Blogs

No one should lose housing assistance when their disability status becomes permanent

Christine Crossley, HEN Program Manager, Catholic Community Services

Two weeks ago, I traveled to Olympia to testify in support of Senate Bill 6502 (Senate companion bill to House Bill 2667), to remove barriers to housing assistance for seniors and people with disabilities. That day, I was surprised to find myself sitting next to a Housing and Essential Needs (HEN) client, whose testimony of hardship, endurance, and hope, shook me. Specifically, this:

“DSHS recently gave me 24 days’ notice that I would no longer be eligible for HEN benefits because they determined my disability to be long-term rather than short-term. They plan to transfer me to ABD, so instead of housing support I will receive a $197 cash stipend.

I will now face the penalties of breaking my lease agreement with my current landlord and I need to attempt to locate housing with ABD’s budget of $197.”

I have spoken before about the problem of securing housing when a client transfers from HEN to the Aged, Blind, or Disabled program (ABD). How a portion of those who move between the two programs will return to homelessness, triggering a renewed cycle of instability and emotional trauma. The additional time and effort needed to help these clients cope and move back into stable housing is incredibly frustrating when the cause is entirely preventable. Nicholas is one of those clients.

Nicholas meeting with Rep. Nicole Macri

Nicholas and I have talked several times over the past few weeks and I have listened to his story of how HEN helped him recover a measure of basic security. I have listened as he worried about how he would pay rent because he’s transferring to ABD. I have watched as he showed me his HEN termination letter and worried whether or not this bill would pass and if it would be soon enough to help him. He is transferring to a program for those too disabled to work, and while trading his housing assistance for modest $197 a month might not cause him to experience homelessness, after a year of working with him to help re-build his life, it is not a chance worth taking.

We need a change. Our lawmakers have a chance to alter the rules of the system and provide help not harm. A change in law would offer housing assistance to HEN clients transferring to ABD and to ABD clients at risk of homelessness. HEN is ready to accept them. The Senate version of this bill that I testified on two weeks ago has died, but it’s companion, House Bill 2667, could become law if our legislature takes swift action – and you can help. Join me in asking our lawmakers to support this bill, not for any grand return but on behalf of those who feel alone and forgotten. Let these people know that you see them and you care.

I urge #waleg to pass HB 1570

Tonya Hennen, Real Estate Broker

Today, housing advocates traveled to Olympia to testify in support of Rep. Macri’s bill HB 1570, the Washington Housing Opportunities Act.  I was not able to be there today but I want to tell you why I support it.

I am a licensed WA state real estate broker and Realtor in Thurston Co. who follows issues of homelessness and lack of affordable housing in our state. I support the changes to the Homeless Housing & Assistance Surcharge in the document recording fee proposed in 1570.

As a citizen, I appreciate that 60% of those funds stay right in our county. County control allows support of local non-profits already enacting effective solutions to homelessness and housing access – the money is going to organizations I trust. Granting the county councils the ability to increase the fee up to an additional $50 means that counties have greater control to assess what amount feels appropriate for their constituency and the needs they face in their county.

As a real estate broker, I see firsthand how those fees affect homebuyers…not at all. Most are happy to pay a modest fee to know that others can be helped with their housing needs when they have means to purchase a home in a very expensive state. Lack of affordable housing is a central driver to homelessness and the recording fee is one tool to equalize the impact of real estate activity to allow all our state’s residents the chance to live in a safe, healthy, affordable home.

In WA where the median home price is $309,000, the current $40 fee accounts for a little more than ½% of estimated average closing costs and an increase to $90 would take that to just 1% of typical fees paid. Compare that to some of the common fees paid taken from settlement statements of my clients in the past 6 months:

  • $90 - $105 for Tax Service/Flood Certification fees
  • $75 - $200 for Homeowner Assoc. Transfer fees by property management companies
  • $175 to have a notary come to their home to sign paperwork

In the midst of thousands of dollars in closing costs to purchase a home, the recording fee is a drop in the bucket for most homebuyers.

