Tenants rights

The Week in Housing Advocacy - Week 2

Michele Thomas, Director of Policy and Advocacy

Take Action

The second week of the state legislative session was just as busy as the first, with hearings on key housing priorities including SB 5123, the Fair Tenant Screening Act sponsored by Senator David Frockt (46th LD-Seattle). The House Capital Budget Committee had a hearing on Governor Jay Inslee’s budget proposal. The Housing Alliance and others thank the Governor for allocating $75 million for the Housing Trust Fund.  But, we ask the House to bring that up to $100 million. Please join us in sending a strong message to the legislature that we need to pass a budget with new revenue options to ensure that we prevent further holes to our already frayed safety net. Add your name to our revenue petition!

Fair Tenant Screening Act

Wednesday’s hearing on the Fair Tenant Screening Act was the highlight of the week, with incredible testimony by a strong crew of advocates, people personally impacted, and Housing Alliance staff. Thomas Green, Ashley Albert, and Kimberly Mays clearly identified the importance of SB 5123 when they shared how expensive repeat tenant screening fees have blocked their access to a home. It was Ashley’s first time in Olympia, and her testimony was quite moving. You can watch it below:

You can also read Ashley's testimony here.

Special thanks to everyone who testified: Ashley Albert, Kimberly Mays, Thomas Green, Patricia Abbate of Solid Ground, Liz Mills of the YWCA of Seattle | King | Snohomish, Eric Dunn of the Northwest Justice Project, and Jonathan Grant of the Tenants Union.

Numbers of Homeless Students in School and Racial Disparities Up

The week was overshadowed by the weekend release of the most current count of K-12 students experiencing homelessness in our state. The Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction announced that they identified 32,494 students as homeless in the last school year. This represents 3.1 percent of students statewide and is an increase over the previous school year’s count, which was the already too high 30,609. School districts are required to gather additional data on these students including their race because SB 6074 (Frockt) passed last year, a bill that Columbia Legal Services championed and we supported. The resulting data this year is startling, showing a significantly disproportionate experience of homelessness among kids of color. Native American, African American, and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander students were much more likely to be homeless than their White peers.

OSPI’s report ended with the following statement:

“Washington state school districts are identifying and serving increasing numbers of homeless students every year, and the numbers continue to rise. Between the 2008-09 school year and 2013-14 school year, Washington State experienced a 56% increase in the number of enrolled homeless students reported by school districts. In many cases, school is the only stable or safe place for children and youth who are experiencing the instability of disrupted housing and high mobility.

Knowing that homelessness impacts both the academic and the social-emotional well-being of students, it is critical for school districts to have the resources and supports necessary to ensure that all vulnerable children and youth, particularly those experiencing homelessness, are identified, served and supported.”

The Housing Alliance 100% agrees and urges state lawmakers to pass our full lead and support agenda, which together addresses the housing and safety net resources and policy solutions needed to prevent households from experiencing the brutality of homelessness.

Key Housing Alliance support agenda priorities also made progress last week, most excitingly with SB 5208 (Miloscia) passing unanimously out the Human Services, Mental Health and Housing Committee. This bill will allow King County to use proceeds from existing lodging taxes for bonding for affordable workforce housing. The Homeless Student Stability Act SB 5065 (Frockt), also received a hearing last week in the Senate Early Learning & K-12 Education Committee. The bill has not yet been voted on by the committee.

King County Homelessness Numbers Also Up

The week ended with annual Point in Time Homeless Count, with volunteers fanning out across the state during the wee hours of Friday morning to identify and count people trying to survive outdoors. While official count outcomes for the state won’t be available for several months, King County count organizer Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness (SKCCH) announced an increase in the number of people found in King County, with 3,772 people counted on Friday. This is a significant increase from the 3,123 found in 2014. It is disappointing, shameful, and alarming that so many people are homeless and that the number is increasing. High housing costs, lack of subsidized affordable housing, an inadequate safety net, and significant housing barriers all contribute to homelessness. Our state lawmakers have the opportunity this session to help our communities make progress and to help ensure more households have the housing and resources they need to prevent or exit homelessness.

Join the Housing Alliance, SKCCH, King County Committee to End Homelessness, and Real Change in Olympia on Wednesday to acknowledge each person counted outside in King County last Friday. Lawmakers will join us for the Ring Out for Revenue: Seattle to Olympia event as we ring a gong for each of the 3,772. And we will be highlighting what the state can do this session to make progress, including passing a capital budget with $100 million for the Housing Trust Fund.

There are still spots available for you to sign up to ring the gong here.

Highlights for This Week

This week will be another busy week for affordable housing and homelessness issues, both good and bad. In addition to the Wednesday action and accompanying press conference, the Housing Alliance will be joining a panel on Tuesday to testify in support of Governor Inslee’s Carbon Tax bill, which will tax the state’s biggest polluters. The Governor’s proposal names the Housing Trust Fund as a beneficiary of some of the proceeds. Here is the relevant language from the bills HB 1314 (Fitzgibbon) and SB 5283 (Ranker):

Two percent of the moneys, as needed to equal and not exceed fifteen million five hundred thousand dollars in fiscal year 2017, as needed to equal at least nineteen million five hundred thousand dollars in fiscal year 2018, and as needed to equal at least twenty million dollars in each fiscal year thereafter, deposited into the Washington housing trust fund created in RCW 43.185.030.

The Housing Alliance has also organized a work session on the intersection of mental illness and housing needs for the Senate Human Services, Mental Health and Housing Committee on Tuesday, January 27 at 10:00am. You can watch it live via TVW. Special thanks to Committee Chair Senator Steve O’Ban (28th LD-University Place) for agreeing to the work session.

