On Monday evening, I attended a forum at Nathan Hale, along with Councilmember Jean Godden, to discuss input to the City’s proposal that Fire Station 39 in Lake City be sold to develop low income housing for families, with public use incorporated into the ground floor of the project.
Though there were supporters present, there is still much opposition. The major concerns I heard on Monday night were:
- Many people believe that new low income housing for families will result in an inevitable increase in nuisance behavior such as public inebriation and urination, aggressive panhandling, drug dealing, shoplifting, etc.
- Many people believe that there is already a much too high concentration of low income housing in Lake City.
- Some people were worried that development now would interfere with an opportunity for another commercial/residential development that could contribute to Lake City’s growth and economic health.
- A few speakers said that low income people wouldn’t be able to support local businesses to help those businesses succeed. In other words, they would be a dependent population not a contributing one.
- Some people thought that the Fire Station Levy Fund account would suffer, because the city would be use funds from the sale proceeds to support the project, instead of replenishing the Fire Station Levy Fund.
- Nearly everyone included in their testimony that the City should make more investments in infrastructure, particularly the community center.
- Many people said that they believe that the city is not listening to the community’s concerns
I believe that many of the concerns voiced on Monday night can be addressed. However, a strong perspective that I heard was that Lake City residents feel betrayed by the City; facts alone may not alter those kinds of perceptions.
A little bit of background on the proposal is important to understand how we got to where we are today. On any given night in Seattle, there are more than 6,000 people in need of shelter. Most find their way into an emergency shelter or transitional housing, but there are still over 1,700 people in the Seattle area sleeping outdoors without shelter. In the Spring of 2011, the Council passed legislation that created a work plan and timeline for analyzing alternatives and recommending actions to provide services in securing housing and to help meet the immediate survival and safety needs of individuals in our community who do not have access to safe shelter. The City Council’s review was to include possible renovation of Fire Station 39 as a long term location for a new shelter or housing facility.
Then, about this time last year, the community convinced the Council to not support the proposal for a shelter at this location and instead look at possibly selling the property to someone who would develop permanent housing for this site and partner with the City to use the $950,000 earmarked for this site for some sort of a public community space. And with that, the Seattle City Council changed course and voted for a Statement of Legislative Intent (SLI), requesting the Executive instead develop a proposal for the future redevelopment at the site of the old Fire Station 39 to include long-term housing for low-income or formerly homeless families. The Executive was requested by the Council to also involve community stakeholders in the development of that particular kind of proposal. The Executive has not yet made a final recommendation to the Council and the Council will still have to – after a recommendation has been made – vote to support, reject, or amend that proposal.
So, in short – the Council heard the community a year ago when Lake City residents emailed and met with Councilmembers to say that Fire Station 39 should not be used as a shelter. How do you know that the Council heard Lake City residents? Because, Council voted to tell the Mayor to change the shelter proposal. And the community will have still yet another opportunity to influence the Council, after the Mayor makes a final proposal and before the Council votes on the disposition of the Fire Station.
Back in June, after the City made a preliminary recommendation, there was a briefing on that recommendation and the next steps in my Housing, Human Services, Health, and Culture Committee. If you are interested in the details of the preliminary recommendations, an assessment of the needs of Lake City residents, or information about the concentration of low income housing in different City neighborhoods, you may want to review the documents at this link, under agenda item #2. In December, the Executive will be making a final recommendation to the City Council. My committee will hear that recommendation. If you want to track the Council’s discussion in December about these issue, you may want to sign up to receive my committee agendas here.