Blogs

Meet Jamala Henderson, Storyteller

By Christena Coutsoubos, Housing Alliance Board Member

Jamala Henderson joined the Housing Alliance staff May 6 as our new communications specialist. Her background is in journalism, where she spent fourteen years as a news anchor and reporter at KUOW. Jamala holds a B.A. from The Evergreen State College and is working towards a master’s degree in Digital Media Communications at the University of Washington. 

Meet Jamala Henderson, the Housing Alliance’s new communications specialist and self-described “geekiest of geeks.”  Visitors to her office are greeted by a line of figurines from her favorite science fiction franchises. She’s a frequent speaker at GeekGirlCon, moderating panels such as “Geek Elders Speak.”  Her Twitter feed is consumed with discussions of Game of Thrones and Star Wars. She’d love to talk with you about that episode of Star Trek: Discovery that was written by two women of color. 

What does sci-fi fandom have to do with housing justice? Jamala says it’s all about the power of storytelling. “The stories we read for fun, to take us away from our lives –those stories can get people to think about issues, things they might not necessarily think about otherwise,” says Jamala, “if you do it in ways that make it compelling.”  

In her 14-year career as a journalist, Jamala loved telling stories of real people that might not otherwise be heard. “I believe a story well told is what helps human beings grab onto an issue, helps us get a bit of understanding. I get really excited about the ways in which stories can reach us and help us think creatively.”  Jamala’s determined to bring her love of well-told stories to her new work at the Housing Alliance. “Listening is my superpower,” she says, and she intends to use it to uplift the voices of people who have struggled with housing insecurity. 

The switch from journalism to advocacy may seem unusual, but Jamala is eager to embrace the freedom she sees in this new field. “There was a tension in me. I needed a position where I could advocate for what I believe in, express my opinions and what I see in the world to the fullest,” she says. Like many of us, Jamala has been distressed by the visible suffering of people experiencing homelessness and struggled to know how to respond. “I’m excited to expand my knowledge of what I can do. Getting deeper into how we as people of color can uplift ourselves and others to live decent, happy lives and have homes, friends and support.”  

In addition to her work at the Housing Alliance, Jamala is pursuing a master’s degree in Digital Media Communications from the University of Washington. She hopes to use it to develop the next generation of storytellers. “For me, most important part is that I want to be able to teach. I want to be like Yoda and pass on what I have learned!”

You can welcome Jamala to the housing justice team at JamalaH@wliha.org, or connect with her on Facebook or Twitter.  She’ll be listening for you!

Testifying in Olympia for the First Time: Advocates Share Their Experiences

By Karl Epps and Susan Olson

Karl Epps is a recipient of Housing and Essential Needs assistance in King County and a dedicated advocate. In addition to testifying on the House and Senate Operating Budgets this year, Karl spoke on a panel sharing his personal experience of homelessness and recovery with lawmakers, staff and media. He works at Amazon and plans to go back to film school.

Susan Olson serves on the State Advisory Council on Homelessness. Drawing on her own experience, she is a fierce advocate for those who have been incarcerated, struggled with substance use disorders, and experienced homelessness. This year, Susan testified for the first time on the Senate Operating Budget, urging lawmakers to fund HB 1406/Robinson. Susan is about to earn her B.S. in Human Services with a concentration in addiction.  

Before you gave testimony for the first time, what did you think it would be like?

Photo of Susan OlsonSusan: I had this feeling that it was going to be stuffy, and because I wasn’t a big lawyer or something, that my voice wouldn’t be valuable. And I was scared of the process because I had seen the videos but I had never sat through the process.

Karl: I thought it would be more intimate, and not so formal. I’ll admit I was a little apprehensive, but ultimately I was prepared for it because I was speaking from the heart. 

What was the most surprising part of the experience for you?

Karl: Definitely the time constraints. Having to crunch it down. And the fear of the unknown and speaking in front of people I don’t know. But once I got together with y’all [Housing Alliance staff] to collaborate, it helped me focus.

Also, people were actually genuine. I watch the news and look at all these politicians up in Washington, so that’s kind of what I thought it would be like. But people seemed to genuinely care, so I was pleasantly surprised by that!

Susan: The only thing I wasn’t prepared for was that it was a long day! [Note: The Senate Budget hearing had over 170 people signed up to testify and took over four hours.]

