For many in the public housing realm, the arts and culture are nice-to-have amenities—a mural painted on a newly constructed building, perhaps, or a concert in a courtyard.
But at Yesler Terrace, a 30-acre public housing development near downtown Seattle, arts and culture play a more central role. Since 2015, the Seattle Housing Authority has worked to integrate arts and culture into Yesler’s ambitious redevelopment plan. Five years in, this approach has produced tangible benefits for the people served by the housing authority.
Yesler Terrace boasts a rich history, as well as a vibrant, diverse community. Completed in 1942 on a choice site with views of Mt. Rainier and Puget Sound, Yesler was Washington State’s first public housing and the nation’s first racially integrated public housing development. Jimi Hendrix is one of Yesler’s notable former residents.
But by 2006, it became clear that Yesler’s outdated infrastructure and 561 garden-style townhomes were beyond repair. So the housing authority began a conversation about Yesler’s future, engaging residents, city officials, key partners, and the citizens of Seattle. After intensive consultation and planning, the revitalization of Yesler Terrace got under way in 2013.
It’s a much-needed evolution. The new Yesler buildings—some already completed and occupied, others still under construction—will include 1,500 restricted-income units, tripling its stock of affordable housing in a city where such housing is disastrously scarce. Private developers are contributing a share of affordable units and will also add up to 3,000 market-rate units and 900,000 square feet of office space. The redeveloped Yesler will include new parks and open spaces, as well as a streetcar line that connects the development to the regional transportation system.
The desired result: a thriving, mixed-income community that honors Yesler’s history and culture while creating attractive, affordable new housing at a range of price points.
Read Shelterforce's article "More Than a Mural: How Arts and Culture Advance the Mission of the Seattle Housing Authority."