Bill Block has joined the Yesler Community Collaborative board of directors as board vice president, replacing Tom Tierney who recently retired from the board.
“This is an exciting opportunity to link and empower community groups that too often get pushed to the sidelines when major events and developments are occurring,” said Block. “The best wisdom on what communities need is in those communities themselves. I am delighted to support the voices and projects that come from the groups that make up the Yesler Community Collaborative.”
Block brings wide experience to the board. He has practiced law in Washington since 1977 and has served as board president of both AIDS Housing of Washington and Seattle Housing Authority.
In 2005, he become Director of the Committee to End Homelessness, the public/private partnership implementing the 10 Year Plan to End Homelessness in Seattle/King County. In 2012 Bill became the HUD Regional Administrator for Region X (Alaska, Idaho, Oregon and Washington) and later a Special Consultant on Homelessness to HUD, returning to civil liberties law practice in 2017. His other civic involvements include service as a board member for DESC and the Mount Baker Housing Alliance and Chair, Seattle Center Advisory Commission.
“We are fortunate that Bill Block will step in to this board position. I am confident that he will bring valuable experience and commitment,” said Sue Taoka, YCC Board President.
Tierney, who served as executive director of Seattle Housing Authority for eight years, brought his extensive knowledge of Yesler Terrace, and housing issues in general, to the YCC board. He was one of its founding directors, serving since 2014.
Innovation, optimism, hope and persistence. These were the four qualities cited by the participants in the Midtown Center real estate deal that made headlines earlier this summer for its unique vision of preserving neighborhood culture through new development.
At the July 13 Yesler Community Collaborative quarterly meeting, Midtown Center partners, K. Wyking Garrett (Africatown Community Land Trust), Chris Persons (Capitol Hill Housing), Joe Ferguson (Lake Union Partners) and Michelle Connor (Forterra), discussed how the deal came together and the behind-the-scenes steps it took to make this innovative partnership and exciting new development work. Doris Koo, lead consultant for Yesler Community Collaborative, moderated the panel.
K. Wyking Garrett
Garrett represented Africatown and the interests of the neighborhood during negotiations. Persons represented Capitol Hill Housing, a working partner providing capital and management expertise. Ferguson, of Lake Union Partners, brought most of the capital and the interests of this real estate developer to the table. Connor negotiated on behalf of Forterra, contributing capital to help make the community’s participation possible. Koo served as an intermediary and advisor throughout the negotiations.
Connor outlined Forterra’s reasons for putting its real estate and financing expertise toward Midtown Center. “As a region, we will undermine our long-term sustainability if we keep turning agricultural and resource lands over to development. Preserving these lands is key to our survival. This leads to a role is supporting vital urban communities and social infrastructure as well.” She pointed out that the Midtown Center block is a keystone property in the Central Area. “Investing in this block represents an investment in keeping this important community—including its economy and culture—healthy and sustainable.”
Ferguson described Lake Union Partners, formed in 2009, as a real estate development company willing to take an unconventional approach to the marketplace. The company chooses to work in core neighborhoods such as the Central Area, and is committed to bringing projects that contribute to community needs and aspirations. This includes attention to the ground floor retail to bring in appropriate neighborhood services. He stressed that Midtown Center will provide opportunities for African-American owned businesses.
Panelists described the twists and turns of the history of the property: when the Bangasser family that owned property announced its intention to sell, this generated intense interest in the community and catalyzed the formation of the Africatown Community Land Trust. Before the current sale, two prior buyers executed purchase and sale agreements with the family.
Ferguson noted that, in real estate transactions, the third buyer often gets the deal: the first buyer educates the seller, then the second buyer negotiates the terms. In this case Lake Union Partners was that fortunate the third buyer.
When the prior buyers were unable to meet the Bangasser’s dates for closing (after a year of due diligence) their deal fell apart, and Forterra and Africatown submitted an offer. When they learned the property was again under contract, they proposed a similar deal to the new buyers, Lake Union Partners, who, after consideration, bought into the concept and agreed to enter into partnership with them.
When Lake Union Partners entered the picture, the sellers were anxious to sell quickly, so Ferguson offered a 60-day due diligence period with closing seven days later. This was the riskiest part of the purchase for them. Could they get all the necessary work done in time? “It took real determination to hammer through those 60 days,” he said, “Thanks to everyone’s dedication, we managed to get it done.”
He also revealed that midway through this process, he learned that the City’s Mandatory Housing Affordability percentage of units set aside for low-income residents was ten percent, not the six percent he had been assuming in the pro forma. The calculations had to be redone to see if the deal would still pencil at the higher rate. There were two factors that made it work, he said: “the dimensions of the site enabled efficient site design that minimized parking costs; and we were willing to take a slightly lower-than-industry-standard return on our investment in order to bring in and support the community ownership component.”
