The Office of Housing has not yet answered my questions about the choices to site this project here. I am looking for any evidence of due diligence on the part of the developers, the Office of Housing, or other public funders to ensure that this location is an appropriate place to put $14.5 million of precious public housing money. Have the extreme poverty and lack of neighborhood amenities been carefully considered? Maybe, but I have yet to see evidence of it.
So, I decided to look at other DESC neighborhood-based projects. I also looked at a Compass Alliance project in Ballard, as it is another large supportive housing project under construction. It turns out that the census tract containing Delridge does indeed have a higher percentage of extremely poor households (earning less than $20,000) than any of these other projects.
And seeing this made my heart sink. With the exception of the Ballard project, all of these projects are in extremely economically stressed neighborhoods, although Delridge is the worst so far – and appears to be part of a trend with DESC projects to choose sites in increasingly impoverished and isolated areas. Perhaps this is why the Office of Housing is mum about the census data for Delridge. Because this is happening in all the poorest areas of our city. We, Seattle, beacon of social justice, are concentrating these projects in the most economically stressed neighborhoods of our city. But this area of Delridge does have the dubious honor of being the worst neighborhood site yet.
I would like to contrast the proposed Delridge project with the Ballard project, which is an exemplary example of how this should be done. It is a larger project (80 units), located 3 blocks from the center of Ballard, where the percentage of extremely poor households is less than half what we have in this area of Delridge. Walkable proximity to every amenity you can imagine, in addition to multiple bus routes serving the area, make this a location that truly meets the vision of the Consolidated Plan:
One goal is to ensure that housing for Seattle’s lowest‐income and most vulnerable populations is available throughout the City, including in our most amenity‐rich neighborhoods in terms of transit, schools, parks and retail.
Another aspect of the Ballard project that I would like to draw your attention to is the amount of care taken in analyzing the site and considering the impact on the surrounding neighborhood. I have not spent an extensive amount of time researching this project (yet), but here is a link to a 27 page analysis of the site with some early design concepts. We certainly have not seen anything like that for this site. Apparently only people who live in Ballard or other wealthy neighborhoods deserve to have that type of care and thought put into ensuring the site and design are appropriate. I have also learned from my research that the project started construction four years after the site was purchased (and I have no idea how much time was spent on the project prior to the purchase). This is an example of taking the time to do it right – a far cry from the DESC Delridge project, which includes purchasing the site 4 months after public notification, with construction starting less than a year after the site purchase. Delridge deserves better. Any neighborhood deserves better.
I understand that homelessness is a crisis in our city, and I can even understand the rush to get vulnerable people into housing as quickly as possible. And I further understand that it is much easier to build this type of project in stressed neighborhoods. There is more available land, land prices are lower, and there will be less effective neighborhood resistance to the project because many of the residents are just too stressed with daily life to get involved.
Maybe the city has even decided that it is an “acceptable loss” because the stakes are so high. And maybe it is. I can understand that there are multiple viewpoints on this topic. But I question the integrity of establishing a Consolidated Plan goal for dispersed very-low income housing throughout the city, without a reliable metric for determining appropriate sites. The current siting policy only takes into account the ratio of subsidized housing units to total number of housing units, which does not count the number of extremely poor households in an area that are not in subsidized housing.
But, worse than that, it has come to light that the Delridge DESC site does not even currently meet the requirements of the siting policy. A waiver has been issued based on planned future housing by the Seattle Housing Authority. I reiterate my questions to the Office of Housing about the due diligence behind this decision:
- Did the Office of Housing do any research into the demographics of the neighborhood – or any other analysis of the surrounding area? Is there other reliable information that disproves the information from the census research?
- How often is a waiver of a siting policy granted to a project? Is this a rare thing, or standard practice?
But wait, there’s more. Setting aside the impact on the neighborhood, consider the needs of the highly stressed residents who would be living in the DESC facility. In addition to the extreme poverty of the area surrounding the Delridge site, which is in itself a reason that this location is a poor choice, there are few amenities within walking distance and the neighborhood struggles with geographic isolation due to the steep hills on either side of Delridge Way. We have heard that this site is similar to others that DESC claims are good locations, so I thought I should probably check that assertion out as well. I have also examined those sites and discovered a marked difference in the level of access to basic amenities.