Community Response

Community Response

Page from "Relocation in Seattle: Helpful Hints on Moving Your Family," circa 1964
Page from "Relocation in Seattle:
Helpful Hints on Moving Your Family,"
circa 1964
Document 7639, Record Series 1801-92

Records in the archives illustrate both community support and opposition to urban renewal. Those in favor lobbied for the City to select their neighborhood for the program. Such records show optimism towards the promise of property improvement through federally subsidized grants and loans. Others protested the classification of their neighborhoods and properties as "blighted," and the land condemnation and forced removal of residents, businesses, and churches that would potentially follow.

SURE and the City's Urban Renewal Division worked to promote the benefits of urban renewal activities in Seattle, particularly in communities within project areas. Through newsletters, community presentations and informational meetings, SURE focused on the purported goal of the program: to eradicate blight and revitalize communities. The City's annual Workable Program reports point to the involvement and support of community groups and area residents and businesses within project areas. However, as urban renewal projects continued both in Seattle and around the country, public dissatisfaction with how the programs were administered appeared to be growing. "Press releases on the project give a distorted picture to the public," protested Mrs. William E. Cowling, who lived in the Northlake Urban Renewal area and wrote to City Council in 1963 to express her concern. "A recent Times article, showing a smiling resident being interviewed by relocation interviewers, stated 'among the permanent residents interviewed so far, there has been no animosity towards the project.' This gives the public the idea that the project is a 'fait accompli' about which everyone is happy," she wrote. "I am sure you recognize this is not true."

Letter of support for the Yesler-Atlantic project from the Council of Churches, 1967
Letter of support for the
Yesler-Atlantic project from the
Council of Churches, 1967
Clerk File 258412

In August 1966, SURE's public relations committee commissioned a study to report on group attitudes towards urban renewal in Seattle. Behind the study was a premise that only "the noisiest and most flamboyant of the public have made themselves heard...further prejudicing the minds of the general public toward efforts in this city." The study surveyed local government officials and business leaders, the Jackson Street Community Council, SURE trustees, and "members of racial minority groups directly affected by urban renewal." The report concluded that "all groups, with the single exception of racial minorities, reacted favorably to both national and local programs." The study recommended greater communication with the public and increased efforts to "educate the citizen in his role in the elimination and prevention of blight."

Petitions and letters received by the City from individual residents, organizations, small business owners, and churches, as well as testimonies from public hearings, provide a more direct view into the reactions and responses from those most directly affected by urban renewal. A small sample received in support of and in opposition to the Yesler-Atlantic project give us a window into some of the conflicting viewpoints. In 1967, Pearl Opie Brown wrote to City Council that she had lived in her home in the Yesler-Atlantic area for 40 years. "My husband passed on and I want to stay here until I pass," she wrote. "Please let me keep my home." Others maintained hope that urban renewal would provide help. Noting that she was a Yesler-Atlantic resident since 1889, Allie B. McCall wrote to City Council in 1965, "I have seen one of the best resident districts (in the early days) in the city go down to what it is today. I am hoping thru the Urban Renewal to see it once again regain at least some of its lost status." 

Letter from Willis Jackson, Jr. opposing the Yesler-Atlantic project, 1967
Letter from Willis Jackson, Jr.
opposing the Yesler-Atlantic project, 1967
Clerk File 259022

In 1966, the Yesler-Atlantic Citizens' Conference, organized to represent residents in the area, petitioned against further participation in the urban renewal program and submitted to the city a "Statement of Conditions for Urban Renewal in Yesler-Atlantic" which outlined five conditions they believed should be met before urban renewal could continue in their area. The conditions emphasized communication and neighborhood involvement and speak to the frustration of residents. "The objectives of any proposed urban renewal plan for the area need to be clearly spelled out. Is it to disperse Negroes in the area so as to reduce the racial concentration? Is it to disperse the low and middle income people that make up the area and somehow draw in upper income white residents...Just what is hoped for under urban renewal? On what basis is success or failure to be judged?"

Other groups submitted letters in support of the project, including the Congress of Racial Equality, the Council of Churches of Greater Seattle, the Seattle branch of the NAACP, and the Seattle Central Area Advisory Group. A 1967 telegram from Walter Hundley with the Central Area Motivation Program urged City Council to approve the project, warning that if the program were not approved, "the poor, the tenants and the voiceless will be doomed to real slum conditions for untold years to come." The Central Area Community Council wrote to City Council in 1966 that financing the Yesler-Atlantic project had the potential to be a "wise investment," but expressed "deep concern" over how past urban renewal projects had been conducted by the City. "The arbitrary and unilateral actions on the part of City Officials have succeeded in creating an atmosphere charged with rumor and emotionalism and solidifying opposition," the letter states. "We respectfully suggest, before any kind of further action in this area is contemplated, that the residents whose support is required, be accorded the courtesy of being presented with a plan of redevelopment for discussion and revision." 

Public Hearings

Urban Renewal presentation on the Yesler-Atlantic project, circa 1965
Urban Renewal presentation on the
Yesler-Atlantic project, circa 1965
Image 59404

Before a proposed urban renewal project plan could be submitted to the federal government for review and approval, the City was required to hold a formal public hearing to share survey findings and the proposed project plan with residents in the community and gain their approval. SMA holds audio recordings and associated printed transcripts from these hearings. Through the hearings, some of which took place over multiple days, we hear residents and community groups describe, in their own words and voices, why they supported or opposed the plan.

One of these voices belonged to Mary Collins, a property owner within the boundaries of the Yesler-Atlantic Project area, who described her frustration with the city's urban renewal plan for that neighborhood. Ms. Collins owned property at 1719 and 1721 East Yesler Way, where she ran a beauty salon and rented out both residential and commercial space. At a public  hearing on September 18, 1967, she explained to City Council that her permits were up to date and regular inspections of her building had shown no hazards. "So now I will ask you gentlemen," she asked, "why do I have to give up my place just because urban renewal wants to come and wipe me off the map? I have no place to go now." (Listen to Mary Collins's testimony at this Seattle Segments exhibit.)

Property appraisal for 1719-21 E. Yesler Way, owned by Mary Collins, 1970
Property appraisal for 1719-21 E. Yesler Way,
owned by Mary Collins, 1970
Box 5, Folder 6, Record Series 1627-03

Residents who saw urban renewal as an opportunity believed the program might finally bring attention to the needs of areas they believed had been long neglected by the city. Residents in the Mann Minor area spoke at a public hearing on August 23, 1972, to call attention to the deteriorating housing conditions in their neighborhood. Pearl Armstrong, president of the newly-formed Mann Minor Community Council, stated, "As citizens of the City of Seattle, we feel that our community has been severely neglected and, in many ways excluded by the mayor and the City Council, in making our community one which is more desirable to live in." John Floy, Vice Chairman of the Brighton Community Council, pointed out the absence of several council members. "I attended a meeting on whether or not to place a Safeway store in Sand Point and believe you me, there was not an empty chair up there," he said. "But because it occurs with the Central Area, with people who apparently don't count very much in the city, or the southeast area, we feel that you can neglect those people." Resident Mary Garlic pointed out the difficulties residents faced in obtaining mortgage loans and housing insurance. "Theft and fire insurance is very difficult to get in this area," she says. "Insurance companies claim that the area is a high risk area and cannot be profitably insured...The result is that our area is a redlined area. And we are asking the City Council to give us your utmost consideration in helping us to live better." (Listen to the hearing at this Seattle Voices exhibit.)

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