Why was giving testimony so important to you?

Photo of Karl EppsKarl: Basically it’s giving voice to the voiceless…I always felt that with the shiny houses up on the hill and people living under the bridges, it’s just not sustainable. And there’s more than enough to go around. My Mom, before she passed, had a job registering people of color to vote at the voter registration office. It’s something that she felt strongly about, advocacy for those that are underrepresented. I just wish she was there with me. Cause she would’ve spoken up too. 

Susan: My stepfather was the most amazing man I’ve ever met, and my mother was amazing. Unfortunately, they both passed while I was in active addiction. And now I’m getting ready to graduate and my parents couldn’t be here. During my testimony, I was wearing my step-father’s medicine bag. He wore that everyday. And in it were the ashes from my Mom and Dad. That testimony was the first time I’ve ever worn that because I wanted my parents with me. When I wore it, it had to be some for something very important, and that was very important. When I left after testifying, I can’t explain to you the peace I felt.

What is one thing you want people to know who might want to testify?

Karl: It matters. I know the idea of writing a letter is hard to do, or even an email or a phone call, but once you’re there you hear the stories, and you just never know who you’re going to affect. So get out there and tell your story because, until they see a human being, people might not be able to relate. If they see someone who went through treatment or who went through homelessness, who’s now working at Amazon and going to film school – like me – it can make all the difference. 

Susan: With my background of incarceration and addiction and all the other things in my history, we get to the point where we don’t think that we are valuable, our voices are not valuable, our experiences are not valuable. And that’s the farthest thing from the truth. This is a quote from Glenn Martin, the founder of JustLeadershipUSA: “The people closest to the problem are closest to the solution, but usually have the least amount of resources to do it.” And every time I do anything like this, I’m modeling resiliency and empowerment to the people that come behind me. That is very important.

Each legislative session, the Housing Alliance supports advocates to testify in Olympia on critical legislation related to housing and homelessness. This year, 34 different advocates testified on 21 different pieces of legislation, bringing the sorely-needed expertise of people with lived experience to improve state policy. Thank you to first-time testifiers Karl Epps and Susan Olson for sharing their experiences for this blog. You can hear Karl’s testimony from March 25th at the House Appropriations Committee here, and Susan’s testimony from April 1st  at the Senate Ways and Means Committee here.

NLIHC conference experience

Rachael Myers and Mindy Woods

Rachael Myers is executive director of the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance. Mindy Woods is an advocate with the Housing Alliance’s Resident Action Project (RAP) and a new member of the Housing Alliance’s board of directors. Together, they recently attended the National Low Income Housing Coalition’s annual housing policy forum in Washington, D.C. Here, the self-proclaimed “dynamic duo” share their experiences and insights.

“For me, I wanted the opportunity to connect with others, hear what’s working, what the challenges are,” shared Woods, reflecting on why she chose to travel to the forum in the middle of Washington state’s legislative session. Myers cited the importance of making progress at the federal level: “The federal government’s reduction of investment in housing over decades has had such an impact on the housing crisis and homelessness, here and everywhere. It’s a critical part of the solution, but we can’t have much of an impact on our own. To make a difference, we have to join up with folks from other states and be part of a strong national coalition that’s pushing really hard.”  

Mindy Woods and Senator Kamala HarrisFor both, meeting with housing staff for Senators Cantwell and Murray stood out as a highlight of the trip. “Our meetings were powerful because Mindy was able to tell a personal story.  Lisa Wolters from Seattle Housing Authority joined us and brought the expertise of using federal funds to provide housing, and I could talk about the overall need in our state. It was a really powerful combination,” shared Myers. “They were happy to have folks from home there in D.C., since they don’t get back to Washington very often. They especially listened to Mindy and wanted to hear more about her story.”   

An important part of Woods’ advocacy is her presence on social media. She uses Twitter to connect with lawmakers, journalists, and other advocates.  “I organized an event in Edmonds, where I live. People attended who had experienced homelessness, and we tweeted pictures of ourselves to HUD Secretary Ben Carson and others with messages like, ‘I’m a renter and I vote.’”  In fact, her success and creativity during last year’s week of action on affordable housing earned her an invitation to present at the forum in D.C. 

