On June 1, the Seattle Housing Authority is launching a new waitlist procedure it calls “Save My Spot” that housing advocates are already dubbing the “Get Lost” program.
The new program requires the 6,800 people who have put themselves on the agency’s wait list for a public housing unit to check in once a month, as opposed to once a year, to confirm they still need a low-income rental in one of SHA’s 28 high-rise buildings, scattered housing sites or at its Yesler Terrace housing complex on First Hill. Those on the wait list for Section 8 rental vouchers and SHA’s mixed-income developments are not affected.
SHA spokesperson Virginia Felton says the agency mailed a two-page notice to all 6,800 people on the wait list earlier this month telling them of the change. It included an English-only notice and a page offering translation assistance in 16 different languages. But staff at two Seattle service providers report that clients on the wait list have brought them a one-page notice only in English, raising concerns that non-English speakers could be thrown off the list before they have a chance to get help translating the notice.
A Web page and telephone call-in system that SHA has created for people to reconfirm their need is also written only in English, though Felton says translations are on the way for both. The agency hired a mailing service to send out the notices, she says, and it’s possible the second page offering translations didn’t make it into some envelopes.
Far from kicking people off the list, Felton says, the authority is trying to move people into housing faster — by weeding out those, ironically, who may have left a temporary location where they were staying or the entire Seattle area in despair of finding housing. Advocates also say that disabled people on the list will find it tough to comply with a once-a-month check-in — something Felton says the agency can excuse them from altogether, if they ask.
“We’ve actually had a couple of calls on this and we’re concerned about it, because it is not our intention to disproportionately affect people who don’t speak English as their primary language,” Felton says.
To help spread the word, SHA is holding a meeting this week with staff of various agencies that work with non-English speakers. It’s set for Thurs., May 24, 1 p.m., at PorchLight Housing Center, 907 N.W. Ballard Ave. Questions about the monthly waitlist check-in can be directed to (206) 239-1737. Press ‘0’ to get a live person.