Yesler Terrace New Urban Community Approved

Home » Yesler Terrace New Urban Community Approved

Yesler Terrace, 1940s (photo by Calvin Schmid, found on

On Tuesday, September 4, the Council unanimously adopted five pieces of legislation to implement the redevelopment plan for the Yesler Terrace community.  This vote is the culmination of many months of work by Councilmembers and our Central Staff.  Council considered this project so important that we conducted all of our meetings in a Special Committee that included all nine Councilmembers.  I initiated and Chaired this Committee in 2011, during my time as Council President, and Council President Sally Clark ably led us as Chair in 2012.

The Seattle Housing Authority (SHA) has been working for years to create a redevelopment plan for Yesler Terrace, the last of its WWII era housing projects.  The other three (New Holly, High Point, and Rainier Vista) have all been redeveloped as mixed income communities, with new and better housing for the low income residents.

Yesler Terrace currently has 561 low income units.  These units, hastily constructed during World War II, are not aging well, and do not have important characteristics that would enable them to effectively serve low income populations (such as access for the disabled).  There is no source of funding for repair and rehabilitation, which would be a stopgap measure at best.  Replacing them is essential to providing the level of service and dignity that our residents deserve.  SHA will dramatically reshape this community by adding the area between 12th and 14th to the east of the current property, and then building up to 4500 units of housing, along with 900,000 square feet of office, 65,000 square feet of neighborhood services, and 88,000 square feet of neighborhood retail.   The plan is designed to take full advantage of the property’s proximity to downtown and the First Hill medical centers to develop significant density.

Included in the 4500 units of housing will be 561 replacement extremely low income units (less than 30% of median income), another 390 units at less than 60% of median income and 850 low income/workforce units (less than 80% of median income).  These units will be largely financed by the market rate housing and office space also incorporated in the project.  Building a mixed income community is not only essential to providing this level of low income housing, but it is a key element in creating a sustainable community that will provide the kinds of education, training, and employment opportunities that will enable low income residents to move out of poverty – and to also keep living in their neighborhood.

While developing low income housing has always relied on financial structures that leverage public dollars many times over through private investments and tax credits, the three earlier projects were given financial boosts by the federal HOPE VI program, a Clinton initiative that focused on rebuilding the nation’s low income housing stock.  Unfortunately, HOPE VI lost its funding under the Bush administration, and federal funds will be much more limited in this project.

The Council legislation includes:

  •  A land use code amendment that allows the diversity of uses, sets limits on non-housing development, and provides for the overall density and building heights.
  • A Planned Action Ordinance that allows all future development consistent with the EIS to proceed and adopts design standards.
  • A street vacation ordinance that reorganize the street grid and vacates some streets while rededicating other rights-of-way.
  • A Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) that establishes phasing and timing for the replacement housing, approves City funding, and establishes sustainability parameters.
  • A Resolution that commits the City and SHA to work together to explore developing a mixed use project in Little Saigon that will assist that community to thrive while this major development is going on next door.

Terms of the planned action ordinance, cooperative agreement and street vacation call for SHA to construct 15.9 acres of community gardens, pedestrian pathways and pocket parks open to the public, and re-landscape the neighborhood with more trees than are currently present.  SHA will provide comparable housing for all current Yesler Terrace residents during construction.  Every resident will also receive a certificate guaranteeing their right to return to the neighborhood once new housing is completed.  SHA estimates that replacement construction will begin in 2013.

The redevelopment of Yesler Terrace is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to create a whole new community in this important location.  The Council has carefully scrutinized the SHA plans to ensure that they are workable and appropriate.  The Yesler Terrace redevelopment will increase low income housing, create a vibrant neighborhood next to downtown, and take a major step towards meeting our growth management goals.  New Holly, High Point, and Rainier Vista demonstrate Seattle Housing Authority’s ability to develop extraordinary communities.  The Yesler Terrace new development will be added to this list as a careful, thoughtful, and prudent project that will make a big difference in many people’s lives.