Why hello there...

Honah Thompson, Social Justice Intern

I’m Honah (pronounced “HAH-nah,” both A-sounds are soft) the fresh meat of the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance. I was born and raised in Santa Rosa, California (in Sonoma County’s wine country). I recently graduated from Chapman University in Southern California with a B.A. in sociology and religious studies and an emphasis in social work. I come from a busy summer of internships and volunteer work relating to HIV/AIDs, child abuse, and hospice care at various agencies in Orange County. The time I spent with each agency affirmed my desire to continue with social justice work before entering graduate school for a master’s degree in social work.

While I would like to say it was a natural urge to embrace the rain and public transportation that brings me to Seattle and the Housing Alliance, it is actually the United Church of Christ’s Young Adult Service Communities program. For a year, I will live in community with some pretty stellar folks and engage in social justice issues such as homelessness, living wages, and so many more as the year goes on. As someone interested in equity and fair access to basic human needs, I feel everything I learn this year will be extremely fulfilling.

My first experience with the Housing Alliance was in Yakima at the Emerging Advocates Program. I had an amazing time learning oodles of great information about how advocacy works in the world of housing and homelessness. Hearing the stories of the participants as well as the presentations of our guest speakers was greatly inspirational and put me in the right mindset to begin this internship. Some of what I learned was eye-opening and some shocking. But what I have taken away from the many new statistics and stories shared at Emerging Advocates is that homelessness is a grossly misunderstood social problem. Another takeaway is that there is a huge need for advocacy if we are bridge the state's affordable housing crisis and end homelessness. If you wish to learn more about what I am talking about, I would suggest looking into the document Without Housing: Decades of Federal Housing Cutbacks, Massive Homelessness and Policy Failures produced by Housing Alliance partner agency Western Regional Advocacy Project.

As the Housing Alliance’s dedicated intern I will be involved in supporting the many projects, plans, and proceedings that we are whipping up and working on in the office and around the state. I will help in the planning for the Conference on Ending Homelessness as well as Housing and Homelessness Advocacy Day. So look for me in Tacoma and Olympia next year. (I can’t wait to go to Olympia.) Word on the street is that I will also be helping with state and federal advocacy, which I am very excited about after spending so much time on direct services wondering how the nitty-gritty of advocacy and legislation go down.

I am all kinds of excited to be here and can’t wait to see what this year has in store for me. Let the advocacy and action begin!

Top: Honah posing with the Yakima Emerging Advocates Program participants.
Bottom: Honah participating in the social media and advocacy component of the Emerging Advocates Program in Yakima.



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:

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!



End chronic homelessness and improve health? Yes, it can be done!

Kate Baber, Homelessness Policy and Advocacy Specialist

The expansion of Medicaid in Washington under the federal Affordable Care Act has extended health care coverage access to over 250,000 people living on low incomes. Despite this success, people experiencing chronic homelessness frequently face significant barriers to using Medicaid. Thus, they are often unable to regularly access health care or reach improved health outcomes.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) defines an individual as chronically homeless if:
1)   He or she has a disabling condition and
2a) has been homeless for longer than one year or
2b) more than four times in the last three years.

Washington’s 2014 annual point in time count identified 2,673 chronically homeless persons living outside. Unfortunately, people who face chronic homelessness experience high mortality rates, high rates of chronic physical health conditions, and high rates of behavioral health disabilities. The lack of housing, social supports, and untreated physical and behavioral health disabilities prevents this population from accessing regular care, leads to high utilization of public emergency services, and hinders people’s recovery.

Chronic homelessness is a serious problem in our state. However, we know we can solve it by bringing a housing intervention known as permanent supportive housing to scale. Permanent supportive housing is a specific affordable housing and service delivery model. HUD, the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, and the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness recognize it as an evidence-based best practice. Under this model, affordable housing is paired with intensive tenancy support services, housing case management, and care coordination. Permanent supportive housing is 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. Academic institutions and other organizations have rigorously evaluated this model at both the national and local levels. They've repeatedly shown that permanent supportive housing improves health and housing outcomes, creates efficiencies in care coordination, reduces emergency and crisis service utilization, and helps people with complex needs recover from illness and live with stability, autonomy, and dignity.