The forum provides an opportunity for groups like the Housing Alliance from around the county to share strategies and ideas. “I was inspired by the organizing happening in Texas, and the great podcast that our counterpart, Texas Housers, produces,” said Myers.  Washington state also earned some moments to shine, including interest in learning how we finally won a ban on source of income discrimination.  Because of that legislation, landlords must allow tenants to use housing vouchers to pay the rent.

The Resident Action Project is a consistent draw. “Not many states have resident-led advocacy projects like we do in Washington,” shared Woods. “It’s really helped to have people who lived through these experiences [of homelessness or housing instability] and plug their experience into the Housing Alliance’s legislative agenda. When there’s a bill in Olympia, we have a pool of advocates where the bill has affected them personally.”  Myers added: “We’ve learned a lot from the resident organizing happening in California and we hope RAP will inspire other states.” 

Diane Yentel, Mindy Woods and Rachael Myers at NLIHC 2019Myers named Undesign the Redline as a highlight of the conference.  The exhibit used maps and timelines to show how communities of color have been systematically locked out of renting or buying homes in certain neighborhoods throughout history. Alongside, it highlights the social justice movements that have demanded change. During the forum, news broke that Facebook was being charged with violations of the Fair Housing Act for offering race-based advertising to landlords and property managers. “It’s a modern form of redlining - and a warning that we still have a lot of work to do,” said Myers. 

Both were reminded of the importance of advocacy. “As bad as things are in D.C., the 2019 budget has $12 billion more for Housing & Urban Development than the President requested, and $1.5 billion more than the 2018 budget. Advocacy can make a difference even when things seem pretty awful,” Myers said. Woods encouraged everyone to get more involved: “There is always work to be done, at the local, state and national levels. I met people from all over the country working on housing justice. It makes me that much more determined and focused. When we all work together, everyone doing our parts, it all adds up to a big movement.”  

You can support Mindy Woods’ advocacy by following her on Twitter at @HopeDealer19 and @RAPWashington.  

To learn more about RAP, sign up at residentactionproject.org or join on Facebook.

Photos:

Mindy at the US Capitol

Mindy and Senator (and Presidential candidate), Kamala Harris

Mindy and Rachael with Diane Yentel, National Low Income Housing Coalition CEO

 


 

HB 1923 Removes Barriers to Building Affordable Housing

 

Bill Rumpf, President of Mercy Housing Northwest

Mercy Housing Northwest is a nonprofit affordable housing developer operating throughout Washington. Bill Rumpf recently presented in a work session for the Senate Housing Stability and Affordability Committee on the impediments to building affordable housing.

As a nonprofit housing developer, I'm often asked how we can speed up the timeline or lower the cost of creating much-needed affordable homes. The reality is it can be difficult when operating under tight restraints. Local policies are a key factor in this, and HB 1923/Fitzgibbon represents an opportunity to spur more affordable housing by removing some of the key impediments and increasing local government planning capacity.

Mercy Housing Northwest builds and operates rental housing in many different jurisdictions statewide. We've experienced a variety of regulatory barriers that make it significantly more difficult to build affordable homes. Among many others, they can include:

  • Parking Requirements: We've seen zoning that required up to 1.8 parking spaces per apartment, allocating land and construction budget to house cars, rather than build more affordable homes.
  • Impact Fees: Water and sewer districts often represent a big burden.  In rehabbing a senior complex where we put in substantial energy and water-saving improvements, the local jurisdiction set water/sewer fees for 35 compact apartments that typically have just one resident each, at the same level as if we had constructed 35 single-family homes.  Our utility costs per unit at that site are among our highest in the state.

Conversely, Mercy Housing Northwest has worked with local jurisdictions who are role models for how to help solve the state's housing crisis. For example:

  • Bellingham halved the parking requirement on a new development located near the county transit center and waived roughly 80% of the impact fees.  This innovation was emulated by Skagit County, which has allocated state-authorized funding to pay for impact and utility hook-up fees on behalf of eligible housing projects.  This can save several hundred thousand dollars on a larger development.
  • In Tacoma and Seattle, public agencies have made land available for affordable housing near high-frequency transit. Combined with zoning to increase density in those locations, it has resulted in very efficient use of land.

