Public housing for sale
Nina Shapiro's article on the Seattle Housing Authority's massive $160,000,000 redevelopment of public housing at Holly Park ("Dressing up the projects," 12/23/99) was frustrating reading. Parts of her piece were dead-on, such as the sections on the high cost of the so-called "affordable" for-sale homes and on the likelihood that SHA won't be able to live up to the promises of homeownership and good jobs that SHA made so freely to former low-income residents of Holly Park. But in focusing primarily on what was built, Nina missed the major story, which is the devastating impact the project is going to have on those most in need of housing in Seattle. It's a shame that Nina simply dismissed this discussion—which has much to do with the complexities of housing policy—as "weirdly abstract."
Here are just four of the many troubling policy precedents being set at Holly Park: (1) viable public housing serving the poorest of the poor is torn down and only about half—at best—is replaced within the project's budget; (2) tens of millions of dollars that could have been used by other nonprofit housing providers to expand our local stock of public housing for very low-income families are instead wasted on a dressy, costly, "mixed income" gentrification project; (3) additional tens of millions of dollars will be lost to replacement housing that could otherwise have also been used to expand our stock of very-low income housing; and (4) all of the above was approved by the mayor and City Council, in spite of the fact that housing levy funds are being used for a project that results in lost housing. And all of this at a time when we have over 15,000 families in Seattle on the waiting list for public housing, when we are in danger of losing at least 1,500 units of project-based Section 8 housing in the next few years, when housing costs are increasing dramatically everywhere in the region; in short, when we need to be setting policy precedents that serve those most in need of increasingly scarce low-cost housing.
The history of how SHA foisted this disturbing precedent onto Holly Park residents, the neighborhood, the mayor, City Council, and well, just about everybody, is also a story that needs to be told. While it's not a pretty tale, it would be a good follow-up to Nina's first article, and I hope she writes it. Somebody has to, and soon, because SHA has been planning to do the same damn thing to our public housing resources at Rainier Vista, Yesler Terrace, and High Point.
In fact, the story goes into the widely publicized debate over replacement housing at some length. While important, that debate takes place as if nobody had stepped foot on the place, which is why I called it weirdly abstract.—Nina Shapiro
A new community
The December 23 cover story "Dressing up the projects" did a disservice to the residents of Holly Park who are engaged in a struggle to improve their personal circumstances. Nina Shapiro makes it sound as if the Holly Park residents were "done to" by the Seattle Housing Authority. As president of the Holly Park Community Council, I can attest that the residents of Holly Park were involved in decisions about the redevelopment all along the way. We helped determine strict lease guidelines, and helped choose and evaluate service providers. We served as partners with the SHA, not as victims. While that partnership has often been a challenging one, it has helped to shape NewHolly.
Shapiro claims that NewHolly doesn't "look" like public housing and that it is too costly. Just what is public housing supposed to look like? Why shouldn't the federal government and the city invest in high-quality housing for poor residents, built to last into the future? Her persistent use of the term "housing project" is an insult to both the original Holly Park residents and the new neighbors joining us.
Pointing to the Elder Village in Phase II as evidence that the SHA will not meet its commitments to one-for-one replacement housing is flagrantly disrespectful of senior citizens in this community. We were a large part of the original community and deserve housing suited to our specific needs. Peter Steinbrueck, chair of the City Council Housing Committee, stated of the plans for the Elder Village, "Seniors are families, too."
Finally, it is simply too soon to be making the kind of snide, judgmental remarks found in this article. Give this new community a chance!
DORIS MORGAN, PRESIDENT
HOLLY PARK COMMUNITY COUNCIL
In the same boat
"Dressing up the projects" (12/23/99) leaves out a most important element about public housing. The funds for continued building of low-rent apartments are no longer coming from Washington, DC. No newspaper nor air media alerted the public of this disaster; no funds for public housing—so what? Instead the Housing and Urban Development did what it does best: It brought "nonprofits" into the housing picture. Now the real estate industry is able to extend its expertise to use government funds to build for future profits. Just as they were able to use Section 8 funds to pay for the landlords' mortgages in the guise of allowing poor people to live in nonproject apartments, so today they are using HOPE VI to build homes for "not-so-poor." Eventually, these homes will be the source of profit for the banks, etc.
We working tax payers don't acknowledge our responsibility to the federal government; we allow our public servants to cater to big business lobbyists, and poof, there goes our government! We ignore the needs of the poor worker because we think they can "make it" as we did. Not so! Because we aspiring middle-class workers are having a hard time keeping up with our credit cards.
Looking down our noses and assuming we are smarter than those of us who live in public housing is a fairy tale. We are in the same boat and the water is rising, and we better recognize to pull our oars in unison. We have got to tell our public servants in Washington, DC, that we all need the basic tenet of civilization—and that is housing with rents on the measurable scale of earnings, not just some "median income" and "fair market rents" based on unreal formulae of numbers. Tell our servants including those on the House and Senate Appropriations Committees to allocate funds for the building/managing/maintenance of public housing for all of us—and take the profits out of housing.
It's not easy being Green
In his 4th and James of 12/23/99 ("A few good Greens"), James Bush informed Seattle Weekly readers that "the Green Party . . . has taken over, if you believe the press releases." This simply isn't true. Having written the Green Party of Seattle's press releases for the past four months, I can say quite confidently that not one of the Green Party's press releases came anywhere close to saying that Election '99 resulted in a Green takeover of the City Council. Our only post-election press release focused on the election of Judy Nicastro and the reelection of Peter Steinbrueck, both of whom were endorsed and actively supported by the Greens.