The Housing Alliance will also be weighing in on many bills that may have a negative impact on access to housing, including SB 5219 (Benton) which seeks to allow landlords to use the accelerated 3-day pay or vacate eviction process for an allegation of nonpayment of fees. This bill and many others that will negatively impact both tenants and owners of manufactured housing will be heard on Wednesday, January 28 in the Senate Financial Institutions and Insurance Committee at 1:30pm. If you are on campus on Wednesday, please consider stating your opposition to these bills by signing in con. If you need some help, grab any of the Housing Alliance staff or stop by the Legislative Information Center for information on how to sign in on Senate bills.

 


 

Why you should attend Advocacy Day!

Guest Blogger: Penny Lipsou, Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence Policy & Economic Justice Intern

Last year, on January 28, when I attended my very first advocacy day, I was excited, energized, and inspired! As an intern for Seattle-based community development organization InterIm CDA, I had the privilege of joining an organized group of folks headed to the state capitol to lobby for legislative issues. Our group of elders, youth, and InterIm staff piled into two 12-passenger vans at 7am for the trek down to Housing and Homelessness Advocacy Day, organized by the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance.

Upon arriving in Olympia, we were greeted with breakfast, a symbolic red scarf, and a bold red folder full of information about key housing issues.

I was impressed by the diversity of advocates there for the day. I met youth who were currently experiencing homelessness, environmental architects, domestic violence shelter program managers, and others. I felt the electric power of solidarity pulse through over 600 people, from different communities all over Washington State, motivated by the belief that all Washington residents should have the opportunity to a safe, healthy, affordable home.


InterIm CDA intern Penny Lipsou (l) & WILD Program Manager Jamie Stroble (r) at Housing & Homelessness Advocacy Day 2014.

 

Being more of a shy person, I felt a little nervous at the thought of discussing policy issues with a state legislator. Thankfully, I participated in an Advocacy 101 workshop. A supportive team of seasoned housing advocates coached us with helpful advice, political insight, and their own personal stories.

I felt ready to advocate when I later I joined a group of fellow legislative district residents. Then we were off to talk with lawmakers about barriers to a home and the state’s affordable housing shortage. The advocacy process became much less intimidating thanks to the workshops, structure, and overall spirit of Housing and Homelessness Advocacy Day.

After meeting with several legislative representatives, I gained a new perspective on the dynamics of the political system and how to engage with lawmakers. By the end of the day, I was confidently raising my hand to let legislators know exactly how I felt about certain housing issues and why it’s important for them to do something about it.

Advocacy Day left me with a better sense of who in electorate leadership was truly supportive of affordable housing and ending homelessness. It also gave me ideas of what to say to those who weren’t so supportive! This in and of itself has been helpful in my subsequent advocacy work. Regardless of how legislators received our messages, it was important that we shared our stories and gave our hearts in an effort to push progressive policy forward. Housing and Homelessness Advocacy Day was so pivotal to me, because it connected me with a bigger movement and inspired me to pursue social welfare policy as a career.

Given Seattle’s current cultural shift in the landscape of the housing market, I am looking forward to speaking with my elected officials on key issues at this year’s Housing and Homelessness Advocacy Day on February 17.

If you haven't already, please register for Housing and Homelessness Advocacy Day here.

And if you need more details about the day, check out the Advocacy Day page here.

I hope to see you there!

 


 

The Week in Housing Advocacy - Week 1

Michele Thomas, Director of Policy & Advocacy

Greetings and welcome to the first weekly roundup of the legislative session. Each week of this session, we’ll be posting a summary of how affordable housing and homeless issues fared in Olympia, as well as highlights for the current week. Our hope is to keep you informed and ready to advocate. With hundreds of issues competing for the attention of lawmakers, affordable housing and homelessness advocacy needs to be strategic and relentless. The Housing Alliance commits to bringing you the information and tools you need to advocate for change.

Take Advocacy Action

Take action today by calling the legislature’s toll free hotline at 1.800.562.6000 with this message for all of your lawmakers:

“Eliminate barriers to housing by supporting the Fair Tenant Screening Act that’s SB 5123 and HB 1257 and by investing $100 million in the Housing Trust Fund.”

Tenant Protection Legislation Updates

Fair Tenant Screening Act
SB 5123 (Frockt ) / HB 1257 (Walkinshaw)

The Fair Tenant Screening Act prevents tenants from paying for the same tenant screening report over and over again. The bill simply says that if a tenant provides a landlord access to a high quality tenant screening report and that it is no more than 30-days-old, the landlord cannot charge the tenant for another report.

Source of Income Discrimination Protections
(Bill Number TBA Kohl-Welles / Ormsby)

Everyone should have an equal opportunity to apply for housing, which is why Senator Jeanne Kohl-Welles (36th LD-Seattle) and Representative Timm Ormsby (3rd LD-Spokane) are introducing legislation to prohibit discrimination against otherwise eligible tenants based on their participation in a government assistance program.

This discrimination is referred to as “source of income” discrimination, and has been outlawed by many states including Oregon where new protections went into effect last July. Several local jurisdictions in our state already protect tenants including King County, Seattle, Bellevue, Redmond, and Kirkland. It’s time to bring this protection statewide, so renters have access to all communities, and no one is able to say, “You are not welcome. Do not apply.”

We need to eliminate this significant and grossly unfair barrier, especially since communities across our state are increasingly looking to the private, for-profit rental market to be a resource in ending homelessness. This is also important because the state has set-aside 45% of our state’s homeless dollars for rental assistance for the private, for-profit market.

Truth In Evictions Reporting Act
(Bill Number TBA Habib / Robinson)

The Truth In Evictions Reporting Act, which will be sponsored by Senator Cyrus Habib (48th LD-Kirkland) and Representative June Robinson (38th LD-Everett), will fix how evictions are reported.

Right now, all eviction filings are reported as equal despite the circumstances and despite the outcome. Eviction filings in which a tenant prevailed, negotiated with the landlord to settle the eviction lawsuit, or had their tenancy reinstated are all reported the same. All tenants who have an eviction filed against them have a significant mark on their record that closes many, many doors.

