Seattle Housing Authority Chronology

  • By Cassandra Tate
  • Posted 4/10/2014
  • Essay 10774

The Seattle Housing Authority (SHA) was founded in 1939 as part of a federal program to clear slums and create jobs by building housing for the poor. After the United States entered World War II, the agency concentrated on providing housing for defense workers, military families, and veterans. It returned to its original mission in the mid-1950s, although with less support from the federal government. Its major initiatives in the 1960s involved the construction of housing for the elderly and the disabled. In the 1970s, SHA turned away from its previous reliance on developing large housing projects and began dispersing subsidized housing throughout the city. Much of the agency's expansion in the 1980s was financed by Seattle voters, who twice bucked national trends by approving tax increases to finance low-income housing. In the 1990s, SHA began redeveloping most of its earlier housing projects, designing them as mixed-income communities to revitalize neighborhoods and further diminish the isolation of the poor. As of 2014, the agency provided housing and rental assistance to more than 26,000 low-income people in Seattle. This chronology summarizes the major developments in the SHA's first 75 years.  

1939: The Seattle City Council passes a resolution establishing the Seattle Housing Authority, the first public-housing authority in the state. Jesse Epstein (1910-1989) is appointed executive director. The agency receives its first federal funds: $3 million, under the U.S. Housing Act of 1937, to develop a low-income housing project that will be called Yesler Terrace.

1940: Yesler Terrace is still in the planning stages when World War II creates a nationwide demand for housing for defense workers. Congress passes the Lanham Act, allowing housing authorities to build and manage defense-related projects. Three major SHA housing developments -- Holly Park, Rainier Vista, and High Point -- will be built using Lanham Act funds. Meanwhile, SHA begins developing housing for Navy personnel at Sand Point, using money available under an amendment to the 1937 Housing Act.

1945: By the end of the war, SHA has more than 8,400 units of housing under management. Of these, only 3,568 are of permanent construction; the rest are "demountable homes" -- prefabricated structures designed to be dismantled when no longer needed.

1950: Seattle voters reject an SHA proposal to build 1,221 units of low-income housing, to be financed by newly available federal funds. The City Council has approved the plan, but real estate interests have organized a campaign to subject it to a public vote. The referendum to authorize the project fails, with 63 percent of the voters rejecting it.

1953: SHA acquires title from the federal government to its three Lanham Act projects -- Holly Park, Rainier Vista, and High Point -- at no cost and begins converting them to low-income family housing.

1956: Seattle Housing Authority sells its 200-unit Sand Point development, built to house military and civilian personnel at the Sand Point Naval Air Station during World War II, to the University of Washington for use as a housing complex for married students.

1958: The Washington State Highway Department acquires title to six of the original 22 blocks at Yesler Terrace, in preparation for the construction of Interstate 5. Twenty-eight buildings will be demolished and five others reduced in size to accommodate the freeway in 1964, resulting in the loss of 263 units -- one-third of the total -- at Yesler Terrace.

1963: SHA begins planning for what will become Center Park, one of the nation's first public housing projects designed for wheelchair users and other low-income physically handicapped people.

1967: Jefferson Terrace, a high-rise for the low-income elderly and SHA's first new low-income building project since Yesler Terrace in 1941, opens six years after initial planning began. Lawsuits by neighboring property owners delayed the start of construction. Pent-up demand for housing for the elderly is so great that there are more than 1,600 applicants for the 17-story building's 300 units by the time it opens.

1968: SHA launches its "turnkey" program, made possible by new federal regulations that allow the agency to issue bonds for buildings to be constructed by private developers, with the keys "turned over" when they are finished. In four years, the program produces 22 high-rises for the elderly and 141 townhouses for families in four "villages," at a total cost of $48 million. 

1973: Seattle Housing Authority moves its central office to the Denny Regrade, at 120 Sixth Avenue North, after more than 30 years at Yesler Terrace.

