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Seattle Housing Authority releases report on the impact of arts and culture on the redevelopment of public housing.


Seattle Housing Authority releases report on the impact of arts and culture on the redevelopment of public housing.

Arts report cover
Arts report cover

The Seattle Housing Authority has released a comprehensive report titled Humanizing Public Housing: Arts, Culture and Well-Being in the Mixed Income Redevelopment of Seattle’s Yesler Terrace. The report documents how SHA embedded artists and creative projects in a public housing community undergoing a complete physical and social transformation.

Among key findings of the report are that arts and culture programming at Yesler had a direct
and positive impact on building a strong sense of belonging, helping residents process trauma
and change, and addressing racial, socioeconomic and other structural injustices.

When the Seattle Housing Authority was established in 1939, Yesler Terrace was its inaugural project. It was the first public housing in Washington State and the first racially integrated public housing in the country.

In 2013, after a widely collaborative process to create a master plan for redeveloping its oldest public housing location into a modern mixed-income community with increased affordable housing, the Seattle Housing Authority broke ground on the redevelopment of Yesler Terrace. In 2015, SHA received a grant from the Kresge Foundation, enabling SHA to fulfill a vision for infusing arts and culture into the redevelopment process. In 2018, Kresge renewed the grant, which allowed the arts programming to continue several more years into the redevelopment.

As part of the project, 14 artists were commissioned, and more than 5,500 participants took part in 500-plus arts activities and programs totaling more than 2,600 hours.

The 28-page Humanizing Public Housing report features dozens of photographs and, among other information, covers the:

  • Redevelopment of Yesler in the context of national trends in affordable housing.
  • Principles, key features, best practices and value of embedding arts and culture programs in low and mixed-income housing communities.
  • Perspectives of residents, organizers, SHA leadership and staff, funders, policymakers and creative practitioners.
  • Case studies and findings on how the use of arts and culture strategies created greater success in the overall redevelopment.
  • Details on arts and culture programs at Yesler.
  • Challenges, recommendations and implications for future work.

“Safe, decent housing is the essential first step in helping people with low incomes improve their lives,” said SHA Executive Director Rod Brandon. “We also believe there is much more to quality of life. The opportunity Kresge gave us to engage residents at Yesler, who were experiencing a great deal of change, in tailored arts and culture programs has had a significant impact on building a stronger, more thriving new Yesler community.”

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Danya Sherman and Jen Song are co-authors of the Humanizing Public Housing report. Sherman is the founder of Sherman Cultural Strategies, a Boston-based consulting firm that brings teams together to support the evolution of values-driven partners across the U.S. through strategy, research, writing and facilitation at the intersection of community development, the arts and social justice. Song, who has worked in the field of museum and community-based education for more than 17 years, oversees the Seattle Housing Authority’s arts initiatives at Yesler.