Renewed Fort Lawton hearings take a turn toward affordable housing support

Nearly seven pages worth of people testified during a Jan. 9 hearing at Magnolia United Church of Christ, where people filled chairs, lined walls, and crowded the entryway outside.

Many testimonies used their time to voice frustrations about previous Queen Anne and Magnolia hearings that typically turned sour. Comments also showed support for the chance to redevelop federal government property at Fort Lawton Army Reserve — free of charge — and build affordable housing.

Karen Nims of Magnolia refuted the argument that Fort Lawton would exacerbate the stresses of little transportation and no leisurely stores in Magnolia or Queen Anne.

“There is bus transportation every 30 minutes,” she said. Nims went on to request for even more units than any of the options produced.

Currently, the Seattle Office of Housing presents residents with four alternatives. One — the “preferred,” option — features 238 units of affordable housing on approximately 7.3 acres with the remaining 21.6 acres becoming a park and recreation area, including two multi-purpose fields owned by Seattle Public Schools. Previously, the City of Seattle hinted at the desire to allow district-related uses at Fort Lawton if the property is acquired.

Alternative two provides 113 units of market rate housing under single family zoning and off-site affordable and homeless housing at the Talaris site in Laurelhurst. Alternative three contains “active and passive” park uses with three multi-purpose fields and, again, affordable and homeless housing at the Talaris site. Alternative four keeps Fort Lawton vacant and the city would terminate its lease on the property. Nearly everyone called that option stupid.

Nims wasn’t the only one who asked for even more housing to be built at Fort Lawton than any of the alternatives listed. Comparisons were made to other Seattle redevelopment plans in which more affordable units were created with far less acreage than Fort Lawton’s. Some asked for more than 2,000 units.

“I believe housing is a human right,” said Jeff Snyder from Democratic Socialists of America. “In a crisis, we help each other out. In a crisis, those who have more to give give more. If we can’t develop 238 units on free land with wonderful housing partners, how can we even begin to address this crisis? Building such a small piece of this parcel is not nearly enough. I want to live in a neighborhood where people lift up their houseless neighbors instead of trying to keep them out…we’re in a church here, where there’s a commandment to say love thy neighbor, I suggest you try it.”

The atmosphere that night was somewhat tense, calling out residents for conservative tendencies.

Also present was Elizabeth James. She’s the founder of Speak Out Seattle!, a group that identifies as nonpartisan but says, “we give voice to those who feel their concerns are drowned out by paid advocates” in their Facebook description. The group additionally supports homeless sweeps.

“I support bringing more affordable housing to all of Seattle’s neighborhoods, including Fort Lawton,” James said. She went on to say Seattle shouldn’t just build the housing and assume infrastructures, like schools and transit and health services, follow. James also referred to the neighborhood as “isolated,” having no restaurants and grocery stores.

Other testifiers laid claim to the exact opposite. There are in fact small businesses, cafes, a grocery store, and transit.

James suggested leveraging some of Fort Lawton’s land and selling it for market rate to encourage restaurants and businesses to move in at the same time.

One Magnolia resident in attendance was overheard saying he didn’t recognize anyone in the room, and to him that meant there were people giving testimony who weren’t from Magnolia.

He was opposed to building affordable housing or anything for homeless people.

“Saying we all deserve housing. ‘Deserve?’ I don’t deserve anything,” he commented. “The school problem is ginormous.”

He never spoke for public comment, however. Terry Cook did, though. She moved to Queen Anne 16 years ago.

“Me and my husband had to work hard to convince people we were normal, not just rich people in some enclave,” Cook said. “Substance abuse is a serious problem but limiting access to housing does nothing to address the root causes to this problem. This is one step in the right direction.”

But someone from Ballard held very different sentiments. Aden Nordone said he has a problem with the alternatives that allow housing for seniors and the homeless.

“There’s very little opportunity for residents to take a walk, get a cup of coffee, get a roll of paper towels,” he said. “I almost feel like we’re putting people in internment camps.”

That last comment didn’t sit well with the crowd. In particular, it didn’t sit well with Joseph Lachman, a prominent member of Seattle’s Asian Pacific Islander community.

“I had some comments written and that was until I heard a particular statement,” he began for his testimony. “I can’t hear anyone compare what my family went through in World War II, the internment camps. My family went through 300 years of hell in the prison camps. They lost their homes. That’s what they needed when they came back was affordable housing and that’s what folks need now. We need more of this housing. I urge you to move forward with this project and go further with it.”

Ethan Phelps-Goodman, an organizer for Seattle Tech for Housing, also expressed a desire for bolder plans in the housing department.

Daniel Ammons, a long-time but not current resident of Magnolia, felt the neighborhood does have a lot of access to the kinds of things people worried about.

“These are all things we can accomplish that are nothing on the level of building a large housing development on free land, that’s the big task,” he said. “These smaller infrastructure tasks we can build along the way and are much more doable.”

It’s true, however, that much of the crowd were nonresidents and had no specific connection to Magnolia or Queen Anne themselves. One such person who felt inclined to come was Keaton Slansky of Democratic Socialists of America.

“Frankly I expected more opposition tonight,” he said. “If you’re worried about the influx of non-white, non-wealthy folks destroying the character of your neighborhood yet you refuse to lend aid to your fellow resident when they are in need, you refuse to share your wealth with those who have none, and you refuse to acknowledge your role in human suffering, how can you claim there was any character here to begin with?”

Dimitri Groce, of Washington Low Income Housing Alliance, also not from the neighborhood, shared his story of being homeless. He was 12 when his dad lost his job, eventually making them both homeless. Luckily, there became a time when Groce and his father lived in an affordable housing community. He began to keep up with his peers in school, had his first own room and saw other people of color. Groce feels children are ripped of a fair chance to succeed in school and in life when they don’t have a home.

But Melissa Hyatt, a Magnolia resident, took the helm near the end of testimonies. She used it to really address the Seattle Office of Housing.

“You should really know your audience. If you’ve got a neighborhood you think is afraid, and that’s one guy booing, have some courage. This is a chicken shit proposal,” she said. “This is at least the fourth project I’ve been through like this. I am so tired of hearing you talk about it. Big deal, you’ve got a couple Magnolians who are worried. Get over it. Most Magnolians are in favor of it. The one thing I want to say is, don’t sell any of these. Don’t sell any of the land, any of the houses … it is work for a community, please advertise it as such.”

This was but one chunk of a 45-day public comment period ending Jan. 29. A full video of the hearing was captured by The Stranger, and can be viewed at