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Should Seattle's Fort Lawton be used to house homeless? Neighbors face off

Most of the comments were in support of the redevelopment proposal, particularly homeless advocates. But some are concerned about an increased risk to public safety.
Hundreds of people packed a public hearing in Seattle's Magnolia neighborhood for a proposed redevelopment of Fort Lawton, Jan. 9, 2018. (Credit: KING)

It was standing room only Tuesday night in Seattle's Magnolia area, as neighbors faced off over the future of Fort Lawton. A controversial redevelopment proposal could bring housing for the homeless and low-income to the now vacant Army Reserve Center property near Discovery Park.

"It would deliver housing for low-income people across the continuum, supportive housing for homeless seniors including veterans, affordable rental housing for low-wage working people, and affordable home ownership options," said Emily Alvarado with the City of Seattle's Office of Housing. "There's definitely an affordable housing crisis, and one tool we can use is to make sure we're maximizing our publicly owned property to deliver public benefits."

The Office of Housing is aware it's a controversial proposal, due in large part to the site's proximity to Magnolia and Discovery Park.

During Tuesday's public hearing, the majority of comments were in support of the redevelopment proposal. Many were advocates for the homeless and spoke about the homeless crisis now facing this city.

"If we can't develop 238 units on free land with amazing non-profit partners, how can we begin to address this crisis? If we can't turn abandoned buildings and a parking lot into housing for those most in need, what kind of city are we?" one person asked the crowd.

Some even pushed for the affordable housing project to be bigger than what's currently proposed.

"I actually asked, 'Why are we only going to build 200 units? Why can't we build more?'" said another person, during her turn at the microphone.

It's a sharp contrast to some of the worries voiced by Magnolia neighbors during previous public hearings on the same topic.

Many of those Magnolia residents left Tuesday's meeting early, frustrated and tired of waiting for their turn to address city staff. They fear that housing the homeless so close to their families puts public safety at risk.

"I'm a father of two. I have an 11-year-old and an 8-year-old, and my first instinct as a parent is to protect them. And when I'm told criminals, drug addicts, sex offenders may be living within a mile-and-a-half of my home, it concerns me," said a Magnolia resident.

The Office of Housing said it has ruled out the option of building a school on the Fort Lawton site, but beyond that, a final decision on the redevelopment plan isn't expected until this summer.

If you didn't get a chance to speak at Tuesday's public hearing, you can still submit comments electronically through January 29. Comments can be submitted via email to OH_Comments@seattle.gov or via mail to:

Lindsay Masters

Office of Housing

PO Box 94725

Seattle, WA 98124-4725.

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