Tear-down plan in Burien fought - Port of Seattle wants to demolish 162 affordable apartments with the hope of landing a big-box retailer

By Sharon Pian Chan
Seattle Times staff reporter

There is a housing crunch in the Puget Sound region, and the Port of Seattle wants to demolish 162 affordable apartments with the hope of landing a big-box retailer.

Housing advocates are protesting and tenants are scrambling to find new places to live after the Port announced plans to tear down the Lora Lake Apartments in Burien and seek building proposals for a new warehouse or a retail giant to set up shop.

The disputed units are next to other apartments that must be torn down because they sit in the protected zone of a new runway, scheduled to open next year.

Even though the 162 units are not in the zone for the new third runway at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, the Port of Seattle, which owns the land, and the city of Burien, which controls the zoning, want to raze the complex.

The King County Housing Authority, which has operated the apartments for the past seven years, wants the Port to let tenants stay two more years while the Port seeks development bids.

"We simply can't lose this kind of housing because increasingly there is no housing for the working poor," said Stephen Norman, executive director for the housing authority.

Public hearing
The Burien City Council tonight will listen to public comment and discuss whether to move forward with plans to tear down the Lora Lake Apartments at the Educational Resource and Administrative Center at 15675 Ambaum Blvd. S.W. in Burien. The meeting begins at 7 p.m.

While these apartments rent at market rates, they are considered affordable, meaning a household making the median income would spend 30 percent on housing costs. Half of the tenants who live there make less than 50 percent of the area's median income; the 50 percent figure is $38,950 a year for a family of four.

Housing advocates say losing these apartments could reverberate through the region's housing market.

Tonight, the Burien City Council will listen to public comment and discuss whether to move forward with plans to vacate the apartment buildings.

"It will be a noisy place to live when airplanes start landing on that runway," said Terri-Ann Betancourt, a spokeswoman for the Port. "That's why the city and Port looked at that and said this is not an appropriate place to live."

The housing authority's environmental analysis indicates that noise would decrease slightly when the new runway opens, because the newer jets that will use that runway are quieter.

To build the third runway, the Port already has purchased 388 houses in its path and moved the owners, but this would be the first time it tears down a whole apartment complex, Betancourt said. She also said the Port is ready to put out a request for proposals from developers who would rebuild there.

Mike Martin, Burien's city manager, said the area already has been rezoned for light industrial or retail use. "People are not going to take you seriously unless they see land there ready for development," he said.

In 1998, the Port bought the apartment complex and, a year later, paid to relocate the tenants. Because of delays with runway construction, the King County Housing Authority asked to move low-income renters into the housing from 2000 to 2005, which was then extended to this year.

At the beginning of March, those residents received notice they would have to move out by the end of May. Norman said the housing authority and the county have offered to pay market value for the apartments not in the runway zone, but the Port indicated it would follow Burien's lead.

While most of the tenants have found new places to live, about a third of the 500 tenants are struggling to find new apartments, especially those who use federal Section 8 vouchers, a King County Housing Authority subsidy for people who typically make less than 18 percent of the area median income.

Reba Masterjohn, who is on disability, said she pulled out the phone book and started calling property managers two months ago and still hasn't found a place that is both accessible to her husband, who uses a wheelchair, and Section 8 approved.

"I didn't know it was going to be this difficult," she said. "I got a message from a manager that said, 'I accept small dogs but absolutely no Section 8.' I just felt like scum. They'll accept Fancey, our Pomeranian, but not us."

Sharon Pian Chan: 206-464-2958 or schan@seattletimes.com

Topic: eminent domain


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