I urge the legislature to eliminate the sunset on this fee so that organizations can count on and plan to have the funds into the future as they build comprehensive plans to address our homelessness and housing crises.

Tonya Hennen
Real Estate Broker
Member Thurston Co. Realtor Association & Washington Association of Realtors

Advocates Call #3 - Legislative Session Update

Reiny Cohen, Director of Communications

This recording is from February 9th and includes an update on housing bills that survived (or didn't survive) policy and fiscal committee cutoffs. Plus, something to celebrate!

Every other Friday during the legislative session, all affordable housing and homelessness advocates are invited to join us for a conference call and webinar to hear the latest updates from Olympia! Our policy team will report back on on the progress of our lead policy priorities, as well as bills from our partner organizations that we are supporting.

These calls are designed to:

  1. Keep you informed on housing and homelessness policies in the legislature,
  2. Teach you about the legislative process, and 
  3. Provide a space to ask questions and sharpen your advocacy skills.

Click here to register for our upcoming calls on Feb 23, and March 9.  

 

Advocates Call #2 - Legislative Session Update

Reiny Cohen, Director of Communications

Every other Friday during the legislative session, all affordable housing and homelessness advocates are invited to join us for a conference call and webinar to hear the latest updates from Olympia! Our policy team will report back on on the progress of our lead policy priorities, as well as bills from our partner organizations that we are supporting.

These calls are designed to:

  1. Keep you informed on housing and homelessness policies in the legislature,
  2. Teach you about the legislative process, and 
  3. Provide a space to ask questions and sharpen your advocacy skills.

Click here to register for our upcoming calls on Feb 9 and 23, and March 9.  

This recording is from January 28 and includes a recap of how the Capital Budget was passed, updates on our other lead priorities, and info on bills from partner organizations that we're supporting.

Housing Alliance Statement on the Passage of the Capital Budget

Reiny Cohen, Director of Communications

We are thrilled that the state legislature came to agreement on, and passed a Capital Budget that includes $106.7 million for the Housing Trust Fund. There is no doubt that we’re facing a severe shortage of homes affordable to low-income households in communities all across Washington, and that the greatest impact of that shortage is increasing homelessness. The money invested in the Housing Trust Fund will address this by creating more than 3,000 affordable homes all across the state. That the legislature passed this before the end of the second week of the session, with only one no vote between the entire House and Senate, demonstrates leadership and a growing understanding of the importance of investing in affordable homes. We appreciate the commitment of legislators to getting this passed and are especially grateful for the hard work of Senator Sharon Nelson, Senator David Frockt, Senator Mark Mullet, Speaker Frank Chopp, and Representative Steve Tharinger.

But the work is not done.

To get built, many of those homes need federal Low Income Housing Tax Credits. Since the deadline to apply for those credits was only missed by one day, and the many projects waiting on the Housing Trust Fund were unable to apply, the state Department of Commerce and the Washington State Housing Finance Commission must work together to find a way to ensure those projects can still access the final funds they need. Otherwise, we could still lose an opportunity to leverage $178 million in federal funds to provide homes for homeless veterans, homeless families, people with chronic mental illness, and many others who face the greatest barriers to securing a home. We’re counting on these agencies to quickly develop a solution that ensures we don’t leave behind people in our communities who are struggling the most.

Housing Alliance Statement on Capital Budget and Housing Trust Fund

The legislature still hasn’t passed a capital budget, which means there is still no assured money in the Housing Trust Fund to build affordable homes. This, despite the application deadline for Low Income Housing Tax Credit funding, which came and went at 5pm on January 17.

We’ve been sounding the alarm for months that without a Housing Trust Fund by this deadline, those tax credits – approximately $178 million in federal funding over 10 years – will be diverted away from housing that will help solve our state’s homelessness crisis and provide homes for the lowest income people.

We’re extremely disappointed that there is no budget yet. It would be disastrous if those homes for veterans, people with disabilities, homeless families, homeless seniors and others don’t get built because of a legislative delay.

