Voters Will Decide Future with 2016 Housing Levy

By Lena Beck, School of Theology and Ministry Social Justice Intern

Let’s play a word association game. Ready? When I say “Seattle,” you list the first things you think of. Ok. Seattle. Space Needle. Rain. Housing crisis.

It’s not as though the need is new—this city has long been lacking in sufficient access to affordable housing. Residents have voted to fund more low-cost units since 1981, and even though those levies exceeded their initial goals, Seattle remains in the deep end of an affordable housing crisis. With another opportunity to make change coming up on the August 2nd primary ballot, many voters are hoping that this levy could be the one.

Like Portland, San Francisco, and other rapidly expanding cities, average rent prices in Seattle are much higher than can be met by people with modest incomes. Over 45,000 households in the city have to use more than half their wages to cover their housing costs. According to the Seattle city government, the average one bedroom apartment in town costs $1,544 per month, and two people would need to be earning $15/hour full time to sustain that housing cost burden. With Seattle’s minimum wage currently still less than that, there’s a noticeable gap that makes it pretty obvious: Seattle is up to its neck in a crisis, and desperately in need of housing that is more affordable.

seattle housing levy

Image credit: Seattle Office of Housing

Enter Prop 1, the 2016 Seattle Housing Levy. It is meant to both replace and build upon the levy that is currently on its way out, and its basic stats are as follows: It is a tax increase that will raise $290 million for the city to direct towards affordable housing over the course of seven years, costing the average homeowner about $10.17/month. This money will be invested into three main sectors. First, it will create and preserve 2,150 affordable apartment units within Seattle. Secondly, it will reinvest in 350 apartments that already exist. Last but not least, it will support the operations of 510 affordable units.

This levy comes as public attention to housing and homelessness issues in our region has increased dramatically over the past year or two. In September 2014, Seattle City Council and the Mayor’s Office convened a diverse 28-member stakeholder group to develop a strategy around housing affordability and availability, resulting in the creation of the Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda (HALA) in July 2015—a list of more than sixty recommendations for how the city can legislatively address the affordable housing crisis.  A few months later, Mayor Murray and County Exective Dow Constantine jointly declared a state of emergency on homelessness in Seattle and King County.  Throughout, we have rarely seen a day when housing and/or homelessness have not made the news in our city.

This newest housing levy has made it onto the ballot during a time when advocates and laypeople are actively looking for solutions.

The Seattle Times wrote a compelling editorial this week discussing the levy, highlighting both the city’s intense need for a proposition like this one, as well as encouraging voters to keep demanding similar changes with less overhead costs. The message is clear—the voter say-so in this case is going to have a huge impact on what our city looks like in a decade. While primary elections often slip by unnoticed, this is an issue that as it grows, affects all Seattleites. Whether you check yes or no on your ballot, be sure you have a say in how our city handles its affordable housing emergency.

For more information on the 2016 Housing Levy, visit http://www.seattle.gov/housing/levy

To stay updated on HALA’s work, see http://www.seattle.gov/hala/track


Lena Beck headsotLena Beck is interning with the School of Theology and Ministry this summer. A rising senior at Seattle University, Lena will be graduating in 2017 with a BA in Humanities for Leadership, as well as a specialization in Journalism and English.  She originally became acquainted with the School of Theology and Ministry’s homelessness initiative while working as a writer for the university’s weekly newspaper, the Spectator.  After interviewing Program Manager Lisa in the spring of 2015, she felt pulled by the work and eventually asked to come aboard in an internship capacity.

Originally from Portland, Oregon, Lena feels at home in the Pacific Northwest and is currently living in Capitol Hill, Seattle.  She loves hiking, reading and getting to know the Seattle community.

 

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Addressing the Affordability Crisis: Homeownership and the Housing Continuum

Our latest guest blogger, Kathleen Hosfeld, is a current student  at the School of Theology and Ministry (pursuing a Master of Arts in Transforming Spirituality) and the Executive Director of Seattle-based Homestead Community Land Trust. Like all community land trusts, Homestead is in the business of making communities more stable, sustainable, accessible and affordable.  Kathleen sees their work – “creating and preserving affordable homeownership opportunities for modest-income homebuyers in the Greater Seattle/Puget Sound area” – as an essential piece of a multidimensional and holistic response to the complex problems of homelessness and housing affordability/insecurity. It’s a way to both empower and stabilize individuals and families, and strengthen communities. Learn more about the what, how and why of their work at www.homesteadclt.org.