HB 1923/Fitzgibbon is a creative approach. It encourages local jurisdictions to take action to increase density and reduce regulatory barriers like those above.  It provides a menu of options so that cities and towns can determine the approach that is the best fit for their local circumstances. Cities that opt to take advantage of these policies will be eligible for a $100,000 planning grant, funded by a $2.50 increase in the document recording fee. After five years, this funding will be used to pay for Operations and Maintenance of Permanent Supportive Housing for people earning up to 60% of the AMI.

I am excited to say that HB 1923 passed on the Senate floor on Saturday, 4/13, and will return to the House for concurrence before heading to the Governor’s desk. Assuming the bill receives a favorable final vote, we will need to let our local officials know the impact that the policies in this bill can have for low-income households. As always, thank you everyone for your advocacy!

 


 

"Three Days Is Not Enough" - Landlords Support Eviction Reform

Tara Nelson manages eight rental properties in northwest Washington, using the income to provide in-home support for an elderly parent.  Tara supports HB1453/SB5600, which will reform the eviction process to increase the amount of time a tenant has to pay the rent.

 

Last year, I rented to a 20-year acquaintance of mine in Mount Vernon, “Matt,” a single dad with two young kids. He was managing a restaurant at the time and had a decent income. But when the restaurant closed, the owners gave him very little notice. He fell late on his rent. 

 

My property manager wanted to immediately serve him with a three-day pay or vacate notice. I felt that three days was far too little to give someone to pick themselves back up. He could have ended up homeless, living with his small kids in a vehicle. Matt has no family in the area. His one remaining relative lives in New Hampshire.

 

Matt went to a local agency for help, but he was ineligible for assistance. They would provide one month’s rent to a person facing eviction - but only up to $500. And determining eligibility takes much longer than three days.

 

So I told my property manager to hold off. The next month, Matt found a job as a kitchen manager at another restaurant. He’s back to making regular payments and arranged with my property manager to pay additional installments for the amount past due.

 

Three days is not enough time to turn your life around after a crisis like losing your job.  Evictions for nonpayment of rent are a leading cause of homelessness in Washington State. The Seattle Times recently covered the story of a Seattle tenant who is facing eviction over $2Being homeless is incredibly destabilizing and shifts a person’s focus away from finding a job to finding housing. 

 

Landlords are private property owners, but we are doing business in a social arena.  There are ethical guidelines we should adhere to.  It’s the same reason one can’t open a store and only sell products to white people.  As a lifelong renter myself, it’s important to me to be fair and equitable in the way we treat our tenants. While it is an important source of income for my family (without it my dad would be in a nursing home), it’s also other peoples’ lives that I am dealing in. 

 

Luckily, a pair of bills in Olympia will give tenants a longer period to pay back rent, while still preserving landlord rights. House Bill 1453 and Senate Bill 5600 will reform the evictions process statewide, extending tenants’ notice to 14 days. A fair process for both parties – landlords and tenants – helps keep people stable and working, and keeps families together.

 

 

With 500 people on our waitlist, King County needs HEN funds NOW

Christine Long, Housing and Essential Needs Program Manager (HEN) for King County.
The HEN program provides rental assistance, hygiene supplies, and transportation assistance to disabled adults statewide.

For the past 7 years, Washington state has been fortunate enough to have the Housing and Essential Needs program (HEN) as a practical, effective housing assistance platform for those with no income; who are disabled and unable to work. In King County alone, HEN has served over 10,000 single adults with temporary disabilities. However, these resources were not available to over 20,000 of the most vulnerable members in our community - those with long term mental and physical disabilities - until six months ago. The passing of House Bill 2667 in March 2018, with significant bipartisan support, allowed us to serve those transitioning from short to long –term disability programs. It prevented them from losing their housing at a time of great vulnerability and, due to an emergency clause, allowed HEN shops around the state to start enrolling those in need right away.

However, in a supplemental budget year, a funding increase wasn’t on the table. Slowly, HEN programs filled all their enrollment slots and closed their doors, highlighting the dramatic unmet need for housing. As the July fiscal year started without new funds, our King County HEN program was forced to do something it has never done before and ceased new enrollments on July 9.