Ferguson also noted that HAL Real Estate Investors, the company backing Lake Union Partners in the deal, is a local real estate investor with a long-standing presence in the community. “Their president actually lives in the neighborhood,” he said. “They are not a Wall Street firm just trying to check a box and do business in Seattle.” He also noted that the impending re-zone of the property was key to making the deal pencil.
Koo asked Chris Person about how Capitol Hill Housing is helping Africatown, an entirely volunteer organization with no balance sheet and no ownership experience, to leap this gap to become a community anchor. Persons described their involvement with Africatown at the nearby Liberty Bank Building.
He also noted that, “The deal itself is complicated and challenging. There are lots of cooks in the kitchen. Africatown may not have a balance sheet, but the organization has lots of capacity in the vision and energy of its board and volunteers. CHH is intent on helping Africatown build the financial capacity over time to be long-term stewards of these properties.”
Koo observed in closing that the Midtown Center partnership is disrupting the regular development process in a very positive way. Patient capital on the part of investors such as Forterra and Lake Union Partners, along with the experience of an established community development agencies such as Capitol Hill Housing, is crucial. Willingness to deliberately partner with community-based organizations and build local capacity for long-term ownership and stewardship makes deals like this possible. Koo noted, “It is a model that can, indeed, be applied in other neighborhoods.”
Collaborative efforts a key to success
Skyline from Belvedere Park, West Seattle. By Jordan Jackson, Seattle Urban Landscapes blog
On July 31, the Seattle City Council approved legislation applying Mandatory Housing Affordability requirements to the Chinatown-International District. Similar legislation was passed for the Central Area in July, for downtown and South Lake Union in April, and for the University District in March.
Much of the impetus for the current legislation grew out of Mayor Ed Murray’s Housing and Livability Agenda (HALA). This initiative examined the issue of inclusionary zoning—a land use tool that links the production of affordable housing to the production of market-rate housing in exchange for increases in building height and density—for the first time since the 1980s. Earlier attempts at inclusionary zoning were struck down by court challenges.
While the issue of mandatory housing affordability was being discussed, the City also began revising the Comprehensive Plan. Early research emphasized that, faced with inevitable growth, the City needed to examine how equity could also be achieved. City staff produced an analysis showing that certain communities were threatened by growth. While residents in these communities had high access to opportunity, they were also at high risk of displacement. All the communities bordering Yesler Terrace—the Chinatown-International District, Capitol Hill, the Central Area and First Hill—were in this category.
This situation prompted YCC to get involved in helping organizations in these communities to identify their issues and speak up about City policies and actions. Having at its geographical center the model of equitable development at Yesler Terrace, other neighborhoods were inspired to examine the issues and opportunities for equitable development open to them.
Leaders across these neighborhoods worked with YCC to develop anti-displacement strategies and began educating City departments and Council Members about them. These strategies included application of higher MHA requirements, better use of city-owned land for housing, the importance of commercial affordability and the need to address the retrofit of unreinforced masonry buildings to make them safer in the event of earthquake.
“Once we could articulate a shared vision, we met as a group with City staff and Council members. We organized a tour of key neighborhood landmarks and at-risk areas for City Department directors. This helped them see the implications of policy on the ground,” reflected YCC’s Doris Koo.
“One result of this ambitious education program is that the City has now taken historic steps—not only passing MHA but also passing companion resolutions supporting many of our anti-displacement strategies: recognizing the lasting effects of red-lining, racism, and discriminatory real estate practices and addressing other long-standing community needs. The legislation also includes strong statements about conveying public land to community ownership, including landmark firehouses, and other city-owned lands. “
When YCC was formed in 2014, several important goals were articulated to define what a successful collaborative might achieve. That vision included the following:
- All communities within and around the Yesler neighborhood will have an influential voice.
- YCC partners will achieve their shared goals.
- Pilot projects launched by partners will have secured additional funding.
The passage of MHA legislation, and the collaborative efforts that led up to it, represent considerable progress toward these goals. “The work of developing a unified voice is not easy,” stressed Koo, “but the results are powerful. We succeeded in increasing the percentage of affordable units set aside under MHA for the Central District and Chinatown-International District. We supported an innovative partnership to purchase and redevelop the Midtown Center site. We have seen our anti-displacement strategies make a visible difference in policy-making.
“But, we won’t conclude our work yet! We plan to continue working with our partners to support our shared vision of Seattle as a city for the many.”
Seattle Housing Authority has begun leasing apartments in the new Hoa Mai Gardens apartment building. Located between the Yesler Community Center and the Yesler Hillclimb, this building contains 111 apartments ranging in size from one- to four-bedroom units. Among these will be three large apartments suitable for home daycare businesses. “We expect that all of them will be filled with daycare programs operated by Yesler residents,” notes Stephanie VanDyke, SHA’s development director.
Seventy of the units at Hoa Mai will be replacement units for original low-income housing at Yesler. They will serve tenants with incomes at or below 30 percent of Area Median Income. The other 41 apartments will serve tenants with incomes at or below 60 percent of AMI. People currently working on First Hill have expressed keen interest in living here.
