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An Honorable Thing

The article below is reposted from the SLOG

Yesler Terrace is the last big swath of public housing located in Seattle’s core.  It is also one of the country’s last garden housing projects, which provides ample room for growing food to all its low-income residents. 

It’s currently under redevelopment plans, with much of the land being effectively sold to private developers.  There are myriad issues with the project at every stage—not to mention the Seattle Housing Authority’s own shitty metrics for what is an “affordable” rent, when the “market rate” is insanely inflated.

It is strange, however, that no one on the SLOG or anywhere else seems to be pointing out the clear conflict of interest with the planning commission’s own involvement in greenlighting this project—if you look at the paperwork, the majority of commissioners reported some pretty severe conflicts of interest (admitting that their personal construction firms would bid on the project or their law firms would bid to represent the construction firms).  Below the article, I’ve included a list of planning commission conflicts of interest, taken from their own recommendations on the redevelopment of Yesler Terrace.

It is not difficult to understand, then, what might have motivated this SHA board member to resign.  It is stranger that he is the only one to have done so.

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Somali Commissioner Resigns from SHA Board, Frustrated with Housing Project Redevelopment

Posted by on Thu, Aug 9, 2012 at 10:54 AM

Just as the Seattle Housing Authority (SHA), a federally funded public corporation that works in tandem with the city, is trying to obtain final approval in the next few months to rezone its Yesler Terrace housing projects on First Hill, one of their board members is quitting. SHA wants to rebuild the 28-acre site as a high-density, mixed income development (Cienna wrote about the final hearing yesterday). But Yusuf Cabdi, who serves on SHA’s board of commissioners, says the process is “a huge mess.” Cabdi, who is Somali, serves as the de facto representative for many of the east-African population who live at Yesler Terrace. He explains that SHA isn’t planning to rebuild enough low-income housing on site (it’s unclear if the Seattle City Council will require that the low-income units there now be replaced on site), among other things. That could result in “shipping poor people to South Seattle,” Cabdi says by phone this morning. So he’s resigning in protest from the SHA board. Here’s his statement:

Today, I announced my resignation from the Seattle Housing Authority (SHA) Board of commissioners. I no longer feel that SHA is living up to its mission of providing housing to most needy families in our city. Yesler Terrace is a clear example of how the agency is moving away from its commitment, and engaging very risky projects that will cause irreparable damage to affordable housing stock in the city Seattle.

After five years on the board, I get disillusioned with the service it provides to the tenants and its lack of public accountability and transparency.

Yesler terrace is very risky project; it has many unknown factors that could drain valuable housing authority resources. I would like the city council to address the following concerns as it continue its review of the Yesler Terrace project:

The letter continues…

Have a very thorough resident relocation plan: Tenants need to get the whole truth of the relocation process including “housing counseling” to make sure that they know their options and their tenant rights. For example, whether they will choose section 8 housing or be placed in other low-income housing, and what are the advantages and disadvantages of each option.

I will strongly recommend that the city council to bring a paid third party – like the Tenants Union, Northwest Justice Project, or Columbia Legal Services to serve as tenant advocates, and to oversee the tenant re-location process. I am not saying that SHA will throw the tenants under the bus, but as a matter of transparency and accountability, it is important to bring a third party that will ensure tenant’s rights are being upheld.

As of this moment, no such measure of accountability exists except the word of the Seattle Housing Authority that they will offer counseling and help to the tenants.

When people’s livelihoods and housing and well being of life are at stake, we need more than a statement of intent

We need a way to trace residents for a minimum of five years to see if their new housing is meeting their needs sufficiently, and also this will be a blueprint for the city to understand what happens to people when they are displaced or re-located. This will be conducted by the third party.

Yesler Terrace is home to a majority immigrant and refugee population - most of who do not speak English or have employment skills. Their primary source of generating income is through community day care businesses or growing vegetables in their yards and selling them. When these people get re-located they are going to lose this valuable source of income. SHA and the city have no clear plan to mitigate this situation. Therefore, we need to see language in the cooperative agreement addressing this issue

Thanks

Yusuf Cabdi

Cabdi says he will tender his official resignation in a letter to Mayor Mike McGinn.

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SEATTLE PLANNING COMMISSION RECORD OF DISCLOSURE & RECUSAL:
- Catherine Benotto disclosed that her firm, Weber Thompson, designs projects and advises clients who might be interested in pursuing development projects at Yesler Terrace.
- Commissioner Luis Borrero disclosed that his firm, DRVE LLC, has a strategic partnership with Heartland, LLC, which is working on the Yesler Terrace project.
- Commissioner Josh Brower disclosed that his firm, Veris Law Group PLLC, represents single and multi family developers throughout the city of Seattle. He added that used to serve on the Advisory Board of Full Life Care (formerly Elderhealth NW), which works closely with SHA to provide housing and adult-day services to people suffering from dementia.
- Commissioner David Cutler recused himself from the discussion and vote on this matter.
- Commissioner Colie Hough Beck disclosed that the firm I work for, HBB, works with SDOT, SPU, Parks, and City Light on projects throughout Seattle. She added that her firm also work for private and public housing developers in Seattle.
- Commissioner Brad Khouri disclosed that his firm, b9 Architects, design single family and multi-family housing throughout Seattle and might in this neighborhood.
- Commissioner Jeanne Krikawa disclosed that she serves on the Yesler Terrace Citizen Review Committee, which will also submit a letter to City Council.
- Commissioner Amalia Leighton disclosed that her firm, SvR Design, is working on the infrastructure for the Yesler Terrace redevelopment project.
- Commissioner Chris Persons disclosed that his organization, Capitol Hill Housing builds affordable housing throughout Seattle and may develop replacement housing or on-site housing for the Yesler redevelopment.
- Commissioner Matt Roewe disclosed that his firm, Via Architecture, works on municipal planning and private development projects throughout Seattle and that he serves on the board of Capitol Hill Housing, which may develop replacement housing or on-site housing for the Yesler redevelopment.
- Commissioner Morgan Shook abstained from the discussion and vote on this matter.
- Commissioner Sarah Snider disclosed that her firm, LMN, does urban design and various types of architectural projects and works for clients who might be interested in pursuing development projects at Yesler Terrace.

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