Inspired by New Deal legislation and the efforts of a young Seattle attorney named Jesse Epstein, the Seattle Housing Authority (SHA) was established in 1939. It was then, and remains today, a separate public corporation that has ties to but is not under the jurisdiction of city, state or federal government. In that founding year, Epstein became the agency’s first executive director and SHA received $3 million in federal funds to develop the area known as Yesler Terrace near downtown Seattle into the state’s first publicly subsidized housing. Yesler would also become the nation’s first racially integrated public housing.
After the United States entered World War II, SHA concentrated on providing housing for defense workers, military families, and veterans. We returned to our original mission of housing for low-income people in the mid-1950s. Major initiatives in the 1960s involved construction of housing specifically for the elderly and the disabled. In the 1970s, SHA turned away from a focus on fewer, larger housing developments and began dispersing subsidized housing throughout the city. Much of our expansion in the 1980s was financed by Seattle voters, who twice approved tax increases to finance low-income housing. In the 1990s, we began redeveloping some of our older housing into mixed-income communities to revitalize neighborhoods and diminish isolation of lower-income residents. Now, more than 80 years after building our original housing community, Yesler Terrace, we are redeveloping it into a modern, urban mixed-income community.