One of the spaces on the ground floor will be occupied by the Bureau of Fearless Ideas, a nonprofit writing and communication center that will work with Seattle University and other nonprofits to boost student success. “We are excited to add this organization to the mix here,” notes Van Dyke, “Their work is very creative and they are really good at engaging kids in interactive ways that address literacy.”
Recently, 77 students from Aki Kurose Middle School toured Hoa Mai Gardens as part of an experiential learning opportunity. They are all participants in a school-based mentoring program designed for African-American/Black and Latinx students. A third of the students are Seattle Housing Authority residents.
Students filled out a scavenger hunt quiz as they toured the building and met with SHA construction managers. Girls on the tour listened attentively as Development Project Coordinator Lori Stehlik talked of being a woman in the construction field and demonstrated how to persevere through challenging times and show initiative.
SHA will announce plans in the near future for a Hoa Mai Gardens grand opening and Yesler community celebration. Meanwhile, construction has started on Red Cedar, located near the Epstein Opportunity Center in the northwest part of the neighborhood. It will provide 119 new apartment. Construction on the new central park is underway, with completion expected next summer. The new park will contain a soccer pitch, a water feature and a half-court basketball area. “We are reaching out to neighborhood partners as construction is underway on the park,” said Van Dyke. “We hope to bring them in to sponsor activities in the park that will serve the broader neighborhood.”
Even though City Councilmember Rob Johnson represents the 4th district, located north of the Ship Canal, he is passionate about maintaining housing affordability across all sections of the city. We recently sat down with him to discuss this issue.
Johnson recognizes the importance of protecting our most diverse and vulnerable neighborhoods, regardless of council district. He is committed to respecting the voices of all community members, always willing to listen to YCC partners and consider their ideas and concerns in shaping City policy and programs.
Johnson brings a combination of deep roots in Seattle and technical urban planning skills to his job. He is a fifth generation Seattleite, busy raising a sixth generation. His motivation for keeping Seattle an affordable place to live comes from his family ties. Among his 20 first cousins, those who chose relatively high-wage careers have been able to stay in Seattle; those who chose to be teachers or environmental activists have not.
He wants his children to be able to live in Seattle when they grow up regardless of career choice. “It isn’t easy,” he notes, “66 people are moving to Seattle every day. We are not building enough housing for all these new people, let alone building affordable housing for those who have already been displaced.”
This is why Mandatory Housing Affordability (MHA) is so important, he says. “It’s the brass ring for which Seattle has been reaching for decades: how to get both more market rate housing and affordable housing at the same time, not in competition with each other. MHA strikes that balance. It encourages the development of market rate housing while generating resources for affordable housing.”
As new housing is built under MHA, he will make sure that the City tracks how well the program’s performance component is working to produce new affordable units quickly in neighborhoods throughout the city.
Johnson recognizes that MHA by itself is not enough. In each neighborhood where MHA rezones are being considered, Johnson makes a point of understanding neighborhood concerns and responding with companion legislation to articulate how the City will address them. For the Central Area and Chinatown-International District, this has meant a focus on reuse of publicly-owned land and other approaches to give each community a long-term ownership stake and cultural anchor as a counter to displacement.
He appreciates working with YCC and partners to understand community priorities and come up with creative and innovative approaches. He welcomes the way YCC has brought diverse voices to the table in an intentionally collaborative way, both at public meetings and in work sessions between the public meetings where diverse voices are often missing.
Johnson encourages YCC and partners to stay engaged with the citywide MHA rezones in the coming year to keep diverse voices involved and a focus on anti-displacement. “Great ideas get generated when YCC is at the table;” he says, “the outcomes are much better when YCC and partners are engaged. Finding ways to have YCC at the table with us [the Council] to find creative solutions is going to be critical.”
Johnson also anticipates another round of neighborhood-specific design-focused workshops and welcomes YCC partners’ participation. Overall, he is optimistic that Seattle can get ahead of displacement by employing all the available tools—MHA, effective use of public land, good urban planning, and continued engagement with diverse communities.
Community members celebrated the Juneteeth holiday on June 19 by breaking ground on the new Liberty Bank Building at 24th Avenue and East Union Street.
The redevelopment of Liberty Bank will help preserve affordability in the neighborhood by bringing 115 units of much-needed affordable housing. Rents for one bedrooms are anticipated to range between $504 and $1,008, depending on income.
The project partners intend to honor the legacy of Liberty Bank in design, but also by creating affordable space for local businesses and fostering community for residents in the neighborhood. In addition to the 115 affordable apartments, the new six-story building will also include 2,695 square feet for local businesses on the ground floor.
Community partners in this innovative redevelopment include:
- Africatown Community Land Trust
- The Black Community Impact Alliance
- Capitol Hill Housing
Other partners include Walsh Construction, Mithun Architects and the City of Seattle.
Check out the Liberty Bank Building Website for more information.