Court is supposed to be a place where justice can prevail, but even if a tenant wins the case, they lose many housing opportunities for years to come.

90-Day Notice for Rent Increases
And lastly, Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles is also introducing legislation that will give tenants more time to respond to rent increases. Right now, Washington State law allows landlords to raise the rent, or change any other rule, with a mere 30 days notice, no matter the magnitude of the rent increase. Tenants effectively have 10 days to decide if they can manage the rent increase or if they can move because tenants must give landlords 20 days notice to vacate. Households need more time to make decisions about major disruptions like a move and to save up moving costs, like first/last month’s rent and tenant screening fees.

Today is a day to celebrate the profound legacy of the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr. who fought for racial justice, an end to poverty, and an end to segregation in housing and public services. State policy and the state budget are either the tools of oppression or the path towards equality. And we at the Housing Alliance see a clear link between his work and our vision to expand access to affordable housing and to end homelessness. In his honor, we’d like to offer his words for reflection and inspiration. This is from a much larger speech on the Vietnam War delivered at the Riverside Church in New York, exactly one year before his murder: “True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.”

This session will likely be challenging, and we encourage you to look more into the history and legacy of leaders like Dr. King if ever things begin to feel too bleak or unwinnable.

The Week in Review

Monday, January 12 was the first day of this year’s legislative session, and we were busy making sure that affordable housing and homelessness priorities were on top of Olympia’s consciousness. We organized two work sessions to educate lawmakers. You can watch the video of each below. First was on Tuesday and focused on the deep connection between mental illness and housing instability. And next was on Thursday with a focus on homelessness among kids, youth, and young adults. Special thanks to our partners who made these work sessions a great success!

House Community Development, Housing & Tribal Affairs Committee - Tuesday, January 13

House Community Development, Housing & Tribal Affairs Committee - Thursday, January 15

In between the work sessions on Wednesday, we held a press conference and briefing on important tenant legislation. As more renters struggle under the burden of high rents, weak tenant protections, daunting moving expenses, outright discrimination, and denial of housing due to unfair eviction records, these bills offer solutions that will eliminate these barriers to housing stability. See the sidebar for an outline of the key tenant bills we are working to pass this year. Note, most bills will be assigned bill numbers this week, and one is already scheduled for a hearing.

The Budget

This long session also means lawmakers need to write the new two-year operating and capital budgets, which will go into effect on July 1, 2015. Although lawmakers are technically only given 105 days (until April 26) to finish their business, they can extend it with “special sessions” if they are unable to agree on a budget. July 1 is the more important deadline. If a budget isn’t enacted by then, the government would effectively need to shut down – a scenario that no one should want since it would gravely impact essential government functions and safety net services that low-income and vulnerable people in every community across the state rely on.

The main budget points of contention this session will be whether to enact new revenue or to make more cuts. Governor Jay Inslee released a bold budget plan in December that fully funded the Housing & Essential Needs/Blind, Aged & Disabled programs and SSI facilitation. It also allocated $100 million for affordable housing, including $75 million for the Housing Trust Fund. He was able to do this, while allocating increased funding for public education because he also proposed new revenue. The Housing Alliance supports the Governor’s proposed Capital Gains Tax and his Carbon Polluter’s Tax. The Carbon Polluter’s Tax bill creates a permanent funding stream for the Housing Trust Fund. It allocates $15.5 million in fiscal year 2017, $19.5 million in fiscal year 2018, and then $20 million each year after.

Some have asked the Housing Alliance if there will be a priority project list connected to the Housing Trust Fund allocation again this year. The way to win $100 million for the Housing Trust Fund without “a project list” or earmarks, is strategic and relentless advocacy that reaches lawmakers of all political persuasions.

Lastly, a quick update for our Medicaid Supportive Housing Services Benefit. This particular agenda item is no longer a legislative priority for the Housing Alliance...instead it is a budget priority! We are seeking a budget appropriation this session to fund this benefit. It was legally authorized in last session's SB 6312.

You can track both of our lead legislative and budget priorities at our Bill & Budget Tracker here.

Highlights for This Week

Even though this week begins the second week of the session, many bills are scheduled for hearings including key affordable housing and homelessness priorities. If you are in Olympia, plan on signing in “pro” on each of these bills, or plan on calling the state’s toll free hotline (1.800.562.6000) to ask lawmakers to support these bills:

Lastly, don’t forget to register for Homeless and Housing Advocacy Day, which will be in Olympia on Tuesday, February 17. This is the day to rally with hundreds of other advocates and to tell lawmakers that affordable housing and homelessness priorities need to be on the top of their agenda this year. 

 


 

The Top 10 Housing Alliance Moments of 2014

As 2014 draws to a close, we reflect back on the top ten Housing Alliance moments of this year. We'll present (finally) the entire list to you here, including NUMBER ONE! Let us know about your personal housing & homelessness advocacy highlights from 2014. Share yours at our Facebook and Twitter pages. And may you have a very Happy New Year!

 

 

 

#10 - Our Issues Trended on the Social Media Day of Action.

We kicked off 2014 strong with a Social Media Day of Action on January 15. From 12:00am to 11:59pm, our supporters and friends made #HHAD2014 a trending hashtag on Twitter and Facebook. The day of action helped us more than DOUBLE our reach and bring attention to our 2014 affordable housing and homelessness legislative priorities.

 

 

#9 - SEA...HAWKS!!!

Housing Alliance staff had a front row seat for the Super Bowl Champions Parade that took place in downtown Seattle on February 5. Although, it took awhile for our beloved Seahawks to pass our offices on 4th & Union. Once they did, we greeted them with loud cheers, blue & green confetti, and of course, Skittles! You can see our complete set of photos from the celebration here.

 

 

#8 - 2014 Housing & Homelessness Advocacy Day Breaks Records.