1974: The federal government introduces the Section 8 program, allowing low-income people to rent their own housing on the private market; the rent is subsidized by federal government through the Housing Authority. Also in 1974 SHA buys and repairs the Morrison Hotel, a 66-year-old brick building in downtown Seattle. SHA leases the lower floors to social service agencies while managing 150 rooms for single adults on the upper floors until 2002, when it turns the entire building over to the Downtown Emergency Service Center.

1978: SHA and the City of Seattle implement the Scattered Site Family Housing Program, an effort to decentralize the city's public housing. The new program finances the construction of duplexes, triplexes, and small apartment buildings in locations scattered throughout the city. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) provides $12 million to launch the first, 269-unit phase of the project, augmented with more than $1 million from the city.

1981: Seattle voters approve a $48.1 million bond issue to house the elderly and disabled. Under the Seattle Senior Housing Program, SHA builds more than 1,000 units in 24 low-rise buildings. It is the first, and for many years the only, completely locally funded housing program in the country.

1986: For the second time in five years, Seattle voters tax themselves to build housing for the poor, approving a $50 million low-income family housing levy.

1995: SHA is awarded a $47 million HOPE VI grant for the redevelopment of Holly Park. HOPE VI is a new federal program that promotes the development of mixed-income neighborhoods, including market-rate homes as well as subsidized rentals for the low-income, in an effort to "de-concentrate" public housing and revitalize neighborhoods.

1997: Rainier Vista is chosen as one of seven Jobs-Plus sites in the nation. The program, sponsored by HUD, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the Manpower Demonstration Research Corporation, provides job training and employment assistance to working-age, non-disabled public housing residents.

1998: SHA receives a $17 million HOPE VI grant to redevelop Roxbury House (a seven-story, 150-unit apartment building for the elderly and the disabled) and Roxbury Village (60 townhouses for families), followed in 1999 by $35 million for Rainier Vista, and in 2000 by $35 million for High Point.

1999: Seattle is one of six housing authorities to receive initial funding for another HUD initiative, called "Moving to Work." The program, which SHA renames "Moving to New Ways," gives the agency more flexibility in its use of federal housing funds.

2000: Phase one of NewHolly, the redeveloped Holly Park, is completed and cited as a national model for other housing authorities. The original $47.1 million HOPE VI grant has been leveraged into more than $160 million in public and private funding to create a dense, pedestrian-friendly, transit-accessible neighborhood, with a mix of housing for families of all income levels.

2001: SHA completes the first phase of the redevelopment of Roxbury House and Roxbury Village. The complex, in West Seattle, had been developed in 1970 as a turnkey project. The Roxbury House high-rise is renovated and renamed Westwood Heights; the village is rebuilt as Westwood Court and Longfellow Court.

2005: The first phases of redevelopment at Rainier Vista and High Point are completed, as is the final phase at NewHolly. Seattle Housing Authority begins preliminary planning for a complete makeover of its first housing project -- Yesler Terrace -- which is now nearly 65 years old.

2006: A Citizen Review Committee adopts the following principles for the rebirth of Yesler Terrace: social equity, economic opportunity, environmental sustainability, and one-for-one replacement housing on site. Also in 2006, SHA begins homeWorks, a five-year program to renovate the 22 public-housing high-rises built during the turnkey era.

2008: SHA receives a final HOPE VI grant, of $10.5 million, augmented with $21 million from other sources, for the redevelopment of Lake City Court. Sixteen townhouses that had become uninhabitable because of persistent flooding will be replaced with a four-story mixed-income apartment building that complies with the latest "green" design standards.

2012: On September 4, 2012, after six years of public meetings, hearings, and debate, the Seattle City Council unanimously approves a package of legislation authorizing the redevelopment of Yesler Terrace. The plan calls for demolition of most existing housing and creation in its place of a dense, vertical, mixed-income, mixed-use neighborhood, with new parks, pedestrian walkways, and improved transit.  

2013: The first phase of what is expected to be a 10-to-15-year revitalization process at Yesler Terrace begins with the conversion of the historic steam plant into the Epstein Opportunity Center, the renovation of the low-income Baldwin Apartments, and ground-breaking for the construction of a new low-income apartment building.

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