March 29 2013

Taking Stock in Public Housing: The Redevelopment of Seattle’s Yesler Terrace

Image courtesy of Stephanie Bower

The image of public housing may have been tainted by the likes of Pruitt Igoe and Cabrini Green; but Seattle, Washington has taken a different approach to public housing that aims to develop urban, mixed-income neighborhoods. The Seattle Housing Authority (SHA) has spent the past six years planning a $300 million redevelopment of Yesler Terrace, Seattle’s oldest public housing development.

The existing Yesler Terrace, built in 1941, is located on 30 acres on First Hill, directly east of downtown Seattle. The current 550 two-story rowhouses are home to 1,200 residents, who typically earn less than 30% of the city’s median income.

While the deteriorating condition of Yesler Terrace was the initial impetus for the redevelopment, the new vision for the neighborhood goes beyond replacing the existing housing stock. The new Yesler Terrace will include the following:

Neighborhood Improvements

  • Approximately 16 acres of parks and semi-private open spaces;

  • Pedestrian connections to the new Yesler neighborhood park;

  • Enhanced public transit connections, with the First Hill Streetcar under construction;

  • Financial assistance for the rehabilitation of Washington Hall, a historic building in the neighborhood.

A Mix of Housing Options

  • About 1,000 low-income units serving people with incomes below 60% Average Median Income (AMI);

  • 850 workforce housing serving people with incomes below 80% AMI;

  • 1,200 – 3,200 market rate housing units.

Image courtesy of Stephanie Bower

In order for SHA to execute their vision for a mixed-income neighborhood, they will sell portions of Yesler Terrace’s 30 acres to private developers to finance new public housing. SHA has recently announced its partnership with Vulcan, the real-estate firm that transformed Seattle’s South Lake Union neighborhood through the development of five million square feet of office, lab, retail, and residential space.

As this public-private partnership breaks ground with the first phase of development by the end of the year, do you think Seattle’s approach to public housing redevelopment will serve as a model for other cities?

Credits: Architectural illustrations of the proposed development courtesy of Stephanie Bower. Data linked to sources.

Amanda Bosse

Amanda Bosse is a former writer for the GRID. At the time she was writing, she was in the Master of Architecture program at the University of Washington. Growing up in the Midwest, she became interested in the dialogue between the individual structures and the urban fabric (including those structures not typically designed by architects). With a background in both architecture and urban design, Amanda was primarily interested in applying architectural thinking to solve larger scale design problems.

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This entry was posted on Friday, March 29th, 2013 at 9:40 am and is filed under Community/Economic Development, Environmental Design, Housing, Urban Planning and Design. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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2 Responses to “Taking Stock in Public Housing: The Redevelopment of Seattle’s Yesler Terrace”

  1. James Lloyd Says:

    Instead of serving the 1200 current residents making 30% of AMI, the new units will go to those making 60%/80% of AMI or will be market rate. Unless your explicit goal is the removal of the poor, I fail to see how this plan represents an improvement over existing conditions. Architecture for gentrification?

  2. Amanda Bosse Says:

    Thanks for your comment James, as well as your loyal readership to the GRID!

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