A step forward for Sea-Tac Airport's troubled third-runway project is putting more than 500 residents of the Lora Lake Apartments in Burien a step closer to losing their homes.
The apartment complex is scheduled to be leveled to make room for the new runway, but affordable-housing advocates say many of the units could be saved.
"With a critical housing shortage, to deliberately eliminate affordable rental units - especially units that are of good quality and located near two major employment centers - is not only shortsighted; it is morally wrong," said the Rev. Sanford Brown, executive director of The Church Council of Greater Seattle.
The Port of Seattle bought the 234-unit complex in 1998 to make room for the new runway. Before the demolition, King County negotiated a deal to use the complex for affordable housing during the five-year period before construction began.
The deal was extended when the runway construction was delayed.
But as of July, the property will be back in the port's control and the apartments will be torn down.
Seventy-one of the units must be leveled to create a safety zone around the new runway, but the fate of 162 other units is not so clear-cut.
Port spokeswoman Terri-Ann Betencourt said the airport needs the space for an air cargo transfer and warehousing facility - which is in line with new city of Burien plans for the area.
The city's new zoning rules call for light industrial development instead of residential housing.
Betencourt said noise and safety issues contributed to the new land-use plans.
Brown disagrees, saying the houses offer quality housing at reasonable rates, affordable to families earning $20,000 to $50,000 annually.
"Contrary to assertions by the port, this housing is not significantly impacted by noise, thanks to quieter, modern jets and mitigation efforts undertaken by the King County Housing Authority when they leased the property from the port in 1998," he said.
Bill Block, project director of the King County Committee to End Homelessness, said the burden is practically a direct transfer: "It's a huge difference to lose that number of units."
"There is no need to tear the (apartments) down," Block said. "We will be very lucky in the next year to create about 625 units of housing to help people out of homelessness. If we lose 162 low-income units at the same time, those people essentially go into that pool."
Betencourt said the situation has been clear for years.
"This isn't a surprise for anyone, including the residents," she said.
"We all had an understanding that the housing would be temporary and that it would be there as long as and until the runway was built."
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