Kathleen Hosfeld Headshot v2 (square)

By Kathleen Hosfeld, Executive Director, Homestead Community Land Trust

The facts are stark. As of February 2016, the Seattle Times reported that the median price of a home in Seattle had risen to almost $644,000 – a 24% increase over the previous year. To afford that home a person has to have an income in excess of $100,000 per year and a down payment of more than $100,000. That price is out of reach for 60% of the potential buyers in our community, where median income is closer to $75,000.

We live in a community where only the affluent have the opportunity to own their own home. As the Executive Director of a community land trust, I see teachers, non-profit employees, medical technicians, first responders and social workers denied this part of the American Dream. Modest-income people who try to own a home often buy more home than they can afford. Those who relocate for affordability often have longer commutes – transportation time and expense can bring their cost of living back to unaffordable levels, increase their environmental impact and take time away from their families.

Runaway real estate costs have created an affordability crisis that affects everyone. But for more than 100 years restrictive covenants, discriminatory federal policies, bank redlining and predatory lending practices have also disproportionately targeted minorities, creating more obstacles to homeownership.

Racial Wealth Gap (Pew 2013)
As a result, in addition to a growing wealth gap, there is an even wider racial wealth gap, with median-income white families having 13 times the wealth of median-income black families.  Homestead-CLT-logoCommunity land trusts like Homestead arose out of the Civil Rights era and the work of colleagues of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.  They’ve shown that when communities work together, we can change these statistics and change lives for the better.

As we grapple with our crises of homelessness and housing affordability in the greater Seattle area, we must at the same time take a holistic view of the roles played by different forms of housing in lifting people’s financial circumstances. In Washington State we talk about the “housing continuum” – a progression of services that includes emergency housing, transitional and permanent supportive housing and subsidized rental. Each form of housing plays a critical role in creating a just community, where the most vulnerable are protected. And a holistic, systems view of housing recognizes that increasing access to affordable homeownership is a strategy that helps the whole continuum. Programs that support people in safely building equity reduce their risk of future housing instability.

Main image - We make it possible

Photo credit: HomesteadCLT.org

Alyssa’s story provides a great example. Six years ago, Alyssa was a single mother struggling with an unsympathetic landlord who refused to address mold issues that affected the health of her children. Alyssa had significant financial and credit issues. By working with Homestead staff over time, she was able to clean up her financial issues and in 2015 she bought a single-family home in West Seattle, close to bus lines, schools and grocery stores.

Without this opportunity, families like Alyssa’s could easily end up on the street. The changes that Alyssa made in her life to prepare for homeownership, combined with an affordable mortgage and a consistent housing payment give her and her family opportunities that would otherwise be out of reach.

As I write this, the Washington State legislature is considering increasing the funding available to organizations like Homestead that make homeownership a reality for modest income people. People in Seattle are now being invited to discuss the Mayor’s proposal for renewal of our housing levy.  As you exercise your civic voice, consider the important role that access to homeownership plays in creating inclusive and equitable communities.

WHAT YOU CAN DO:

  1. LEARN how you and your faith community can partner with Homestead Community Land Trust to make homeownership possible for modest income families. Contact Homestead CLT at 206-323-1227 Ext 113 and speak to Kathleen Hosfeld for more information.
  2. WATCH 99 Homes, a 2015 film that explores the brutality of the Great Recession housing crisis.
  3. DISCUSS: Homeownership – its role in an inclusive, equitable community. Free panel discussion on Thursday, March 24, 6-8:00pm, Learn more and register here→
  4. ADVOCATE! Write letters to your elected officials, send Letters to the Editor at your local paper and talk to others about the need for affordable housing options and the structural causes of poverty and homelessness.

Sign up to get Action Alerts on social service and housing policy and budget issues from the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance at wliha.org; Firesteel – YWCA at firesteelwa.org; and the Housing Development Consortium (Seattle and King County) at housingconsortium.org.

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“If you want to go far, go together”: Snohomish County Affordable Housing Conference

blind-men-and-the-elephant-parable

The ancient story of the blind men and the elephant still has many lessons for us today.

Do you know the story of the blind men and the elephant? It’s an old parable from India that speaks to the nature of truth and the limits of personal perspectives. It goes something like this: six blind men want to learn what an elephant is like, having never seen one. So, they approach an elephant and each touches a part of the animal, but only that one part (i.e. one feels the trunk, another a tusk, another a leg, another the tail, etc.). When they report back, they find that they are in complete disagreement as to what an elephant is. One says it’s like a snake, another like a spear, another like a pillar, and so on. The moral: each of our perspectives is valid (and warrants respect), but no one has a complete grasp of or monopoly on the truth. We can learn from one another, and only together, by integrating our perspectives, can we come closer to the truth.

