on the sale of land it intends to offer market rate developers on site.  These proceeds are more than adequate to cover the full costs of the Yesler Terrace project. In addition, SHA holds now an inventory of about 1800 market rate units, city-wide. Simply selling off some of this inventory could underwrite the $30 million in Yesler Terrace Project Costs SHA now wants the city to cover.  Also, according to SHA’s 2010 overall annual budget report, they realized a 20 million surplus in revenues “after expenses”.  Also, we have learned from a disclosure request that SHA has accumulated, since 2000, over $50 million in the State’s Local Government Investment Pool – a special state account where public development entities may hold excess revenues and earn higher interest.

Any combination of these sources could underwrite the Yesler Terrace project without use of one dime of city dollars and still guarantee No NET LOSS of Public Housing On Site.  Even if SHA had no access to any of these other non-city sources, a far better option would be to redesign the project to bring its costs down and in line with what they can afford.  Rather than raid precious limited city sources for a project that produces fewer public housing units, it would make more sense simply to take out costly elements now associated with the project (such as a costly ripping up and replacement of the existing street structure, and addition of an “energy district” system, and various so called “green elements” of debatable value but which make the per unit costs of this project, one of the most expensive ever in this city!). Their mission first and above all is preservation and expansion of units serving the poorest in our city but that takes a back seat to these other values!

According to the Displacement Coalition: “It looks to us that SHA is seeking $30 million in city funds solely for purposes of padding its budget and just because they think they can get away with it.  The Council has authority to stop this and force them to do it right and with their own funds and no loss of public housing.

Voters approved the housing levy anticipating these and other limited existing housing revenues would go to expand our low income housing stock, not assist SHA in gentrifying and destroying the Yesler Terrace Community.  While SHA says they’ll replace all housing they remove, they expect Seattle taxpayers to cover most of the cost of those units – meaning revenues like our housing levy will be used and state housing trust funds.  Dollars we need to expand our housing stock will instead be wasted at Yesler Terrace if our City Council approves this arrangement.  “These are not replacement units at all if they don’t serve public housing residents and they are built with existing dollars we need to expand our stock. It’s imply robbing Peter to pay Paul.

To review city DPD documents we’ve referenced showing city funds SHA is seeking, and all DPD’s draft recommendations, http://www.seattle.gov/dpd/Planning/YeslerTerrace/RelatedDocuments/default.asp  (See especially the draft Cooperative Agreement, page 2 top of page, all sections referring to their replacement obligation, and page 9 Sec 4.3.1)  All of this will soon go to the City Council for their review and approval.

For further links, sources including city documents we’ve referenced, and our explanation/demonstration of how easily SHA can afford to pay the full cost of this project and other information, return to our home page.  Then click on headlines in left column and right column about current Yesler Terrace Plans (older material included her too) Or call us at 206-632-0668

Seattle Displacement Coalition   206-632-0668 or this email address

Filed in: City of Seattle, Featured Columnists, Government, John Fox Tags: 

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