Every year, Housing & Homelessness Advocacy Day sets the tone for the upcoming legislative session and is one of our state’s largest advocacy gatherings. At Advocacy Day 2014 on January 28, our first-ever photo booth sponsored by Seattle-based advocacy organization Firesteel was a hit. In another first, at least 1 out of every 5 Advocacy Day attendees was a nonprofit board member. Registration for Housing & Homelessness Advocacy Day 2015 is now open! You can register here.


Photo courtesy of Firesteel.

 

 

#7 - Gong Ceremony at the Capitol to Commemorate Statewide Homelessness.

On Thursday March 6, advocates from all over Washington sounded a gong exactly 5,043 times to recognize the 5,043 individuals found sleeping outside at night across the state during the January 2013 point-in-time count of homeless individuals across the state. The gong ringing took place in front of the capitol dome, and 19 legislators participated. We also held a press conference to draw attention to our efforts to save the Document Recording Fee/Homeless Housing & Assistance Surcharge Bill.

Pictured right: Rep. Jessyn Farrell (46th LD - Lake Forest Park)

 

 

#6 - Senator Patty Murray Wows the Audience at our Annual Awards Event.

We were so pleased to have Senator Patty Murray join us at Bringing Washington Home, our 5th Annual Advocacy Awards ceremony. However, we weren’t expecting her to touch on so many of our Emerging Advocates Program graduates’ stories. In her own words, “They serve as an important reminder that the programs for which you advocate represent a lifeline for members of our communities—our neighbors or friends in need.” Emerging Advocates Program (EAP) graduates Rebecca Snow Landa, Glenda Miller, and Susan Russell were in the audience to hear Sen. Murray reflect on their experiences. They also were there to cheer on their fellow EAP grads and evening awardees Shelby Powell, and Ellie Lambert. It was a great night celebrating the power of advocacy and our community.

Pictured below (l-r): Susan Russell, Virginia Shelby Powell (2014 Grassroots Leader of the Year), Ellie Lambert (2014 Individual Advocate of the Year), Glenda Miller, Thomas Green, and Rebecca Snow Landa.

 

 

#5 - Medicaid Supportive Housing Benefit White Paper Release.

Summer in Seattle can be...slow. But policy staff were hard at work on a research paper exploring the concept of creating a new Medicaid benefit to both help end chronic homelessness and bring permanent supportive housing (PSH) to scale. PSH pairs affordable housing with intensive tenancy support services, housing case management, and care coordination. It’s designed to serve people who are experiencing or are at risk of chronic homelessness and who have a severe and persistent mental health disorder, a chemical dependency disability, or chronic and complex physical health conditions. Although permanent supportive housing exists across Washington, there is not enough funding currently available to bring this model fully to scale.

 

 

#4 - 2014 Conference on Ending Homelessness Sets Records.

The 2014 Annual Conference on Ending Homelessness (COEH) in Yakima on May 21-22 was record-setting in many ways. We had the highest number of attendees for Yakima ever: 617 housing and homelessness service providers and private sector employees from all over Washington attended the two days of workshops. Attendees could pick from 50 workshops, our highest number yet. And 22 of them offered Continuing Education Unit credits, also a record.

Our 2014 COEH keynote speakers were especially entertaining. Nonprofit blogger Vu Le first made attendees laugh when entering the stage to the epic theme music from the cable television program “Game of Thrones.” But his reflections as a young child raised in a family that recently immigrated to the US were both humorous and thought-provoking. And Rex Holbien’s presentation of the striking images and stories he’s documented for his Facing Homelessness project led to a standing ovation and not a dry eye in the house.

 

 

#3 - Emerging Advocates Program Reunites!

Our Emerging Advocates Program (EAP) trains individuals who have experienced homelessness or housing instability in a range of skills for effective advocacy. EAP participants from all three 2014 programs joined with last year's attendees for an October celebration with Housing Alliance staff. In addition to a display of art created by EAP graduates, we had a visual timeline that charted organizational and personal milestones since the program began in 2013. There was also an open mic for anyone who wanted to share their personal experiences during or since the EAP program.

 

 

 

#2 - Prioritizing Anti-oppression and Equity: Class Matters!

Towards the end of 2014, Housing Alliance staff and a board member underwent "Exploring Class and Class Cultures," an all-day training using materials from the organization Class Action. With support from facilitators, staff reflected on their class background growing up and how it both motivates and strengthens their day-to-day work at the Housing Alliance. We also explored messaging styles and communication norms unique to specific classes and across class. We all developed tools to challenge micro-aggressions that we may we encounter within the organization and in the broader community. The Housing Alliance staff emerged knowing much more about each other’s past and the unique perspectives and strengths we all bring to our work.

 

 

 

#1 (tied) - Document Recording Fee/Homeless Housing & Assistance Surcharge Bill KILLED in Committee.

On the evening of February 27, the thud of a gavel made shockwaves throughout the homeless community and beyond. With this single action, a committee chair had effectively killed our bipartisan-supported Document Recording Fee Bill that would have kept in place a modest $40 document recording fee to fund effective homeless services across the state. An audio recording of Senators Don Benton, Steve Hobbs, and Sharon Nelson objecting to the abrupt end of the committee meeting was released, and we went into nonstop emergency mode to spread the news far and wide.

#1 (tied) - Document Recording Fee/Homeless Housing & Assistance Surcharge Bill SAVED in the Last Hours of Session!

Yup, we just couldn't help ourselves. We have two highlights tied for number one, one a really terrible moment for housing and homelessness, and the other a really awesome triumph! In two weeks, we saw over 70 total media hits from publications all over Washington about the “legislative malpractice” that killed the Document Recording Fee Bill. The media clamor combined with our coordinated efforts to maintain and amplify the advocacy for this bill resulted in a final hours legislative win. In the last moments of the 2014 Legislative Session, both houses passed an alternate version of the bill that preserved the housing and homeless surcharge until 2019. This meant successful services across Washington could continue to transition people off the streets into shelter and stability.

Pictured below: Some of our favorite memes from this past legislative session.