We understand that the legislature is still working to pass a capital budget and an agreement may be imminent. If, and when that occurs, we implore the state and the Housing Finance Commission, which issues the Low Income Housing Tax Credits, to work together to fix this.

Our First Advocates Call of the 2018 Legislative Session

Reiny Cohen, Director of Communications

Every other Friday during the legislative session, all affordable housing and homelessness advocates are invited to join us for a conference call and webinar to hear the latest updates from Olympia! Our policy team will report back on on the progress of our lead policy priorities, as well as bills from our partner organizations that we are supporting.

These calls are designed to:

  1. Keep you informed on housing and homelessness policies in the legislature,
  2. Teach you about the legislative process, and 
  3. Provide a space to ask questions and sharpen your advocacy skills.

Click here to register for our upcoming calls on Jan 26, Feb 9 and 23, and March 9.  

January 12 was our first call of the session, and you can listen to the recording below. We discussed the Housing Alliance's lead policy agenda and a recap on the first week of the legislative session.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To Create More Affordable Homes in WA, Congress Should Expand the Housing Credit

Rachael Myers, Executive Director

On November 2, House Republicans released their tax plan, known as the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. The good news is, the bill preserves the Low Income Housing Tax Credit. The bad news is that it eliminates private activity bonds, putting at risk 2,088 affordable homes planned in Washington over the next two years.

Congress should expand and improve the Housing Credit. Every year, this credit finances the creation or preservation of almost 100,000 affordable homes across the country. And in the 30 years since the program started, it’s created nearly three million homes.

In Washington, the Housing Credit has created more than 78,000 affordable homes. Most developers using these tax credits are nonprofits, whose missions are to serve people living on low-incomes, or who are homeless, and other vulnerable members of our communities. In the more competitive part of the program, which offers deeper subsidies, nearly all developers are nonprofits. And our state’s rules prioritize targeting just over one-third of the funding to specific vulnerable populations, like seniors and people experiencing homelessness.

There are three bills in Congress that will improve the program, championed by several of Washington’s congressional members. The Senate bill, S. 548, is sponsored by Senator Maria Cantwell, and Senator Patty Murray joined as a co-sponsor last May. A bill In the House, H.R. 1661, has four Washington co-sponsors with bipartisan support: Representatives Dave Riechert, Pramila Jayapal, Suzan DelBene, and Derek Kilmer.

Both bills improve the program by creating incentives to serve homeless and extremely low-income families, encouraging the creation of homes in Native American communities, allowing for more mixed income development, and making the program more effective in rural communities. Senator Cantwell’s bill also expands the Housing Credit by 50%. Both bills have strong bi-partisan support.

Last week, Congresswoman Suzan DelBene and co-sponsors Pramila Jayapal and Adam Smith, announced the Access to Affordable Housing Act, which expands to Housing Credit by 50%.

The Housing Credit is key to ending homelessness in Washington, and it’s critical we get these bills passed.

Here’s how you can help:

Contact your members of Congress and tell them that increasing access to affordable homes and ending homelessness is a priority in your community and you’re counting on them to help expand and improve the Low Income Housing Tax Credit program and reject the elimination of the private activity bonds in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. Thank Senator Cantwell for her strong leadership on S. 548. Thanks Senator Murray for co-sponsoring the bill and for her longstanding leadership to protect services for people with low-incomes. If your Representative is a co-sponsor for H.R. 1661 or the Access to Affordable Housing Act, thank them. If not, ask them to sign on.

In your message, it’s helpful to tell them a little bit about why this is important to you. If you or someone close to you has experienced homelessness or housing instability, or if you work with people who are struggling to afford a home, sharing your personal story can make your message stand out.

Find out who represents you in Congress at this link

 

Senator Cantwell photo by Natalie Behring/The Columbian

Guest Post: Why I ran for Seattle City Council

ChrisTiana ObeySumner, Affordable Housing and Homelessness Advocate

November 9, the day after the 2016 general election, re-ignited something within my soul. A drive for justice, equity, and bringing the voices of those who are most affected by the failures in our system to the forefront.