On that day, the front lobby opened at 7:30am as usual, the case workers arrived and turned on their computers, we all caught up on emails from the night before, and grabbed one more cup of coffee before the phone lines opened at 9am. Then, for the first time in the history of King County HEN, we spent seven hours telling over 130 disabled adults, with no rental safety nets or alternative aide, that we could not enroll them in the program. “Due to limited funding, we cannot accept any new clients at this time.” The calls waiting to be answered rose to a constant high of 45 and no one could get a call in or out of the building for over four-and-a-half hours. Between the eight people on phones and the 130 plus callers, we dealt with shock, confusion, tears, frustration, and fear. One man I spoke with insisted that I was joking or how could he have invested so much effort in the process of getting enrolled only to be turned away from a service he was eligible for? Another called in sobbing because she was living outside with her young daughter and feared for their safety. Now, as we near the end of August, we have over 500 people eligible for HEN, on our list, waiting for services. As they wait, evictions are happening and homelessness continues. 

The statewide need for additional HEN funding reflects the ever-increasing need for homeless services and more affordable housing. In 2018, the McKinsey Report noted that more than 11,000 people are experiencing homelessness in King County alone, with a growth rate of 11% per year, and at least 22,000 households are seeking help from the County’s homelessness services.[i] The report stated that, while funding has increased, it has not kept up with the growth in aggregate homelessness.[ii] Finding a home for those already listed as in need of housing would require $360 million-410 million per year. That’s about double what the county currently spends.[iii]

The Legislature will have an opportunity to address this gap in funding for HEN when the next budget session opens in January 2019; however, there is no time to wait. The HEN program has demonstrated its ability time and time again as an effective intervention tool and cornerstone in our communities statewide. The program is ready and available to help as soon as funding hits our doors. I urge you to call the state’s toll free Legislative hotline at 1-800-562-6000 and tell the Governor that this is an emergency and funding is required to help those in need now.

 

There is much to celebrate this legislative session

Rachael Myers, Executive Director

In this time of rising homelessness and sky-high housing costs across Washington, the state legislature has demonstrated extraordinary leadership and bipartisan support for solutions to the housing affordability and homelessness crisis across our state. On March 8, our state legislature ended the 2018 legislative session having made unprecedented and significant progress on solutions to the housing affordability and homelessness crisis in our state. 

In addition to the $107 million investment the legislature made in January in the Housing Trust Fund as part of the Biennial Capital Budget, lawmakers passed a package of seven bills that:

  • increase funding for building and preserving affordable homes
  • prevent homelessness
  • increase stability for people living on low incomes
  • and remove barriers to finding and keeping a home.

Many lawmakers played an important role in securing these victories. Can you take a quick moment to thank them now

The investment the legislature has made is a giant step closer to what’s needed to actually solve this problem. We know that housing affordability is a huge problem to tackle and it takes many solutions that all work together. The legislature signaled that they understand this and prioritized passing a package of bills that, when taken together, will have a real impact.

One bill in particular passed after more than a decade of advocacy – a ban on source of income discrimination. When this bill goes into effect, landlords will no longer be allowed to refuse to rent to someone just because they use rental or income assistance to help pay the rent. This is a huge victory for thousands of people across Washington. Families of color, single moms with children, veterans, and people with disabilities are all disproportionately impacted by source of income discrimination. Passage of this bill will help level the playing field and make affordable housing more fair and equitable.

Governor Inslee signs HB 2578 into law.
Photo by Legislative Support Services

Michele Thomas, Director of Policy and Advocacy, has been working on this issue for ten years. She says “This bill makes it illegal to shame people using rental assistance with advertisements like “pets accepted, no section 8” and will eliminate discriminatory barriers to housing that for too long have allowed landlords to categorically deny many low-income tenants. The bipartisan support of this bill in both chambers illustrates the impact of years of educating and organizing. Passage of this bill will help more people access a safe, healthy, affordable home.”

What is clear, is just how important it is to have housing champions in Olympia, fighting for these issues. We’re incredibly grateful for the work those leaders put in and for all the legislators who passed this common sense policy with strong bipartisan support.

In addition to the Housing Alliance’s priorities, many good bills that we supported, lead by our partner organizations, also made it through the legislative process, such as bills on voting rights and youth homelessness. We’ll have more analysis on those bills, and a list of lawmakers to thank next week, stay tuned for more from us on that. 

