Salishan revitalization agreement announced

Dense fog in some areas of the city couldn’t keep a full house from turning out Monday for the unveiling of a $200 million redevelopment plan for Salishan, the city’s largest public housing community and one of the poorest neighborhoods in Tacoma.

The Salishan Family Investment Center in the city’s East Side was the site of a press conference attended by excited city leaders, Tacoma Housing Authority officials, Salishan residents and others connected with the project.

“This is a transformational period in Tacoma’s history,” said Mayor Bill Baarsma, no stranger to attending events marking new developments in Tacoma.

City Councilmember Rick Talbert, who represents the East Side as part of District 4, said his father as a young child had lived in Salishan and even then – some 50 years ago – there was talk of the temporary housing tract being torn down.

“It’s going to be unique to Tacoma,” Talbert said of the big plans for Salishan. “I think it’s going to be a place we can all take pride in.”

Plans call for tearing down 809 units of the building first constructed as cheap temporary housing for World War II defense workers and building a new 148-acre community that includes 1,200 units and amenities like 8,000 square feet of retail space, a health clinic and an education and technology center.

“It’s important to understand we are still at the beginning,” Tacoma Housing Authority Board of Commissioners Vice Chair Stan Rumbaugh said, adding there could be changes made as the project develops over time.

The project is expected to have an economic impact as well, providing jobs and training for Tacoma residents.

“This will have a tremendous spinoff effect,” Baarsma said.

Rumbaugh agreed, noting the project will be a boon to local businesses, particularly small businesses.

The Salishan revitalization will provide job opportunities and training to help people work their way up the economic ladder, he said.

Startup money for the project comes from a $35 million HOPE VI grant from the federal Housing and Urban Development awarded in 2000.

In April 2001, the HOPE VI grant was executed.

(HOPE is an acronym for Housing Opportunities for People Everywhere. The Roman numeral VI is a “random” choice, according to HOPE VI coordinator Clarissa “Cleo” Everett, because the organization didn’t want people to think of it as new.)

The HOPE VI concept is a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development program that supports the redevelopment and replacement of public housing.

It encourages local housing authorities to seek partnerships with private groups to provide affordable mixed-use and mixed-income housing.

Funding for the project comes from low income housing tax credits, tax-exempt volume cap bonds, home ownership sales, Community Development Block Grants, and various other sources.

People, however, remain the focus of the plan, as there are approximately 3,000 Salishan residents who will be affected the most by the project.

Officials will be seeking ideas and input from citizens, Rumbaugh said, including various community meetings to keep people informed about what is going on.

New Salishan Resident Council Chair Deborah Coley stressed that two-way communication between residents and officials is critical, describing the Salishan Resident Council as a link between residents and the Tacoma Housing Authority.

“Now that the MDA (Master Developer Agreement) is signed, we’re on our way,” she said.

The project will take more than eight years to complete, said Harris Hoffman of Lorig Associates, the Seattle-based developer in charge of the project.

Construction is tentatively set to begin in about 18 months, said Tacoma Housing Authority Executive Director Peter Ansara.