The Magnolia United Church of Christ was filled with restless chatter and loud applause last Tuesday night. This would seem quite unusual for a normal church proceeding but, on that day, community members came together for a public hearing to give their opinions and listen to others about the recently revived affordable housing proposal for the former Fort Lawton land plot in Magnolia.
As people signed up to speak throughout the night, many supported the action while only a handful voiced thoughts opposing the standing proposal. he speakers for the event came from organizations such as Seattle Tech for Housing, Real Change, and the King County Coalition on Homelessness. Some speakers shared their stories, narrating times of struggle from when they had experienced homelessness, further emphasizing the importance of affordable housing. Many activists also arrived early and could be seen wearing gleaming buttons and holding signs saying, “Housing for all”.
The new proposal is hoping to add a mix of housing options, such as apartments for homeless seniors that would include supportive services for them. Rentals would also be available for families that are making 60 percent of area median income. The city is working on creating affordable homeownership opportunities as well. All together, the new housing options and a park would add up to 238 apartments, townhouses, and rowhouses with about 600 total residents.
The 34 acres of land being discussed has become a desolate site since the closure of Fort Lawton seven years ago. About a decade ago, the Fort Lawton affordable housing plan was proposed to the public for the first time. Within those 10 years, residents of Magnolia battled over the proposal for mixed- income housing. Many advocated for a park with no housing, while others pushed for a park and market-rate housing. Some even preferred for nothing to happen to the area.
This isn’t the first time though the question of whether neighborhood residents in one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in Seattle will agree to add low-income housing. A discussion two years ago brought the same question to light, only it ended with a lawsuit where the Court of Appeals stated that construction could not start until the city performed further environmental reviews of the land.
Many people saw the lawsuit and the appeal as a way to delay construction. And it did, two years to be exact. With that time come and gone, the review has been performed and proposals to create affordable housing is back on the floor.
During this meeting though, many of those same voices who voiced opposition to the first proposal presented two years ago sat in the audience instead of going up to speak. “How can you go up to speak when the majority of the people here would mark you as a horrible person if you spoke your opinion? It’s uncomfortable.” Said a Magnolia resident. “They are here to give their rhetoric but they are not asking the questions that matter.” Opponents raised concerns about the inefficient bus system that many of these new residents would have to take. “Bus routes are infrequent and there are very few.” Said one woman who chose to speak.
Other logistics that have many residents worried is the lack of space in Magnolia schools and how the closest schools available are private institutions that have a heavy tuition fee. Grocery shopping is another element of concern. The closest grocery store is the Metropolitan Market which sells upscale, expensive produce. Other opponents worry about the rise in traffic. Others stated that they were against the action because they did not want the possibility of crime rising,
No conversation was present between the two fractions to discuss these concerns. “I came here to form an opinion, but no real evidence is being given.” Said another bystander who did not want to be identified.
Many residents of Magnolia support the measure. However, during the public hearing, many could be heard commenting on the fact that very few residents of the area had not risen to speak. They felt as if the people who were most effective and involved were not being heard.
“I did hear a lot of people’s opinions and I agreed with everything they said but not many had a real connection with the area,” said Kristina Croonquist, a Magnolia resident. “It’s really important to discuss how we are going to make these people feel like they have a home, not just a place to live.”
Erika may be reached at