Though we didn't claim a majority, we did mention that Heidi Wills, who was also elected, is a Green Party member. Would Bush have the Greens suppress this information? Does Wills' well-known history with the Democratic Party mean we shouldn't even inform reporters that she not only courted Green support in the election, but signed on to the Greens' Ten Key Values and paid membership dues? It would be dishonest for the Greens to imply that Wills or
any other Green with Dem support has defected from the Dems, or that their presence on the council is going to break the two party stranglehold on our politics, but we never came close to saying such things.
So when Bush writes that "The Green Party of Seattle is fond of pointing out that . . . five of our nine City Council members will be card-carrying Greens," he's creating a straw man. The Greens have never flaunted this information, though we don't deny its truth. Neither do we deny the significance of five out of nine Seattle City Council members claiming alignment with the values of the Green Party, which represents a fundamental departure from politics as usual. Maybe the jury is still out about how well they will represent these values on the council, but council members will be meeting regularly with Green Party members, and Greens will be watching closely, holding Green elected officials accountable.
TREVOR GRIFFEY, MEDIA COORD.
GREEN PARTY OF SEATTLE
Eric Scigliano seems so surprised and perplexed that the Coast Guard offers no support in getting a dedicated rescue tug home-ported at Neah Bay ("War of tugs," 12/23/99). He should have pointed out this attitude spans many years. Coast Guard officers come and go at the Seattle office, but they are all always opposed to policies or regulations that would increase operating costs to ship operators.
Scigliano needs to understand where many of the officers go for their well-paid second career: a shipping company or the oil industry. What retired C.G. officer wants to have the reputation follow him that he [or she] was the one who caused the ship owners the "onerous" burden of paying for a rescue tug at the entrance to the straits? These dudes [/dudettes] don't apply at Greenpeace for a job when they retire.
Learn how to drive!
In response to Knute Berger's "Pave-it-over populist" (12/23): You can close your eyes, stand on your tippy toes, click your heels together, and wish that it weren't so. The fact is that the when the vast majority of people get up and go to work in the morning, they do so by getting in their cars by themselves. The failure of the political establishment to deal with this reality is what has turned the Puget Sound region into a congested mess.
The biggest bang for the buck is not building some inconvenient mass transportation system that won't even dent traffic congestion. Building more, better, and wider roads is the real low-hanging fruit. It seems to me that there are really major issues here.
First, we have a capacity problem. Puget Sound has experienced tremendous growth over the last 15 years, and the government has completely failed in its responsibility to create the appropriate infrastructure to support the region. For example, twisty two-lane roads on the Sammamish Plateau should have been turned into five-lane parkways a long time ago. Turning roads into parking lots is not good for the economy or the environment.
Second, we have a design problem. The roads in the Puget Sound region appear to have been designed by people under the influence of LSD. On-ramps appear before off-ramps on the freeway. Senseless bottlenecks are designed into freeways and surface street bridges. Roads lanes go for miles and then without warning abruptly become right-turn only lanes. Lane dividers are erected in the most bizarre places.
Third, we have a skills problem. Many of the people who were born and raised in this area drive like little old ladies. They don't know how to merge into freeway traffic. They don't know how to make a left turn at an intersection that doesn't have a left-turn signal. They don't know how to drive in the left lane on the freeway. They slam on their brakes to catch a glimpse of Mt. Rainier during rush hour.
Punishing people for moving here is not the answer to our growth issues. Sound urban planning processes are. May I suggest that the King County government send a team to study cities in the United States that have successfully implemented public infrastructure so they can learn how it is done.
The illustrator for "Pave-it-over populist" (12/23) missed the boat, or in this case, the car. Tim Eyman is pictured in a small car, possibly a VW bug. But Eyman has other plans. Per an interview in the Seattle P-I, 11/4, "The tabs on his 1990 Nissan 240 hatchback, which he calls an embarrassment, expire next month. He'll park it until I-695 goes into effect in January, then trade it in on a 'huge' sports utility vehicle."
So when you picture Tim Eyman again in a car, please place him in a huge SUV, along with dozens of other drivers in their SUVs, so all of them can further clog the freeways, consume more gas, and pollute the environment.
ESTHER BROLIN BAILEY
Thanks for the great article "Option envy" (12/16/99). I spent a year and a half working in the customer service department at Amazon.com. Now that I no longer work there, I have time to travel, date, spend time with friends and family, try new things, and other normal activities that people in their youth should be doing. My colleagues who continue to work at Amazon.com are required to work 55-60 hours a week, answering the same "Where's my book?" e-mail over and over again for up to 12 hours a day, leaving them with no time to spend with their families and friends. Of course, some of them are making hundreds of thousands of dollars a year at a relatively easy job, but more than a few of the people I know at Amazon are hoping that their minds won't snap from the sheer monotony of the job before they make the money that they want to.
From time to time I feel a tinge of regret for not staying on another four years for the remaining $250,000 in stock options that I would have made. That feeling, like the 'option envy' that you write about, is inevitable. However, I am more than satisfied with the 20 percent in stock options that I vested and the remaining 80 percent of my personality that I was able escape with.
[Soyon Im's] literary talent is better used writing articles and books than sending 200 "Ordering with credit card via our Web site is safe and secure" e-mails every week. Please keep doing what you love. At least when you explain to others what you do for a living, you can do so with dignity. You can't really do that if you have to tell others that you set up new passwords for customers 10 hours a day, even if you are making $300,000 a year.
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