  

What are your housing & homelessness advocacy highlights from 2014? Let us know at our Facebook and Twitter pages.

 


 

 

An amazing summer of emerging advocacy!

Alouise Urness, Community & Member Organizer

 

 

 

 

 

Since I last wrote about the Emerging Advocates Program, a lot has happened.

  • Alicia met with her state senator over coffee.
  • Dawnell recorded her experience of homelessness with StoryCorps.
  • Mindy arranged a meeting with her representative on her way down to Olympia.
  • Julia pulled her legislator off the House floor to try to change her mind about a bill.
  • Nick M. and Susan were named Real Change Vendors of the Year.
  • Robin volunteered at a fundraiser for housing champions.
  • Lisa ran into a legislator at a community event and knew what she wanted to say.
  • Kirk was interviewed by a reporter.
  • August is in Washington, D.C. advocating on federal homelessness issues.
  • Rebecca is speaking out on tenants’ rights.
  • Andrea now uses social media to advocate for homelessness issues.
  • Shelby was featured in a press conference and is working to help get a bill introduced.
  • Nick R. is active with the Real Change Speakers’ Bureau and Path with Art.
  • Jamal now knows the staffer for his state senator.
  • Glenda is finding new ways to support her peers.
  • Kim has arranged to lead local legislators on a tour of the only homeless shelter in her town.

These are some of what advocates have been up to since completing the program. It’s exciting to get calls, emails, and visits from the 38 individuals who have completed the program so far. I get to hear about and support their endeavors and, I’m excited to see the Housing Alliance’s connections growing through the grassroots work of our enthusiastic program participants!

The advocates aren’t the only ones who’ve been busy! This summer, Housing Alliance staff ran the Emerging Advocates workshop series not once, but three times due to increased demand. We worked with one group of Emerging Advocates who met on Monday evenings, and another group on Tuesday afternoons. They heard from Housing Alliance and Washington Housing Alliance Action Fund staff on a broad range of issues including the importance of political work and using social media for advocacy. We brought in community experts as well. Nancy Amidei of the Civic Engagement Project taught advocacy skills. Western Regional Advocacy Project’s Paul Boden shared a history-based framework for understanding homelessness. And several former EAP participants returned to share what they had learned. A state representative even stopped by one of the sessions to meet participants.

In early September, these two groups joined together for a day trip to Olympia, where our own Ben Miksch (formerly a legislative staffer) led them through the journey of a bill becoming law as they moved through the spaces where the process occurs. Next came a mock hearing in a senate hearing room where several advocates practiced testifying, others tried out the lawmakers’ roles, and all got a deeper look into the legislative process. To wrap up the day, we pulled chairs into a circle in that same hearing room for a wide-ranging conversation with the Housing Alliance’s lobbyist and two legislators’ aides. Tara Jo Heineke, of Senator Karen Keiser’s office (33rd District-Kent), shared an incredibly moving story about a letter she wrote long ago as a young advocate and labor organizer, which was instrumental to passing a bill. Senator Adam Kline’s (37th District-Seattle) aide Bryn Houghton tirelessly answered questions. Lobbyist Nick Federici helped us see that laughter goes well with advocacy.

Just one week later, Housing Alliance trainers headed for Yakima. Ellie Lambert of the Homeless Network of Yakima County, herself a former EAP participant, had arranged for us to offer a third installment of the Emerging Advocates series. This was to be a weekend-intensive version of the workshops. Nine emerging advocates convened in a church basement for the same 12 hours of workshops that other participants experienced, but all in the course of 3 days! We had the added treat of learning from local advocacy leader Mateo Arteaga and enjoying lunch with a candidate for state senate.

These emerging advocates put their skills into practice on the final morning, some choosing to hone their public speaking by presenting to the congregation upstairs, others leading Housing Alliance staff on a tour of places and services important in surviving homelessness in Yakima. The sessions finished with a round table conversation among the emerging advocates and local housing development leaders. The advocates talked about their barriers to accessing affordable housing, and the nonprofit leaders shared some of their challenges in building it. There appeared to be a lot of common ground.

Much has happened, and there is so much more to do. I’m looking forward to working with these advocates, as we approach the next legislative session and beyond.

Photos: (Top): The combined Monday & Tuesday Emerging Advocates groups in Olympia. (Right): Rep. Brady Walkinshaw (43rd District-Seattle) meets the Monday group. (Left): Monday group participants talk advocacy. (Below): Yakima emerging advocates on their lunch break with Housing Alliance staff, Mateo Arteaga, and Gabriel Munoz.

Edited 11/11/14.

 


 

Save the date & now accepting proposals!

Kate Baber, Homelessness Policy and Advocacy Specialist

Over the past several weeks, we’ve had a number of major updates to share with our members. Last week, we shared our ideas for new strategies to end chronic homelessness and improve health. This week, we are excited to announce the date of next year’s Conference on Ending Homelessness.

Please save the date: May 13 and 14, 2015 for the 25th Annual Conference on Ending Homelessness to be held at the Greater Tacoma Convention and Trade Center in Tacoma, Washington.

The conference will bring over 600 homelessness advocates and direct service providers together from across Washington for our state’s largest conversation on ending homelessness. Next year’s conference program will continue to build momentum towards ending homelessness by providing skill-building opportunities, research and policy updates, advocacy and communication trainings, networking opportunities to exchange ideas and best practices, and continuing education credits.

Do you have a creative and innovative workshop idea? The conference planning committee is now accepting workshop proposals, and we invite you to submit a proposal form by October 31, 2014. Please note the earlier than usual due date for proposals. Proposal forms and instructions can be downloaded from our conference website: wliha.org/COEH.

Conference registration and scholarship applications will open in February 2015. You can visit our conference website for updates over the coming months. In the meantime, please save the date!

