News Clips— Rainier erupts

AS THE SEATTLE City Council tiptoes through a thorny stretch of negotiations with the city’s public housing agency, the same question keeps coming up: Why did the Seattle Housing Authority [SHA] change its story on Rainier Vista?

SHA is in the process of replacing Rainier Vista—the 481-unit public housing complex in the Rainier Valley that serves the very poor—with an ambitious mixed-income, mixed-use community. Much of the debate surrounding the project revolves around whether SHA will replace all of the very low-income housing that will be torn down.

Last week, the SHA reportedly distributed a question-and-answer sheet assuring Rainier Valley residents that “350 units affordable to families earning 30 percent of median income or less” would be built on-site. (Another 131 replacement homes would be built elsewhere in Seattle.)

But that very day, SHA representatives were locked in hot-and-heavy negotiations with city officials to get the number of replacement housing units for very low-income residents reduced from 481, as promised in its brochure, to 192, the minimum required under federal law. The council will consider SHA’s plan on Sept. 4. According to the agency’s spokesman Al Levine, the SHA proposal designates the remaining replacement units for people earning as much as 80 percent of median income, or about $54,000 for a family of four. The revelation prompted an outcry among low- income housing proponents, including the Seattle Displacement Coalition and the Friends of Rainier Vista.

Levine claims that the agency’s detractors are just confused. He points to a 1999 SHA brochure stating that the 481 “existing low-income units” will be replaced. Levine defines “low-income” as everything “from essentially zero income to 80 percent of median.”

That deft use of language originally convinced council member Peter Steinbrueck to support the proposal; he now says the SHA’s numbers were misleading. “They’re talking out of two sides of their mouth. We were hearing on the one hand that they want to preserve the same income levels, but they don’t want to commit to that,” Steinbrueck says. “That’s what makes people uneasy.”

Erica C. Barnett