A little over a week ago, Lisa and I attended Homelessness & Hope: A One-day Affordable Housing Conference in Everett, and Captain John DeRousse of the Everett Police Department led the morning panel discussion with this parable. And what a fitting parable it was! In the world of homeless services, housing and advocacy, there are many such truths – we need more shelter beds, we need more affordable housing, we need to house homeless families more quickly, we need better mental health services, et cetera. And while each of these needs is very real, each is also just one part of the larger picture – none represents the complete solution in and of itself. Rather, we need to work simultaneously – and most importantly, cooperatively – from all of these different angles in order to fulfill our common goal of ending homelessness. As one speaker at the conference said, “complex struggles call for comprehensive responses.”

Some of these various responses were represented in the breakout sessions – from workshops on Housing First models like 1811 Eastlake, Homelessness and the Business Community, Landlord Engagement, and Local Ordinances that Work, to the success ofTiny House communities like Quixote Village, HMIS Data Dashboards & Tableau, a 2015 State Legistlative Session Review, and finally, a workshop on Engaging the Faith Community (with our very own Lisa Gustaveson, and Rev. Chris Boyer, Pastor of Good Shepherd Baptist Church). It was a rich and fruitful day of sharing lessons learned, best practices, and stories.

Lisa-presenting-in-SnoCo-(6-15-affordable-housing-conference)

Program Manager Lisa Gustaveson presenting at Homelessness and Hope: A One-Day Affordable Housing Conference in Everett on 6/5/15.

Some other takeaways from the conference include the following:

  • John Hull, Director of the Everett Gospel Mission’s Men’s Shelter and Day Center, encouraged us to reframe the way we talk about what constitutes “success” for our neighbors moving out of homelessness: “self-sufficiency” doesn’t exist, he says – all of us depend on others, after all, no matter our situation. Instead of self-sufficiency, the ultimate goal for people experiencing homelessness, and for all of us, should be to flourish and to thrive.
  • Middle class solutions don’t work for people in poverty. It’s important to be creative and to empower people who have or are experiencing poverty and homelessness to develop and contribute to solutions.
  • The majority of people experiencing homelessness in Snohomish County are people who have grown up around us – they’re our people, our neighbors, and we need to treat them that way. (Only 9% have come from outside of the county.)
  • Stories are incredibly powerful, motivating tools that keep us moving forward and remind us of why we do the work we do. Three amazingly courageous panelists shared their stories of abuse, addiction, homelessness, and heartbreak to a room full of service providers, policymakers and advocates. One of the panelists, Gina, a domestic violence victim who lost her children due to a meth addiction, is now working for the Snohomish YWCA, helping families in the child welfare system. Another panelist described his struggle with addiction and his brothers’ decision to lie about his involvement in a drug deal in order to save him because, unlike them, he didn’t have any felonies and “still had a good shot at life.” The last panelist shared her story of emigrating as a young mother from Africa to save her daughter from female genital mutilation and to save her family from retribution; she experienced horrible exploitation and psychological abuse once here, until she found help through Domestic Violence Services of Snohomish County, her current employer. We all felt privileged to have been allowed to share in these stories and bear witness to the tellers’ courage and resilience – there wasn’t a dry eye in the house!
Argelia-Grassfield-and-Gina-Enochs

Argelia Grassfield (left) interviewed Gina Enochs (right) for the StoryCorps Project, Finding Our Way: Puget Sound Stories About Family Homelessness

* An important note: One of the panelists, Gina Enochs, recorded her story as part of the StoryCorps project, “Finding Our Way: Puget Sound Stories About Family Homelessness.” Gina’s story, and many others like hers are can be found at http://firesteelwa.org/storycorps/. Learn more about these stories and how you can use them here.

And finally, I’d like to share the wisdom of this African proverb, which Mary Anne Dillon (Sr. Regional Director for Snohomish County YWCA) shared with the group as a send-off:

If you want to go fast,

Go alone

If you want to go far,

Go together.


Things you can do:

  1. Listen to and share StoryCorps stories recorded in Snohomish County:
  1. Visit the Project on Family Homelessness’s webpage for more action items: StoryCorps and 10 Things You Can Do to End Family Homelessness

 

 

 

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