 


 

Tomas Villanueva, advocate, activist, and champion for farmworkers

Brien Thane, Housing Alliance Co-founder

Washington State has lost a great leader and housing advocate with the passing of Tomas Villanueva on Friday, June 6. Remembered most for his selfless lifelong dedication to social justice for Washington State farmworkers, Tomas understood the connection between wage and the issues of education, health, and housing. And he connected the dots decades before the McCleary decision, the Affordable Care Act, and the fight for a living wage had brought these linkages to the forefront of political discourse.

As an advocate and president of the United Farm Workers of Washington, Tomas created the Yakima Valley Farm Workers Clinic, the first such medical clinic in the Northwest. He also formed a coalition to win farmworkers coverage under the state’s minimum wage, unemployment insurance, labor standards, and child labor laws. Tomas also continued his advocacy while working as a community relations coordinator for the state Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS), where he single handedly repurposed $2 million of federal repayments to the state relating to immigration reform into the state’s first farmworker housing production program.

While working for DSHS in a 2003, Tomas was interviewed for the University of Washington’s Farm Workers in Washington State History Project and eloquently stated the simple truth that many public officials are only now coming to understand: 

I get involved a lot in farm worker housing issues. I’ve been involved with the housing issue since I was with the union, and after that, and my supervisors understand. If people live in a deteriorated and unhealthy house, it’s going to eventually affect medical services involving health and local food banks - people that don’t qualify for food stamps. To me, that’s my job to insure that people don’t fall through the cracks.

As a member of the Washington State Farm Worker Housing Trust, Tomas lobbied for millions of dollars for the construction of community-based farm worker housing.

Tomas served on many boards and committees as the recognized statewide representative of farmworker interests, reminding everyone from state officials to advocacy groups of one simple truth: farmworkers’ needs are no different than anyone else’s.

Advocates and champions are often described as “tireless.” Tomas truly was tireless, barely slowing down even when besieged by health problems. I’ve never met anyone so determined and unstoppable. He was also one of the most gracious and inclusive persons I’ve ever known. He could argue opponents to a standstill and then share a pleasant meal (and maybe make a point or two again in passing).

And the man could dance. Years ago we were at a housing conference, having a drink after sessions were over. A band set up and started playing. Tomas agreed to dance with an acquaintance at our table, and within moments a line of women formed, waiting their turn to cut the rug with Tomas. Turns out he and his siblings grew up winning folkloric dance competitions.

It was an honor and inspiration to work with Tomas. I miss the twinkle in his eye very much.

 


 

Reflections on the 2014 Conference on Ending Homelessness

Kirk McClain, Advocate

I received a grant from the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance that enabled me to attend the 2014 Conference on Ending Homelessness in Yakima, Washington. As a homeless person, I did not have the financial resources to attend on my own. So I was very excited when I received the acceptance email from the Housing Alliance.

The conference lasted two days, and I had the opportunity to attend six workshops. The two workshops most important to me were Lawmaker Engagement Strategies During The Legislative Interim and Housing & Essential Needs (HEN) Provider Discussion because they were directly related to where I am in life. The two major things I want to do right now are to obtain housing and learn how to become an advocate for homeless services and social safety net programs in the state legislature. My first experience with ever speaking to a lawmaker was a couple of years ago during a community listening session moderated by Kate Baber back when she was working at Seattle-based organization Statewide Poverty Action Network.

Kate now works for Washington Low Income Housing Alliance and was one of the presenters of the engaging lawmakers workshop. I mentioned my first experience with Poverty Action because that was really my first time advocating to a lawmaker. Although I felt really good about the experience, I also was left with a great desire to know how laws are made and how advocacy can affect change in what legislation becomes law. The workshop on engaging lawmakers really got into the details of how to advocate in Olympia and even in my own legislative district. For me, this is what having a voice is all about – learning how to communicate effectively with lawmakers. The two presenters Kate Baber and Michele Thomas spoke passionately and honestly. Both had a great deal of knowledge about topics like one-on-one meetings with legislators, how to organize a site visit, inviting lawmakers to fundraisers, and other events that can provide a great opportunity to build relationships.

The Housing and Essential Needs (HEN) workshop was interesting and helpful to me because it allowed me to see “behind the curtain” of what service providers have to do in administrating the HEN program.

To me, learning how to advocate for the homeless in Olympia and applying that education to help homeless persons (myself included) are simply two points on a continuum that will eventually help me to find myself and to re-evaluate and rebuild my life. The conference helped me to see that the many service providers who work to assist the homeless are caring people who would do more if they could. I believe if we could get better laws passed to help the homeless, more effective homelessness services would inevitably follow. Since attending the Conference on Ending Homeless, I feel more empowered to join with others who care enough make the changes necessary to see more homeless people find homes and get on the path to a stable and productive life.

Pictured (L to R): Emerging Advocates Program graduate Nick Maxwell and author Kirk McClain during one of the conference workshops. 

 


 

Program returns to help emerge advocates across the state

Susan Russell, Advocate

It’s a new year and another opportunity to become involved in the Emerging Advocates Program!

I’m a graduate of EAP. Here’s how I recently emerged as an advocate through the program. One day on my way home from work as a cement mason I was rear-ended by an uninsured motorist. This accident took away my trade, and I accumulated debt I couldn't pay. This led me to lose my apartment in 2004. At first I couch surfed. I'd get a boyfriend; we'd live together. When things wouldn't work out, I'd find myself homeless once again. I hid my homelessness from my friends and family. But that couldn't last for long. During the last six years I've been homeless, things got a lot harder and more dangerous. Something had to change.

In 2011, a Real Change vendor encouraged me to think about selling the paper. The next year, I finally made the decision to go check it out. This was the start of my journey out of homelessness.

I'll never forget my first day selling the paper, it was truely the hardest thing I've ever done. For me, it was the first public statement that I was homeless. But through selling up at Ken’s Market in Greenwood, I found a community that embraced me. The people at Real Change were the same way. I want everyone to know this because without the support of the communities I've gotten to know as a vendor, I would not be the person I am today. I'm so thankful for all the love people gave me in this process.

