News More Big Box, Less Affordable Housing
posted by May 4 at 12:59 PMon
WW. Wonk Warning
I ran into City Council Member Tom Rasmussen last night at an event downtown. Rasmussen, a strong social services advocate, was concerned about the fate of the Lora Lake affordable housing apartments out by Sea-Tac Airport. Everyone agrees that 71 of the 234 units need to be torn down to meet FAA safety zone regulations to accommodate the airport’s planned third runway.
However, the city of Burienówhich has zoning control over the landówants the other 162 units torn down so the city can jump-start a big-box development project. (Just what that area needs!)
The King County Housing Authority (a non-profit low-income housing developer that’s not a KC government entity) runs the Lora Lake Apartments, leasing from the Port, which owns the land. KCHA is pissed that the 162 affordable units are slated to go. “You read the headlines every week,” says KCHA Deputy Director Dan Watson. “There is a short supply of rental housing, especially with the rash of condo conversions*. And in particular, there’s a shortage of affordable rentals. What sense does it make to tear down perfectly good, publicly owned, affordable rental housing? It will cost about $25 to $30 million to replace, which is one quarter of what the entire state spends on housing in a year.”
*There were 2,352 condo conversions in Seattle in 2006, which is particularly alarming for renters given that 3,900 lower-priced rentals have been either converted to condos or filed for conversion in the last two years. The average price of new condos is $250,000.
Port Commissioner Alec Fisken was at the same event last night. And he told me the Port will do whatever the Burien City Council decides.
Well, Jack Block, Jr.óa Burien City Council Member and Port candidateówas also out and about last night, and he told me the Council will vote on Monday night to ice the housing and build big box. He said the KC Housing Authority was trying to pass the buck and make the Burien Council look like “ogres.” He explained that the housing has always been temporary and, knowing that the third runway project has been coming for 10 years, the Housing Authority has simply failed come up with a plan to replace the temporary housing. He also says Burien isn’t in dire need of affordable housingórattling off this sound bite: “90 percent of the housing in Burien is affordable to people at 80% of median” income, which would be about $61K for a family of four.
It’s not clear, however, that KCHA knew the housing was slated to go. They entered an agreement with the Port knowing that 71 units had to go, but legally, the other 162 did not. KCHA’s Watson says KCHA is now asking a fair public policy question: “Is big box development a better use of public land than affordable housing?”
As to Block’s point that Burien already has a healthy stock of affordable units, Watson scoffs: “Because we have affordable housing, we should tear down affordable housing?”
Below the jump, I’ve linked a May 1 letter from KCHA partners the Church Council of Greater Seattle to Port Commissioner John Creighton.
Dear Mr. Creighton,
Once again, thank you for your response. With all due respect, it appears to me you may not be completely informed about the noise abatement issues at Lora Lake. I've attached a copy of an acoustical consultant's review on the Lora Lake apartments that concludes noise levels are well within federal guidelines and are down since construction of the apartments in 1988. If staff has given you the impression that noise levels have made Lora Lake unihabitable, they have led you astray. I have attached the consultant's report for your review.
I believe it is also incorrect to assert the King County Housing Authority, one of our partners in work to end homelessness in King County, signed on to a document that agrees to the ultimate demolition of Lora Lake. The agreement simply states that it "does not preclude reuse of the property for Airport purposes." To interpret this as an agreement that the facility should be torn down is a very broad interpretation of that language. The language does not remove from the Port the moral responsibility of explaining to the public why it would turn a blind eye to the needs of this region's homeless and demolish 162 units of perfectly good housing.
If indeed you "understand the housing crisis that our region is currently experiencing and support the addition of low income housing solutions to our housing stock" please end the planned demolition of Lora Lake. It simply is not morally acceptable to recognize the serious housing shortage in our area on one hand while on the other hand needlessly demolish affordable housing. I would offer to gather a group to speak to the Port Commission about this issue so that it could be fully informed on why some of us are so concerned. Might we have some time on your agenda?
Rev. Sandy Brown
Church Council of Greater Seattle