Although permanent supportive housing exists across Washington, there is not enough funding currently available to bring this model fully to scale. One of the primary gaps impeding this intervention's expansion is the lack of resources for the services portion provided in permanent supportive housing, services critical to the model’s success. Thus, the Housing Alliance has been exploring strategies to secure additional funds for these services, including the creation of a new Medicaid benefit. This benefit could cover the medically necessary services within permanent supportive housing. Medicaid is well positioned to cover a subset of these services. We believe this is the case because the population needing permanent supportive housing is unlikely to be able to access physical and behavioral health care consistently. This lack of access can change once they are receiving intensive supportive services that help them, 1) avoid chronic homelessness, 2) obtain and retain housing and reach long-term stability, and 3) navigate systems of care.

In recent months, we have collaborated with CSH and the Washington State Chronic Homeless Policy Academy to write a research paper exploring the concept of creating a new Medicaid benefit. We are very excited to publish the final paper and further explore this exciting idea with Housing Alliance members and stakeholders across the state. The paper provides background information regarding permanent supportive housing, chronic homelessness, and Medicaid. It identifies the barriers within Medicaid that prevent permanent supportive housing services from being currently covered, and it outlines a framework for developing a new Medicaid benefit in Washington. A new benefit would create a stable source of funding for a subset of the services provided in permanent supportive housing and could be paired with other resources to increase the availability of homes across Washington.

This fall, we plan on continuing to partner with stakeholders and lawmakers in developing this concept into a proposal that can be introduced during the 2015 legislative session. Stay tuned for updates on this exciting work, and in the meantime, be sure to check out our paper!

Creating a Medicaid Supportive Housing Services Benefit White Paper

Images (from top to bottom)
First image: Pictured left to right: Governor's Office Senior Policy Advisor Robert Crittenden, Rep. June Robinson (38th LD), Rep. Eileen Cody (34th LD) and Cottage Grove Commons resident John Harper. Cottage Grove Commons is a supportive housing development in the West Seattle neighborhood.
Second image: Cottage Grove Commons, supportive housing for 66 formerly homeless men and women living with serious mental/addictive illnesses or other disabling conditions.
Third image: 1811 Eastlake, supportive housing for 75 formally homeless men and women with chronic alcohol addiction.



Evergreen State tied 8th worst in the nation for affordable housing gap

Joaquin Uy, Communications Specialist

When it comes to finding an affordable home, challenges continue for Washington’s lowest income renters. This is according to a recently released joint report by the National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC) and the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance (Housing Alliance).

The report is titled, Housing Spotlight: The Affordable Rental Housing Gap Persists. It reveals an acute and persistent shortage of rental homes across the nation that are both affordable and available to the lowest income Americans. The numbers specific to Washington State are particularly glaring:

Two full-time workers with a child earning Washington State’s minimum wage make about $39,000 per year. This number is just under 50% of the median income for a Seattle-Bellevue area family of three. In this income range, only 55 affordable and available units exist for every 100 households.

Unsurprisingly, according to the report, the less you earn, the less affordable homes available to you.

For instance in Spokane, where the area median income (AMI) is approximately $63,000, wait staff make about $23,000 a year or less (roughly 30% of AMI). For every 100 of these workers, the state only has 28 affordable and available homes.

The average fast food worker in Washington State earns roughly $12,000 a year. This is about 15% of the state’s median income (approximately $74,000). According to our findings, Washington residents earning this much will likely spend a great deal of time looking for a home because only 16 affordable housing units are available for every 100 similar households. Renters with incomes at or below 15% also tend to be elderly or disabled individuals living on fixed incomes, such as Supplemental Security Income (SSI). In this income group, 90% of these renters spent more than half of their income on housing costs.

These harsh numbers not only contribute to Washington’s overall homelessness rate, but also makes the Evergreen State tied for 8th worst in terms of how many affordable and available homes we have for every 100 extremely low-income households. Statewide, there’s a need for 161,243 more rental homes to close the affordable housing gap for extremely low-income renters.

It’s always been difficult for lower income households to find affordable homes, and today it’s harder than ever. Renting has become an increasingly common choice among higher income households since the housing crisis. Nationally, the number of renters with incomes greater than 120% of area median income increased by 1.2 million between 2009 and 2012, transforming the rental market by putting upward pressure on rents.

