Southeast Asia Weekly
Longtime Chinese and Indian immigrants in Bellevue were surprised at a planning committee meeting in September to discover that the city was considering further housing density incentives for certain religious properties throughout Bellevue to encourage the construction of affordable housing.
At a Sept. 14 meeting, residents of the Somerset and Factoria areas attended to ask the city for more time to assess the impact, but not everyone in attendance ended up speaking. Many said the city did not publicize enough about the strategy, which allows for the reclassification of eligible properties when an affordable housing development is proposed.
Responses from city officials to those concerns and general outreach questions appear to point to the need for more outreach, and city officials acknowledge they are stepping up.
City officials also said in interviews with Northwest Asia Weekly and in written statements that they conducted outreach in the months leading up to the September meeting, when the city’s planning commission recommended that the city council pass the amendment, if passed. , could lead to policy and regulatory changes to meet the growing demand for affordable housing.
In addition, officials say they have increased their outreach to the community in recent years.
However, in meetings earlier in the summer, outreach efforts did not appear to be effective in reaching diverse residents. Strategy
The current initiative, which has identified 29 retrofit sites, is just one part of an ambitious plan to build affordable housing in Bellevue, first proposed in 2017, officials said.
Emil King, assistant director of community development for the city of Bellevue, said too many units have been built or planned.
“Of the more than 5,000 affordable housing units on the ground and under construction, only a fraction are in Factoria and Somerset,” he said.
Following the passage of state law on such an approach in 2019, there has been new outreach to religious institutions in Bellevue as potential sites for affordable housing, King said.
While the city has worked with religious institutions in the past, with this new initiative, the city is offering density incentives to encourage the sale of such land. That means developers can build more units on properties that might otherwise be zoned only for single-family homes. In the proposed development in the Factoria/Somerset area, developers will have the right to build 7.5 units per acre, which would result in a yet-to-be-determined mix of duplexes, triplexes or townhouses, possibly with a community center.
Habitat for Humanity is a potential developer, officials said.
“We’re still working out who’s going to own and operate the space,” said Brett DeAntonio, chief executive of Habitat for Humanity in Seattle’s King and Kititas counties. “However, this will be a space for Habitat homeowners or members of the Holy Cross community in the development.”
If Habitat developed the housing, families would go through the mortgage application process to qualify for their affordable monthly payments, D’Antonio said. With the help of donors, Habitat will cover the rest of the costs.
“Habitat Partner families are invested in their new home and community,” he added.
Holy Cross Lutheran Church did not respond to emailed questions.
At the Sept. 14 meeting, residents of surrounding communities said they were concerned about increased traffic, a lack of understanding of how the development would affect their neighborhood and neighboring schools, and insufficient time to evaluate the project. Residents said they were notified by the city in the first week of September — shortly before the meeting.
Officials said meetings were held in June and July and they did not understand why concerned community members did not come then.
At an earlier meeting, Gwen Rousseau, a senior planner at the Ministry of Community Development, said emails about the project had been sent to people living in Block 25 ahead of the first meeting on June 22. Everyone within 500 feet of each church.
“On June 16, we mailed a courtesy application and notice of public meeting to all 500 households within 500 feet of the original 25 eligible locations,” she said.
A subsequent meeting was held six days later. Only one community member showed up to address the planning committee about the new strategy.
Information about the next meeting, to be held virtually on July 27, was then emailed to “interested parties” on June 27, Rousseau said. She noted that “just over 20 people” attended the meeting.
This time, it was two community members — one of whom was the same as the previous meeting — who attended the new initiative, according to the meeting minutes. Neither appeared to be Asian.
One resident expressed concern that the move would divide the city in terms of wealth distribution, and said the new projects were all in less affluent parts of the city.
“What Bellevue is doing is moving toward the socioeconomic red line in the name of compassion and providing affordable housing. The city is looking at concentrating affordable housing in the most affordable neighborhoods,” the resident said. “Lake Hills has nine properties and others are targeting Eastgate, Crossroads and Factoria. The two properties listed as Somerset are for all practical purposes located in Factoria. The impact of the cluster is clear.”
City officials said they would not cluster new projects together and would have to depend on the standards church sites must meet. These include proximity to existing multifamily or commercial property zoning and proximity to high frequency traffic.
They also said religious institutions were not forced to accept the proposal. The city is funding outreach to the church.
Longtime Chinese immigrants living nearby said they wondered if they had ignored an earlier notice in June. However, they say they and their neighbors were surprised when they heard about the developments in September.
At the Sept. 14 meeting, residents of white, Indian and Chinese ethnicity expressed dismay at what they said seemed to be a lack of notification. No one mentioned the earlier meeting.
“We didn’t know that, and then we didn’t have enough time to make a decision,” said one woman, who asked not to be named. “If they don’t get any response from us, shouldn’t they check that the message has reached us instead of acquiescing that we haven’t objected?”
City officials said they sincerely hope to continue improving communication with the Chinese community.
“In the 20 years I’ve been in the city, the diversity of the city has grown tremendously, and the way we do our outreach and some of our goals have definitely changed,” Kim said. “We’re working hard to continue raising the bar to roll out to community members who may not know the government or who may not know how to access the material.”
According to the US Census, 37.5 percent of Bellevue’s population is Asian. According to the city, the percentage of its foreign-born population increased from 13 percent in 1999 to 39 percent in 2015.
Mike McCormick Huentelman, assistant director of Neighborhood Services for the City of Bellevue, said every community is surprised when there is a new development.
“I would say this is not unique to our Chinese community. It also happens in different communities around many projects,” he said. “When people first discover a project, when they first hear about it, they’re surprised. They’re against something. They’re like, ‘Oh my gosh, where did this come from, it’s How does it affect me or the community around me?'” he said in the interview.
Many Chinese immigrants in the East End rely on WeChat for information, and in some cases this has indeed raised concerns. In many cases, however, their reliance on Chinese social media platforms facilitates political and civic engagement with the city.
The three people who spoke to Northwest Asia Weekly about the development have lived in Bellevue for decades, are graduates of elite universities in China and the United States, and are longtime civic activists who regularly attend and follow government events.
“In the past, we were not used to being involved in this kind of thing because of our background, but now we have completely changed and we are protesting,” said a Chinese Somerset resident who asked to remain anonymous.
More resources are coming
For recently arrived immigrants, the city offers a variety of outreach and interpreting services. However, compared with the city of Seattle, officials don’t seem to appreciate the relative scarcity of explanatory materials.
Meanwhile, a mini “town hall” at the Crossroads Shopping Center offers services in nine languages to help migrants do business in the city. Officials said budget requirements did not allow them to translate all the materials into other languages.
Deputy communications officer Michelle DeGrand said the city is putting together a list of frequently asked questions for the new affordable housing strategy that will be translated and available online within weeks.
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