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Originally published Thursday, August 9, 2012 at 7:12 PM

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Housing Authority official quits over Yesler Terrace plans

Seattle Housing Authority Commissioner Yusuf Cabdi resigned Tuesday night over redevelopment plans for Yesler Terrace, saying plans to sell parts of the property to private developers to fund more low-income housing are risky and don't provide enough protection for current residents

Seattle Times staff reporter

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A Seattle Housing Authority Commissioner resigned Tuesday night over redevelopment plans for Yesler Terrace, saying plans to sell parts of the property to private developers to fund more low-income housing are risky and don't provide enough protection for current residents

"They're not paying attention to the needs of tenants," Yusuf Cabdi said Wednesday. "They're going to move them away, and they may not get back for years. I've been raising these questions, and when I couldn't get answers, I decided I shouldn't be part of the commission."

Cabdi had served on the seven-member commission for five years, including a year as chairman in 2009. He is active in the East African immigrant community.

John Little, chair of the Seattle Housing Authority Board of Commissioners, said he was saddened to learn of Cabdi's resignation. He noted that Cabdi had been part of the planning process for Yesler Terrace's redevelopment from the beginning and had joined other commissioners in a unanimous vote to endorse the plan.

Cabdi said he had been given reassurances that his concerns would be addressed, but they were not.

The City Council is now considering final approval of the redevelopment project at Yesler Terrace, the city's oldest publicly subsidized housing complex, and could vote in early September. Plans call for private developers to build about 3,000 market-rate apartments and condos up to 23 stories tall on the 30-acre site on First Hill. With the money from the property sale, the authority would reconstruct and expand its low-income housing at the site.

The Housing Authority provides long-term rental housing and assistance to more than 26,000 low-income people in the city.

Current plans call for at least some of Yesler Terrace's 1,200 residents to be moved away during construction.

Cabdi said he's concerned that the residents, many of whom are immigrants and speak no English, won't get the help they need to evaluate their options or protect their rights. He called for the Seattle City Council to appoint a paid, third-party tenant advocacy group to ensure that tenants' interests are protected.

Anne Fiske Zuniga, project manager for the Housing Authority, said officials have been meeting with tenants to discuss redevelopment plans since 2006. She said that counseling has been provided in the tenants' languages and that they've been given several options, including moving to a vacant Yesler Terrace apartment during redevelopment, moving to another Housing Authority property or using federal vouchers for private housing.

"We have a lot of experience relocating residents because of our projects at High Point, Rainier Vista and New Holly," Fiske Zuniga said.

She said that every resident has received a guaranteed right-of-return certificate allowing them to come back to Yesler Terrace, with expenses paid by the Housing Authority. But she acknowledged there is no time limit on the guarantees and the project could take more than 15 years to build.

Lynn Thompson: 206-464-8305 or lthompson@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @lthompsontimes.

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