October 17, 2012
Vol: 19 No: 42


Shelter, low-income housing sparks controversy in Lake City

By Aaron Burkhalter / Staff Reporter

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The city of Seattle is declining to re-open a winter shelter that the Union Gospel Mission has operated for the past two years at the former Fire Station 39 in Lake City.

“We have been communicating with neighborhood residents and have decided to not host a shelter at Fire Station 39,” said Aaron Pickus, Mayor Mike McGinn’s spokesperson.

Pickus declined to elaborate on why the city made the decision. But others suspect city officials abandoned the shelter in response to complaints from residents. Last year, Lake City residents opposed holding a winter shelter in the former fire station, on the corner of 30th Avenue and Northeast 127th Street.

“That level of controversy makes those kinds of decisions a challenge for elected officials,” said Mike Johnson, Union Gospel Mission’s special projects director.

This month, the city held public meetings to discuss a proposal to replace the fire station with low-income housing. The city presented a plan to build a six-story building of low-income housing with community amenities on the bottom floor. The 50-unit apartment complex would serve families that make less than 30 percent of the median income, or $26,400 for a family of four.

Residents and members of the Lake City Chamber of Commerce rejected that plan, too, complaining that the city was pushing the city’s homeless people on the neighborhood. Neighbors worry that the city’s proposal will get in the way of rejuvenating the neighborhood. The owners of Bill Pierre Automotive, for example, hope to redevelop the car lots in the area. And neighbors had hoped to turn the fire station into a community center or park.

Some critics of the proposal say they simply want a different Lake City location. Lake City Community Council Chair Cheryl Klicker said Lake City needs more affordable housing, but not a block away from Lake City Way. She suggested the city trade land with Bill Pierre to move housing to a larger site closer to residential neighborhoods, similar to low-income developments on 33rd Avenue Northeast.

“I think Lake City needs it for families and seniors, but we’re just wondering about that particular site,” Klicker said. “Is it big enough to really do well?”

Other neighbors and business owners are not at all keen on low-income housing coming to Lake City. The Douglas Park Cooperative released data from the city showing that the Lake City area has more low-income housing than other neighborhoods in North Seattle.

According to the group, 27 percent of rental housing surrounding Lake City Way and NE 125th Street is low income. Rental housing, the group said, makes up 80 percent of the area’s housing stock.

The city selected the site for family housing because other low-income housing complexes in the area have long waiting lists. The Seattle Housing Authority’s Lake City Court has a waiting list of 777 families for 86 units.

The Seattle City Council will decide whether to move forward on the building in early 2013.

The city is collecting comments on the project until the city council’s decision. For more information, visit seattle.gov/realestate/fs39.htm.



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