When I was a child, I was always standing up for what was right. I stood up to bullies when they picked on others, often taking the brunt of the violence myself. I spoke out against perpetuation of harmful rhetoric and stereotypes in the classroom. And, I have organized rallies in response to problematic behavior within school administration. I always wanted to be the President of the United States, but like many other children of color, I was cautioned that--while the dream is possible--it had never been achieved before.

That is, until 2008, when President Barack Obama was elected. By that time, I had already begun my career journey into psychology and social services.

These are the foundations that led me to run for the Seattle City Council Vacancy in early October 2017. After five years of direct service in housing and homelessness services, I saw first-hand the failures in the housing system. I saw how the conversations were siloed between homelessness and “anti-poverty,” when the issues are inextricably intertwined. I saw the effects of the nonprofit-industrial complex, and how it was adding to the barriers already in place to getting tax-credit or income-based housing. I saw a lack of intersectionality in the conversations. There were discussions on how gender, race, ability, and sexual orientation each played a part in homelessness or housing instability, but nothing about the unique circumstances that may befall, say, a queer, disabled, femme-presenting AfroLatina.

My aforementioned identity also intersects with my own experience of chronic homelessness for over 17 years of my life. I first became homeless at eight-years-old when my mother was fleeing domestic violence. I’ve experienced the gamut of housing instability and homelessness: sleeping in motels, cars, friends and families homes, at workplaces, and outside. We’ve experienced being priced out, having our home sold from under us, and being asked to leave by others who took us in for a variety of reasons. We survived the predators and pitfalls that creep in when two young women, (or at one time, a mother and a mentally ill teenager separately,) do not have the safety and security of housing. Most importantly, I have seen how integrated homelessness and housing instability truly is. In fact, I believe it is a symptom of a host of other injustices experienced by anyone at any given time: economic injustice, racial injustice, gender injustice, criminal injustice, environmental injustice, labor injustice, the list can go on and on. It has been my own lived experience, my 10+ years of civic engagement and social justice organizing, as well as my training through the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance, has shaped me into an ally for all people facing realities that are traumatizing and painful.

It was actually Alouise (now former organizer at the Housing Alliance) who suggested I run. Advocate Nancy Amidei had the idea to elevate housing instability as an issue by having an EAP graduate throw their name in the hat, so Alouise sent me a note. She assured me that the combination of my professional and personal experience with housing instability and homelessness would make for some powerful testimony, even though it was not expected by any of us that I would do so well.

The night of the candidate forum, I was nervous. I was up against 13 other people who also wanted to get their passions out in public. But once I started answering the questions, I realized that I was getting snaps and applause! Many folks have asked me how I prepared for that night, and the truth is that I spoke from my heart, and allowed it to guide me throughout the event. At the end, those who watched the forum were asked to vote for who they wanted to see appointed to the position, and I came in second--even beating out former council member Nick Licata!

Even though I didn’t win, it did open my eyes to world I didn’t think I was qualified to enter. As a result, I am in the process of changing my career from direct service to legislative advocacy and social organizing. It wasn’t just something I did, it was transformative and has shifted my path towards the meso/macro level of change-agency.

If I had to give any advice, it would be to refuse to allow the internalized stigmas of our past to hinder the progress we can make in our present, or dictate the successes we can achieve in the future. It was difficult for me to do something so large and public, to allow myself to be raw and tender with the populace of Seattle. Honestly, there were several moments during the ten-day process that I broke down with anxiety and fear. That said, I am so glad I allowed myself to exercise the courage needed to grow into who I am today.

And this is only the beginning. You haven’t seen the last of me fighting to address the inequities in Seattle, King County, Washington State… or maybe even in the USA. Stay tuned!