In 2013, Real Change recommended me to the Housing Alliance's Emerging Advocates Program, and I was accepted into the very first class. This, my friends, was the beginning of another journey – my journey to help end homelessness. I learned how to interact with politicians and decision-makers to make a change. Also, EAP has given me the knowledge and the confidence I needed to move forward to become more involved in making a change to end homelessness.

Since I’ve lived the life of homelessness, I believe I’m the perfect person to bring the message to people in power who don’t understand what it’s like to be homeless. The way I see it, it is my duty as a human being to educate those who will never experience poverty. 

I invite you to participate in this exciting program that will educate those with an interest to help make a difference in our communities statewide.  When we sit on the sidelines, nothing gets done. Get involved, be part of the solution! 

Emerging Advocates Program brings together a group of individuals who are compassionate and believe that we can make that difference. So join us by enrolling in this wonderful program! Remember, together we can do things that we can never do alone.

Click here for the application and send it in as soon as you can.

Susan Russell saying, "Don't wait! Apply now!"

EAP 2013 graduates August Mallory (R) & Susan Russell (L) at a mock hearing in Olympia.

 


 

The Week in Housing Advocacy - Week 9

Michele Thomas, Director of Policy & Advocacy

Late on Thursday, March 13, the legislature adjourned (also known as "Sine Die"). After rumors of another special session began circulating earlier that week, the budget writers spent long nights seeking compromise and finalizing details. The agreed-upon budget was revealed at a Thursday press conference and then voted out of the House and Senate with large bipartisan support. See below for operating budget details.
 

Homeless Housing and Assistance Surcharge: "A Legislative Miracle"

We never gave up. And in the last hours of the session, the legislature took action on the Homeless Housing and Assistance Surcharges/Document Recording Fees. Grassroots advocacy and public pressure pushed this bill to the finish line. Senator Jan Angel (26th LD-Port Orchard) went from adamant opposition, to personally introducing the floor amendment. This was quite a remarkable turnaround in a matter of just two short weeks!! As one seasoned lobbyist noted, "ESSB 5875 passing is a legislative miracle."

Advocates across the state really made a huge difference. If you emailed or called your legislator, you should be proud that together we've preserved funds supporting programs and services that allow people to get back on their feet and leave the brutality of homelessness behind them.

Many lawmakers made notable remarks on the floor before voting on the bill Thursday night. We especially liked how Senator Marko Liias (21st LD-Mukilteo) described how remarkable it was he had the opportunity to vote on the bill that night.

When we pass out charts for school children explaining how a bill becomes a law, it does not cover bills like this one, that move through the process in different ways...It's also a testament to the power of everyday people in our democracy to speak up when they see a decision that they don't agree with. Everyday citizens like the local Catholic action folks that came and talked to me and I'm sure to many of my colleagues. Efforts by our news media through editorial boards and letters to the editor from around the state to talk about this issue. So I think this bill while it didn't come through the normal course, it is a testament to fact that our democracy works, that as legislators we listen and sometimes when we don't get it quite right, we fix our mistakes.
Senator Marko Liias (21st LD-Mukilteo)

You can watch his speech below.

And you can watch all the Senate floor speeches here.

Many lawmakers went above and beyond to get this bill passed. Senator Jeannie Darneille (27th LD-Tacoma) and Representative David Sawyer (29th LD-Tacoma) deserve special thanks for being the prime sponsors. Please send them a quick email to tell them how much you appreciate their leadership. But we'd be remiss if we didn't also point out the amazing, sometimes behind-the-scenes, work of the following lawmakers.

(Click on their names to send an email.)

Senate
Sen. Jeannie Darneille (27th LD-Tacoma)
Sen. Sharon Nelson (34th LD-Maury Island)
Sen. David Frockt (46th LD-Seattle)
Sen. Steve Hobbs (44th LD-Lake Stevens)
Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles (36th LD-Seattle)
Sen. Andy Billig (3rd LD-Spokane)
Sen. Don Benton (17th LD-Vancouver).
House
Rep. David Sawyer (29th LD-Tacoma)
Rep. Maureen Walsh (16th LD-Walla Walla)
Rep. Pat Sullivan (47th LD-Covington)

 


Legislators in support of ESHB 2368, the original Document Recording Fee Bill at our Thursday,
March 6th press conference.

Our Analysis of the Document Recording Bill that Finally Passed

In the end, it was ESSB 5875 that passed. You might remember that our preferred version of the bill ESHB 2368 died when Senator Jan Angel (26th LD-Port Orchard) refused to give it a vote in committee. The Majority Coalition Caucus introduced SB 5875 after intense public pressure. While the final bill isn't exactly what we wanted, it is a significant improvement because it pushes out the sunset dates until 2019. Here are more details on what the bill does:

  • Extends the $40 homeless housing and assistance document recording surcharges through June 30, 2019. (The bill combined the sunset dates so both will now sunset at the same time).
  • Requires 45 percent of the state's non-administrative allotment of the surcharge fee revenue to be set aside for "private rental housing payments," which is defined to specifically exclude nonprofits.
  • Changes which documents that the fee applies to by striking the term "real property" and by excluding documents recording a state, county, or city lien or satisfaction of a lien. More analysis is needed to determine the impacts on revenue collected.
  • Requires an annual independent audit of the expenditure of the document recording fee revenue. And if the audit determines that the Department of Commerce has failed to set-aside at least 45% of the funds for private rental housing payments, the Office of Financial Management (OFM) must receive a corrective action plan from the department and must monitor that plan for compliance for the remainder of the fiscal year. If the department is out of compliance in any month during that period, OFM must withhold a portion of the department's expenditures equal to that made during the month that the department was not in compliance.
  • Requires that the Office of Financial Management secure a yearly independent performance audit of the department's data and expenditures and must include a random sampling of local governments, contractors, and housing providers. Requires that OFM meet with the department and "a landlord representative" to review the findings and that OFM provide the landlord representative with an opportunity to include written comments with the independent audit's findings. If the audit finds that the department has failed to set-aside 45% of the funds for for-profit landlords, then the audit must include a recommendation to the legislature on alternative means of distributing the funds. Additionally, OFM must secure another independent audit of the department's use of the funds which will include recommendations for policy and "operational improvements" on the use of the funds by counties and by the department. The report is due by December 1, 2016.
  • Requires local governments receiving the funds to maintain and distribute an interested landlord list and to take reasonable efforts to require local providers to conduct quarterly outreach to private for-profit landlords about opportunities to rent to the homeless.
  • Requires the department to convene a stakeholder group that includes real estate and private for-profit landlord representatives to find a new funding source that does not include a surcharge on document recording fees. The stakeholder group must be convened by 2017 and must submit a report to the legislature by December 1, 2017.