For now, here are the successes we are celebrating:

Increased funding for affordable homes and homelessness assistance

$107 million in the Biennial Capital Budget for the Housing Trust Fund. 
The Housing Trust Fund builds and preserves affordable homes. It primarily serves people with the lowest incomes and those with special needs, including people with disabilities, families with children who are homeless, seniors, youth and young adults, and veterans. This investment will create approximately 3,500 affordable homes.

Governor Inslee signs HB 1570 into law
Photo by Legislative Support Services

House Bill 1570 helps an additional 11,500 people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness access housing assistance and services. This is funded by a $22 increase to a fee that is paid when real estate documents are filed, such as those signed to close on a new home purchase. This is the state’s primary source for funding homelessness services and is split between the state and counties so local communities can quickly address their most pressing needs. The increase will generate approximately $26 million each year to fight homelessness. Additionally, this bill removes the expiration date on the fee so that communities have a permanent and reliable source of funding to reduce homelessness. Finally, the bill fixes a problem created in 2014 which mandated 45% of all state dollars be used on rental assistance solely on the for-profit rental market. Now, state funded rental assistance can also be used in nonprofit housing geared toward serving people exiting homelessness who may have multiple barriers to securing for-profit housing. 

Removing barriers to housing and preventing more people from falling into homelessness

Banning source of income discrimination (House Bill 2578) 
After more than a decade of advocacy, when this bill goes into effect, landlords will no longer be allowed to refuse to rent to someone just because they use rental or income assistance to help pay the rent. The bill also creates a mitigation fund to reimburse landlords for improvements necessary to rent to households with certain housing assistance, and provides landlords access to funds if there are damages beyond normal wear and tear. The mitigation fund includes important consumer protections for tenants, including prohibiting landlords from taking legal action against a tenant if they have received reimbursement from the mitigation fund. 

Preventing homelessness by expanding access to the Housing and Essential Needs Program (House Bill 2667) 
Before this bill’s passage, people with permanent disabilities and people whose primary disability is a substance use disorder were ineligible for Housing and Essential Needs (HEN) rental assistance. This causes people with disabilities to become homeless. This bill fixes that by allowing people with permanent disabilities to retain their housing assistance while they apply for federal disability benefits. 

Improving access to federal benefits by providing free access to medical records needed to appeal a denial to the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) programs (House Bill 1239) 
People who are appealing a denial to SSI or SSDI must obtain a copy of their medical records in order to prove their disability status. Washington has the highest medical record copy fee in the country, which is prohibitive for people with low-incomes and creates a substantial barrier that prevents people from accessing federal disability benefits. This bill provides free access to those records once every two years, and will help more people access economic security.

Improving housing stability of people experiencing financial hardships by expanding access to public assistance programs by updating asset limits (House Bill 1831) 
This bill allows people to keep a greater portion of their resources and still be eligible for public assistance (like the Housing and Essential Needs and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families programs). It will prevent people from having to sell a reliable car that lets them get to work or to the doctor, and lets them maintain a greater amount in savings to better weather a financial emergency.

Other key policies for the building and preserving of affordable homes

Clarifying a real estate excise tax exemption for homes built with Low Income Housing Tax Credits (House bill 2444) 
Affordable homes built with federal Low Income Housing Tax Credits go through a transfer of ownership when the for-profit investor exits the partnership, usually 15 years after the homes are built. No cash is involved in this ownership transfer, but without this clarification, nonprofit organizations could be taxed on this transfer at a significant amount. This bill requires the state to continue the current practice of not charging the Real Estate Excise Tax for an additional 17 years which allows nonprofit housing providers to keep those resources for providing affordable housing and services in their communities.

Promoting the use of surplus public property for affordable homes (House Bill 2382) 
In many Washington communities, the cost of land has a significant impact on the ability to create homes affordable to people with low incomes. This is especially true in high cost areas like the Puget Sound region. This bill makes it easier to transfer underutilized public property so it can be used for affordable homes.

Thanks for being part of the movement for safe, healthy, affordable homes.

 

Advocates Call #4 - 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 reports 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 final call on March 9.  

We're in the homestretch of the legislative session, and the Feb 23 call included some very detailed updates on the progress of our lead priorities (spoiler alert: all our bills are alive!) and an update on how you can advocate to get these bills over the finish line! This call did not get recorded as a webinar, but you can download the slides below.

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

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