Comment: Everett needs more housing but not at loss of park

Residents’ comments are needed regarding the plans for Baker Heights Phase 2 in North Everett.

By Cydney Gillis / For The Herald

I’ve seen this movie before, and it doesn’t end well for a community that’s trying to have a say in a giant public real-estate development.

Some of us in North Everett’s Delta Neighborhood, however, are determined to save the southern half of Wiggums Hollow Park, which Delta could lose to the Everett Housing Authority’s Phase 2 redevelopment of its old Baker Heights low-income housing.

On Nov. 9, the housing authority will hold a public Zoom meeting at which it’s expected to unveil its final master plan, or working layout, for Baker Heights Phase 2, part of a 15-acre site it is redeveloping between 12th and 15th streets from Poplar to Fir. Two prior online meetings revealed that EHA plans to build 1,500 housing units at the site — with high-rises potentially 10 stories tall — to replace the rows of remaining one-story units that stand empty at the site today.

Built during World War II to house shipyard and aircraft workers, Baker Heights originally had 244 apartments. The site’s current zoning limit is four stories in an area of single-family homes. Phase 1 of the redevelopment, which started last spring south of 14th Street, is preparing to start construction on four buildings with a total of 105 units. Those buildings will be four stories.

How high Phase 2 will go, whether the community will get a proposed café or child care facility, and the fate of Wiggums Hollow and the site’s longtime community garden all hang in the balance. The park isn’t part of Baker Heights, but the housing authority — not the City of Everett — owns its southern half of the park and plans to sell it to developers unless the city finds a way to save it.

Whatever happens, Phase 2 of Baker Heights will shape the future of the Delta Neighborhood, from changing its street grid to raising its density and overall household income.

Yes, raising the income level.

The 105 units to be built in Phase 1 will serve households with incomes at or below 30 percent to 60 percent of area median income (roughly $35,000 to $70,000 a year for a family of four) The authority has promised 67 units of Phase 1 as housing for homeless families with children. Phase 2, however, will follow the path of Yesler Terrace and Seattle’s other public housing redevelopments by including a higher mix of incomes, potentially up to or exceeding 80 percent of AMI ($90,500 a year for a family of four).

The Everett Housing Authority says it has not determined the income mix for Phase 2, which it plans to build over 10 years in four stages of roughly 375 units each. But an official project profile at the website of the International Living Future Institute, an organization that provides certifications for green development, states Phase 2 will target households at 60 percent of AMI (the $70,000 range for a family of four).

It is the poorest who need housing the most, but, for housing authorities, mixed-income projects are a matter of economics. Stacking more units at a site with higher-income renters increases financing prospects and the revenue to sustain a project.

If EHA pursues a height variance, the Everett City Council would have final say, but housing authorities almost always get their way, in part, because they control large amounts of publicly owned property that cities like Everett need to increase the stock of affordable housing.

This gives housing authorities a license of sorts to stall many community concerns and, in the name of the greater good, to slyly steer public perception in their favor.

At EHA’s March 23 online forum, GGLO, the site designer for Baker Heights (and, by the way, Yesler Terrace), presented three master plan options, each showing progressively more open space. Forum participants loved the amount of open space they saw in the third option diagram. I asked a GGLO facilitator during the event how tall the buildings were in the diagram, and she refused to answer, saying very graciously that it would confuse me.

That’s when I knew: All that green space opened up in the third diagram because the building heights shot up. Jon Hall, GGLO’s principal-in-charge, later confirmed the diagram showed building heights of eight to 10 stories.

Everett needs more affordable housing — much more — but we must keep an eye on the future the Everett Housing Authority is planning for Delta. Years from now when Baker Heights Phase 2 is complete, I have no doubt it will be a gorgeous community with the park-like setting that GGLO depicts.

But tomorrow’s landscaping will never replace the expanse of sky and greenery that we enjoy today at Wiggums Hollow Park. We need to raise our voices. We need to save Wiggums Hollow.

Cydney Gillis is a paralegal and a former reporter for Real Change News. She lives in Everett.

Comment on Baker Heights Phase 2

The Everett Housing Authority’s final public Zoom meeting on the master plan for Baker Heights Phase 2 is scheduled for 6 p.m. Nov. 9. A link will be posted prior to the meeting at tinyurl.com/BakerInput3 Before then, the housing authority requests the public answer a project-related Future Housing Survey at tinyurl.com/EHAFutureSurvey. The survey closes at noon, Nov. 8.

Clarification: The Everett Housing Authority will serve households with incomes at or below 30 percent to 60 percent of area median income in the 105 units it will build at its Baker Heights Phase 1 redevelopment in Northeast Everett. EHA has promised 67 units of the Phase 1 housing to homeless families with children.

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