The Housing Alliance will be closely monitoring how all the new requirements play out.

Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles (36th LD-Seattle) pointing out the highly problematic bill language containing the 45% quota for for-profit landlords (specifically excluding nonprofits with housing).
 

Majority Coalition Caucus Refuses to Pass Capital Budget

The Senate leadership refused to pass a Supplemental Capital Budget, thus disappointing stakeholders of all political persuasions. It was the first time since 1996 that such an opportunity was lost. The lack of a supplemental capital budget means that the we lose $5 million for energy efficient affordable housing, $2 million for weatherization, $6 million for capital projects serving people with chronic mental illness, and the earmarks for a handful of affordable housing projects.

The Housing Alliance will be working throughout the interim to deepen support for affordable housing among a variety of lawmakers. Stay tuned.
 

Final Supplemental Operating Budget

Here is a quick overview of how the final budget impacted key programs:

Housing and Essential Needs Program (HEN)

- No changes in program or funding.

Aged, Blind & Disabled Program (ABD)

 $850,000 in savings from SB 6573 swept to general fund.

HEN Incapacity Exams

 $600,000 in assumed Affordable Care Act savings swept to general fund.

Homeless Certification Pilot

 $26,000 from Home Security Fund used to fund two-year pilot based on the concept in HB 2415.

Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF)

Approximately $5.8 million was reinvested into TANF programs. Highlights include funding for:

  1. A 15% incentive payment for TANF households that participate in their individual responsibility plan for 20 hours or more a week.
  2. Modifying the AREN program from a $750 lifetime maximum to a $750 yearly maximum (AREN = Additional Requirements for Emergent Needs and is a program that provides emergency rent or utility assistance to TANF clients.
  3. Creating a Rapid Re-housing home visit/education pilot for homeless WorkFirst recipients.

An important TANF bill also passed in the last hours of the session. Here’s the summary from Laurie Lippold of Partners for Our Children.

HB 2585, the Kinship Child-Only TANF Bill, passed shortly before Sine Die (official adjournment of session). This bill remedies an eligibility inequity for relatives receiving child-only TANF and was essentially dead. With the "it's-not-over-'til-it's-over" mentality, advocacy continued. And in the end, the bill passed the Senate 48-0 with one excused. Now more caregivers will be eligible for child-only TANF funding to help support their families in times of need.

The Housing Alliance will be posting a blog update in the next week with more details on how TANF fared this session. Stay tuned!

   
We posted the left image on Facebook, once Sen. Angel killed ESHB 2368.
We then posted the right image after we learned about the four-year surcharge extension!

 

Extended Foster Care Bill

The Extended Foster Care Bill was one of the Housing Alliance’s support items, led by the The Mockingbird Society. Here’s another update from Laurie Lippold about how this bill, like the Document Recording Fee Bill came back from the dead to eventually get passed!

Again, the phrase "it's not over 'til it's over" could not have been truer than it was this session. By all accounts, HB 2335, the Extended Foster Care Bill, died in Senate Ways and Means. But through hard work and the commitment of a number of legislative champions, the bill passed shortly before Sine Die. Providing this extra support until age 21 has the potential to significantly improve outcomes for these young adults.

The final bill does the following:

  • Expands eligibility criteria to allow a youth to request extended foster care services if the youth engages in employment for 80 hours or more per month.
  • Limits expenditures on the new category of extended foster care to the funding provided specifically for this purpose.
  • Adds an effective date of March 1, 2015.

Special thanks to Laurie and to Jim Theofelis from The Mockingbird Society for their amazing advocacy for children in foster care.
 

The Interim: A Great Opportunity to Advancing Affordable Housing and Homelessness Issues

The interim is a strategic time to educate your lawmakers to deepen their support of our issues. The Housing Alliance is putting together an interim workbook (stay tuned for more details). But in the meantime, we encourage you to start thinking about doing some or all of the following:

  • If you work at an affordable housing organization, invite all your local lawmakers to tour your homes or of the site that you wish to build a future project. We can help you prepare fact sheets about local need and provide any other support you may want.
  • Invite your legislators to meet at your local shelter or where you meet clients. Share with them the realities that people in their district are facing and consider inviting someone directly impacted by your services to join you. The Housing Alliance can provide support, especially in prepping people to share their stories.
  • When you meet with lawmakers, be sure to involve your board. This can both help to educate your board on how decisions made in Olympia and in D.C. impact your organization's efforts, while also educating lawmakers from a variety of perspectives.
  • If you are an individual advocate, unaffiliated with an organization, please also consider meeting with your lawmaker to tell them why you care about ending homelessness and expanding access to affordable housing. The Housing Alliance can support you and provide talking points.

Again, thank you for being an advocate and for taking action this session. As the passage of ESSB 5875 attests, advocacy can achieve the impossible. Let's keep it up and and make more progress to expand access to affordable housing and to end homelessness. Housing Advocates have a lot to do during the interim to build more legislative champions. Our sister organization, the Washington Housing Alliance Action Fund will also be very active this summer and fall.

To learn more, sign up for updates and news by clicking here.

 


 

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