Yesler Terrace—Soon to Be Seattle’s Densest Neighborhood

Yesler Terrace is a 30-acre development that Seattle Housing Authority (SHA) built in the 1940s as the city's inaugural subsidized housing community. Stephanie Van Dyke, director of development at SHA, spoke with MHN about the site's future as a mixed-use global neighborhood.

By Adina Marcut

Stephanie Van Dyke

Stephanie Van Dyke

Seattle Housing Authority—a government entity responsible for creating and sustaining decent, safe and affordable public housing—told MHN more about Seattle’s current project, Yesler. Yesler is a 30-acre site that was developed by the SHA in the early 1940s as the city’s first publicly subsided housing and the first racially integrated public housing development in the country. Stephanie Van Dyke, director of development at Seattle Housing Authority, spoke about the impact that this huge project will have on Seattle’s residents.

What is driving demand for affordable units in the Seattle area?

Van Dyke: Seattle is the fastest-growing city in the U.S. Rapid population growth and limited housing options have increased the demand for all types of housing in the Seattle area. The need for affordable housing, including low-income and workforce, is especially high. One way we are helping address this need is through the redevelopment of Yesler—a 30-acre site near downtown Seattle that we originally developed in the early 1940s as the city’s first publicly subsidized housing community and first racially integrated public housing project in the United States.

In 2006, when it became evident that Yesler’s infrastructure and 561 aging housing units needed to be replaced, we began working with residents and city officials to create a vision for transforming Yesler —a site with great potential due to its central location close to jobs, public transit options and beautiful views—into a mixed-income community. Part of this plan includes investing funds from land sales into the redevelopment of Yesler, including major street, sewer and other needed infrastructure repairs and replacements.

In 2013, the revitalization of Yesler began, and what is emerging is a dynamic new community that honors the neighborhood’s history and cultural richness, while creating attractive new housing that is affordable to residents across a broad range of incomes.

How will the redevelopment of Yesler influence the metro’s growth?

Van Dyke: The redevelopment of Yesler will meet the needs of nearly 10 times the number of households residing in the neighborhood originally, including three times as much affordable housing than previously available. This will make for a total of 5,000 homes comprised of 3,200 market-rate homes and 1,800 subsided homes for low- and moderate-income residents. Even so, demand has outweighed supply at Yesler, and there are lengthy waiting lists for affordable housing of all kinds throughout the city.

When will residents be able to move into the new community?

Van Dyke: Residents have lived at Yesler throughout the redevelopment. The first new buildings opened in 2015, and have been followed with openings every year. We expect the full buildout to take another eight to 10 years.

What is the total cost of the redevelopment?

Van Dyke: The total cost of redevelopment is $1.7 billion.

What are the financing sources?

Van Dyke: The Yesler redevelopment, infrastructure, amenities and affordable housing was funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Choice Neighborhoods Grant, the city of Seattle, Low-Income Housing Tax Credits, mortgage debt, JPMorgan Chase Foundation and select property sales to private developers.

How do you see Yesler moving forward?

Van Dyke: Moving forward, we see Yesler as being a truly mixed-use global neighborhood designed to be representative of all cultures, incomes and identities, offering open space, transit, amenities and arts within a walkable, connected community.

How have residents’ needs changed in the past few years, and how do you think they will continue to change?

Van Dyke: The residents continue to need healthy, well-designed housing that is connected to great neighborhoods. Yesler residents include individual seniors and large families, which calls for diverse floor plans and a neighborhood of amenities. We’re aiming to preserve the rich culture of the area, while providing additional amenities to residents to help foster community and make the neighborhood more accessible.

How are you planning to make the neighborhood more accessible?

Van Dyke: First, we introduced the Yesler Hillclimb, (an outdoor pedestrian route) which connects First Hill, Yesler, Chinatown–International District and Little Saigon. In addition to the Hillclimb, we want residents to have access to the First Hill Streetcar and additional neighborhood walkways.

Second, we want to introduce more green space to build additional outdoor community. This includes a 1.7-acre neighborhood park, three pocket parks, exercise stations and resting areas.

Third, we want to foster the local art community and add areas for cultural expression. We did this through the integration of artwork on the Hillclimb and expanding the programming at the Yesler Community Center. Additionally, the community kitchen in Batik, Vulcan Real Estate’s Yesler apartment project, allows for residents to share food across cultures and get better acquainted with their neighbors.

What are your future plans for the Seattle area?

Van Dyke: We are focused on collaborating with private developers, the city of Seattle, local employers, Seattle University, healthcare providers, Seattle School District, Seattle Parks Foundation, philanthropic organizations and other nonprofits to expand opportunities at Yesler, along with additional accessible housing options. By leveraging these partnerships, we will be able to strengthen the community by providing open community spaces, additional health-care programs, more opportunities for academic achievement and increased access to economic opportunity. This includes selling 7 acres of residential sites and 4.65 acres of commercial sites.

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