The Seattle Housing Authority’s (SHA) controversial Stepping Forward program is on hold until 2016.
SHA officials say they will re-evaluate the proposed plan that would have set stair-stepped rents that increase every couple of years for tenants who are work able, meaning they are under 61 and do not have a disability that prevents them from working.
SHA Executive Director Andrew Lofton wrote a letter to Mayor Ed Murray Dec. 15 outlining the agency’s plans to look at its rent policy and come up with a new recommendation. In November Lofton told Real Change that SHA would come back in 2015 with a new process to reconsider its rent policy, and he indicated that the proposal could be vastly different from the Stepping Forward plan unveiled this past summer (“Another step in the process,” RC, Nov. 26).
In the letter to Murray, Lofton said that SHA heard from residents who were afraid they would not be able to maintain their housing on the proposed rent structure. Revising the plan will take at least a year, and SHA would likely not consider a new proposal before 2016.
Tenants and advocates who protested the decision are celebrating the decision, crediting the hundreds of people who turned out at public information sessions SHA held over the summer. The information sessions turned into rowdy protests against the proposal.
“I think this is definitely a win,” said Kristin O’Donnell, a long-time Yesler Terrace resident. “It’s a win for this round.”
Denechia Powell, an organizer with the Tenants Union, said SHA needs to work with tenants to come up with a solution that can help address the agency’s long waiting list and financial concerns without harming current residents.
“We just hope that tenants are involved in whatever process there is in creating a new proposal,” Powell said.
Lofton said that SHA’s funding situation remains challenging. The federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) may change how it allocates money to the agency, which could result in a funding cut. SHA could also face federal funding cuts in 2016 due to sequestration, the automatic cuts that Congress enacted in 2011 to balance the budget.
Lofton said that the public process that SHA began this summer to discuss the proposed Stepping Forward program didn’t work because the agency failed to communicate its economic
“With Stepping Forward, we had intended to address this financial situation proactively, but it is clear we did not succeed in getting this message across through our outreach efforts,” Lofton said in the letter.
O’Donnell agreed that SHA remains in a tough position, having already cut 18 percent of its staff and scaled back maintenance to weather previous cuts.
“I don’t know — if the budget cuts continue to happen — how much further the housing authority is going to be able to cut staff and maintenance and still have the housing be fairly safe and fairly decent and affordable,” she said.
If SHA had gone forward with Stepping Forward as presented earlier this year, residents would have paid rent based on the size of their apartments. A family in a two-bedroom apartment would have paid $160 a month for the first two years and $850 after six years.
The program would have combined rent increases with workforce development and educational opportunities with the belief residents could acquire better jobs to afford the higher rents. Lofton has said the program would have provided residents an opportunity to improve earning potential and gives them predictability in their rental system.
The proposed program’s higher rents would have brought in $13 million a year.
The money, SHA leaders said, would have helped house 600 more families, provided workforce training for residents and managed a backlog of repairs and other capital projects.
SHA officials say the program would have opened up space for the 9,000 people who are on a waiting list to get into housing. Another 2,000 are on a waiting list for a Section 8 voucher, which provides a subsidy to rent market-rate housing. But to make the Section 8 list, people have to enter a lottery.