"It’s a troubling paradox," says Housing Alliance Executive Director Rachael Myers. "Washington State is home to many Fortune 500 companies and successful corporations. Yet, despite this, the gap between the housing need and the availability of rental homes affordable to Washington’s most vulnerable continues. With the release of these numbers, the State Housing Trust Fund and local housing levies become extremely important components to the solution of this persistent crisis."

Despite the dreary numbers, the Housing Alliance believes this is a problem that can be solved. To this end, we’re currently in the process of finalizing our 2015 State Legislative Priorities. We’ll be releasing our agenda as 2014 draws to a close.

At the federal level, NLIHC calls for funding of the National Housing Trust Fund (NHTF). The NHTF is a program signed into law in 2008 to distribute dedicated sources of revenue to states to preserve and expand the supply of rental housing targeted to extremely low-income households.

The report is available here:
1. Report Text
2. Report Appendices

More information about the NHTF is available at their website,




I am an advocate.

Margie Quinn, Facing Homelessness Operations Manager

A year ago, I moved from Nashville, Tennessee to Seattle, Washington for a year of service through the United Church of Christ’s Young Adult Service Communities Program. I moved into the third floor of a church with the other interns and began working at the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance a week later.

First, you should meet “Margie-From-A-Year-Ago.” That Margie had never voted. She couldn’t name one legislator from her state. She couldn’t define “advocacy” or even what “public policy” entailed. She had never even been to her state’s capitol. She had never attended a lobby day or met with an elected official to discuss an issue she cared deeply about. She had never canvassed or phone-banked for a political candidate. That Margie had never planned a workshop for a statewide conference or planned a panel for an advocacy day. She had never seriously contemplated the issue of widespread homelessness in our country.

You get the picture. I was fresh from undergrad where I had learned to theorize and analyze the injustices in our communities. But, I had never advocated for these issues myself. The Housing Alliance showed me how to act out and speak up for issues that ignite me. Thanks to Housing Alliance staff and friends, I transformed from a critical and immobile thinker of social justice to a bona fide active housing advocate!

I registered to vote. Then I actually voted…three times this year! I’m going to vote more! I ran around Olympia with Michele, Ben, and Kate B. as they talked to legislators about why affordable housing, tenants rights, and homeless services matter. I helped facilitate sessions of the first-ever Emerging Advocates Program with Andrea and Alouise. From this, I learned how vital it is to build connections with folks affected by these issues in order to understand the depth of complexities that encompass them.

Joaquin taught me how to use social media to advocate and how to connect anti-oppression work with ending homelessness. Brianna brought the fire, showing me that voter registration and voter turnout make a tangible difference. I co-planned an interfaith panel for Housing and Homelessness Advocacy Day. Then, I co-facilitated a storytelling workshop at the Conference on Ending Homelessness.

I could go on and on about the wonderful, dedicated staff at the Housing Alliance. I could go on and on about how much I learned from each of them and how deeply grateful I am to them for revealing to me just how much advocacy can change my life.

But, I digress. Here is the bottom line: honestly, I am afraid of the person I would have been if I hadn’t worked at the Housing Alliance this year. I have now transitioned into the role of Operations Manager at Facing Homelessness, another organization working toward ending homelessness in Washington State. As I sit at my new desk, writing this blog post, I can’t help but recall my first conversation with a Housing Alliance staffer who asked me what “advocacy” meant to me. I sputtered some nonsense about “ongoing work” and “taking action,” trying to sound more knowledgeable than I was. Now, I know what advocacy is. More importantly, I know how to do it. I know how to organize a meeting with legislators in my district and how to call folks and mobilize them around important issues.

Housing Alliance, you’ve made an advocate out of me. One down, a few more to go. I have no doubt that you will transform the next intern and many more to come.

Margie during the first week of her internship.

Margie during the Gong Action for Homelessness.



Federal Housing Credit Update & Advocacy Alert!

Ben Miksch, State and Federal Policy Associate

Good news about the Low Income Housing Tax Credit! Low Income Housing Tax Credits provide a critical source of funding for affordable homes across Washington State. Need a primer on the Housing Credit? Revisit this guest post from last year.

