'It’s Not Going To Be The Same': How The Kids Of Yesler Terrace Feel About Leaving

Jul 21, 2014

When 10-year-old Mohamed Mohamed thinks of Yesler Terrace, the word “community” comes to mind.

“It’s not one of those quiet neighborhoods where you’re staying at home playing video games or anything like that,” he said. “It’s somewhere where you can play outside and meet new people.”

Mohamed says he has lived in Yesler Terrace, Seattle’s oldest housing project, his whole life.

“It’s very sad they’re changing it into like houses that have elevators,” he said. “It’s not going to be the same; it’s not going to be low-income anymore. It’s just going to be sad.”

Mohamed was one of about 50 kids that came together for the “Say Yes To Yesler” party at Yesler Community Center on Saturday. The event featured kid-friendly activities like mural painting, magic-wand making and reading of bilingual books with representatives from the children’s book series “Avian Kingdom.” 

Event organizer Babylonia Aivaz poses with a Yesler Terrace resident on Saturday, July 19, 2014.
Event organizer Babylonia Aivaz poses with a Yesler Terrace resident on Saturday, July 19, 2014.
Credit Alison Marcotte / KPLU

Event organizer Babylonia Aivaz says its purpose was to create a safe space for the children to experience creativity and freedom.

“‘Say Yes to Yesler’ is a way the community and the kids can come together,” Aivaz said. “We can honor and value and support them during this chaotic redevelopment time.”

Since opening in 1941, Yesler Terrace has served as home to thousands of residents, such as rock guitarist Jimi Hendrix and former Gov. Gary Locke. About one-third of the units have been torn down so far as a part of a decade-long redevelopment effort, and construction of a new building is scheduled to begin at the end of the summer. Of the 1,200 residents being displaced, about 400 of them are children.

Joseph Smith, 12, says his favorite part of Yesler Terrace was going to the gym and playing basketball with his friends. He moved out of Yesler Terrace in December, and describes his new home as “boring and quiet.”

Christian Aguilar, 11, has mixed feelings about leaving. He just moved in about a year ago from Kent, Washington.

“It’s weird. It’s kind of cool, too. I get to meet new friends, make new friends and see different faces,” Aguilar said. “I’m going to miss its beauty and all of the people here ... It’s kind of sad because you come, you stay, then you leave."

Christina-Antoinette Wilson, 10, has lived at Yesler Terrace for seven years.

“I think I’m going live somewhere uphill,” she said. “I think it might be a good place, but I’ll miss Yesler.”

Yesler Terrace residents painted a mural at Yesler Community Center on Saturday, July 19, 2014.
Yesler Terrace residents painted a mural at Yesler Community Center on Saturday, July 19, 2014.
Credit Alison Marcotte / KPLU

In May, Wilson became a Rainier Scholar, an 11-year program that helps students prepare for and excel in college.  

“Yesler Terrace helped me become a Rainier Scholar because my friends and family, and some people in the community helped me with math, reading and science,” she said.

Her mother, Olga Wilson, says she likes Yesler because it’s close to hospitals, her daughter’s school and the bus, which is helpful because she doesn’t own a car.

“When we go downtown or have a lot of appointments, it’s easy for us to commute by bus,” she said.

Some residents have received vouchers through the Housing Choice Voucher Program (section 8) to help pay for their new homes. Over the next 10 years, Yesler Terrace’s 561 low-rise apartments will be replaced with a mixed-income neighborhood of 5,000 housing units, including high-rise apartments and condominiums.