 

Just Housing: A small group with big wins in Thurston County

Reiny Cohen, Director of Communications

Hi! We’re trying something new here at our blog, and I hope you like it. We want to start using this space to highlight some of the great work that organizations are doing around the state to combat homelessness, and grow the movement for safe, healthy, affordable homes for everyone in Washington. And for this first installment, we’re looking at Thurston County.

Recently, I had the privilege of talking with Tye Gundel of Just Housing. Have you heard of Just Housing? It’s a small, scrappy, grassroots organization moving mountains with their work. And a few weeks ago they organized an incredible win – by crushing legislation that would’ve made surviving outside illegal in Lacey, WA.


25 people lined up to testify against Lacey's plan to criminalize homelessness

Each person who testified presented a flower to the councilmembers. The flowers were in honor of one of their unsheltered neighbors who said "We are all flowers honey. I may be old, but even I still bloom every morning." 

First, a little backstory: Just Housing is an all volunteer organization co-founded by Tye Gundel and Renata Rollins. Formed in May of 2016, Just Housing combats the laws in Olympia and Thurston County that make surviving outside and experiencing homelessness illegal. With the help of dozens of organizers - including people with direct experience of housing instability and homelessness - social service providers, progressive organizations, and even a few elected officials at their side, Just Housing has become a force to be reckoned with. They’ve increased access to 24 hour restrooms for people surviving outside, opened and ran emergency shelter last October, stopped people and their belongings from being swept by police, and are on a mission to overturn sit/lie and camping bans in Olympia. And while their work is often focused in the city limits of Olympia, they actually serve three jurisdictions in Thurston County.

When word got out that Lacey City Council was trying to quietly pass a new law criminalizing homelessness at their meeting on July 28, 2017, Just Housing sprang into action. With just two days notice they activated their 400 person email list, called volunteers, arranged carpools, and organized more than 30 people - a large majority of the overall turnout - to overwhelm that city council meeting. When the council saw more than 25 people lined up out the door to speak on the issue, they removed the vote from their agenda and opened up the meeting for public comment. Everyone who showed up to testify brought with them a flower, and attached to it the name of someone who was currently experiencing homelessness, or who had died trying to survive outside. They handed these flowers, one by one, to the council members as they each gave their public comment. The flowers were in honor of one of their unsheltered neighbors who said "We are all flowers honey. I may be old, but even I still bloom every morning." 

It was a powerful display of community organizing, and a centering of the voices and experiences of people who are surviving outside. The Lacey City Council listened, and has tabled this conversation for the time being.

But there is still significant work to be done. Mayor Andy Ryder of Lacey has said their legislation was modeled after what they see as success in Olympia - a city that has unapologetically criminalized homelessness for years. In Olympia, it is illegal to be outside – camping, sitting, or lying down in public spaces. There is inadequate shelter for the number of people who need it and Olympia city government lacks the political will to expand capacity. So where do folks go if they can’t sit, lie, or camp while trying to survive outside? Tye Gundel says “In Olympia, sometimes jail is the most accessible form of housing we have.”

With their current campaign, Legalize Survival, Just Housing is doing significant work to roll back the laws that are harming people who have no choice but to live outside. Every Tuesday, Just Housing shows up at the Olympia City Council meetings, where volunteers testify about what it means to have to live outside. After public comment closes, they hold a Street Assembly on the sidewalk, and folks who have historically been locked out of the conversation have a chance to be heard. Then, 20-30 people camp out on the sidewalk in protest of the no camping laws.

   

If you'd like to read more about Just Housing in the media, check out these articles about their public actions: Protesting an eviction, organizing in Olympia, and gaining bathroom access

If you want to join them on Tuesdays for their city council action, or learn more about what Just Housing does, visit their facebook page. Follow hashtags #LegalizeSurvival and #JustHousing. They also have a fundraising page here. All funds go to survival supplies and legal fees

Join the Just Housing email list by contacting justhousingoly@gmail.com

And for tips on how to legalize survival in your area, check out our Toolkit to Combat the Criminalization of Homelessness.

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