Reports are coming out of D.C. that long sought-after legislation to improve the Low Income Housing Tax Credit may be moving to the floor in coming months.

This legislation, which is central to producing and preserving affordable housing, comes at a crucial time. Last week, Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies released their 2014 State of the Nation’s Housing stating that nearly 20 million Americans are spending at least half of their household income on rental costs alone.

Representatives Jim McDermott, Dave Reichert, Adam Smith, and Suzan DelBene are all cosponsors of the legislation, HR 4717. In the Senate, the provisions have been included in the Senate’s Tax Extenders Legislation, S 2260, in large part thanks to the leadership of Senator Maria Cantwell, a long-time champion of the Housing Credit.

Members of Congress will be heading back home next week for the July 4th Congressional Recess. This is a perfect opportunity for you to take advantage of this momentum and help push this issue forward!

Please reach out to your members of Congress about this, especially if your representative isn’t a cosponsor. If you have any questions or would like some assistance, don’t hesitate to drop me a line (benm-at-wliha-dot-org) and let me know how the Housing Alliance can help. Don’t know who your representative is? Go here to find out.



Emerging Advocates Program: emerging and...expanding!

Andrea Marcos, Administrative Assistant

“We must also broaden our conception of what it means to be creative. At its best, one of the most creative activities is being involved in a struggle with other people, breaking out of our isolation, seeing our relations with others change, discovering new dimensions in our lives."

-Sylvia Federici

The summer is a creative time for us at the Housing Alliance. But this summer it’s triple time, as we get ready for not one, but three sessions of our Emerging Advocates Program (EAP)!

Over the last few weeks we’ve been working hard getting ready for our second-ever EAP, a curriculum that supports people who have experienced homelessness or housing instability in advocating for positive policy change. Last fall, we had fourteen passionate program participants graduate from our first-ever class. This year, we received more than double the applications, and we’ve decided to not only run two summer programs instead of one, but also a offer a short session in Yakima later this fall!

The 2014 summer EAP sessions will include 26 participants coming from all over Washington State. Folks from the Puget Sound area hail from Snohomish, King, Pierce, and Thurston counties. Other participants from the eastern side of the mountains come from Longview, Yakima, and Spokane. Our six-week program will include topics like the history of how U.S. policy has affected homelessness, the importance of voter engagement, using social and traditional media for advocacy, storytelling for social change, and so much more!

We have a great line-up of workshops and presentations from past EAP participants and advocates, including Nancy Amidei from Civic Engagement Project and Paul Boden from Western Regional Advocacy Project. Our own Housing Alliance staff will also present, including Rachael Myers, Kate Baber, and Joaquin Uy. Brianna Thomas from our sister organization the Washington Housing Alliance Action Fund will also be on-hand to talk about the importance of field work in electing housing champions to the state legislature.

For our third EAP program of 2014, we’ll head to Yakima and present a shortened version to advocates there. We’re really excited about making sure the program gets all over Washington State. And we’re especially looking forward to working with our allies on the East Side! More about the Yakima Emerging Advocates Program later. 

We have some great workshops and presenters lined up. But I don’t think it’s only the workshops that make the Emerging Advocates Program such a meaningful advocacy training opportunity. It’s what activist, scholar, and teacher Syvlia Federici  is talking about in that quote above – a transformative creativity. EAP is so important and unique because it is about being in spaces where we come together, work together, and struggle together, a struggle to ensure everyone in Washington State has the opportunity to live in safe, healthy, affordable homes in thriving communities. Since our first round of EAP, I’ve heard back from participants. All felt that the relationships and continuing support networks made in the program are just as meaningful as the curriculum. The program is strong because of the solid creativity that we as advocates bring to it and share with each other. I’m excited to see that quality of creativity play a more active role in the Housing Alliance’s work and in our collective movements for housing justice.

Top image: EAP 2013 participant Glenda Miller giving her final presentation to her fellow attendees.
Bottom image: EAP 2013 participant Ellie Lambert showing a prop from her final project, focused on raising awareness of homelessness in Yakima.



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.




Subscribe to RSS - State