Gina Owens has been a member of Washington CAN (Community Action Network) for more than 16 years. She’s well known around City Hall, where she regularly uses her personal experience and in-depth knowledge of housing issues to give powerful testimony.
Ainsley Meyer: What got you involved in the work you do?
Gina Owens: I have suffered a few setbacks. Right around the year 2000 I was in a car accident, then lost my job because I had been disabled and unable to work anymore. Then I lost my apartment because I didn’t have an income to pay my rent. I felt like I was at a huge loss and didn’t know how to fix it.
A canvasser came to my house after I finally got another job and started telling me about things that Washington CAN was doing. He told me about the work they were doing on an agricultural bill that would help with all of the food programs and food banks. So I went to a meeting, and the rest is kind of history...
AM: What issues are you most passionate about?
GO: I have what I call my four H’s: Housing, Homelessness, Health care and Hunger. Those are the four that I’m actively working on.
AM: What changes do you hope will come from Lisa Herbold and Mike O’ Briens call for eviction reform in the city of Seattle?
GO: Oh my goodness, that’s a loaded question! We have been working on quite a few smaller rental issues. Like making sure that people using Social Security and child support, alternative payments like that, for rent, making sure that landlords can’t use that against them to stop them from renting.
The evictions in Seattle alone are ridiculously high. Landlords have a lot of rank so they’ve been able to use that against residents.
There’s a lady being evicted for not paying $2 in rent. She is probably going to end up paying out $1,000 because all of the costs are going to be awarded to the landlord, which means the tenant will have to pay those costs. She was only responsible for paying them $2. She says if she had gotten the three-day eviction notice, she would have paid those two dollars and saved herself the trouble. But the landlord gave it to the wrong tenant, so she did not get it. This is just one of many stories similar to that. So I want this proposal from Lisa Herbold to be a strong reform because tenants really need to know that the city is going to back them when there are extenuating circumstances beyond their control.
AM: Can you explain more about why you think eviction reform is such a pressing matter?
GO: Because when I became homeless it was because of the car accident I was in, and because I lost my income. So my landlords evicted me. The process took all of three weeks from the time he sent me notice through the court hearing and all that. It was a three-week turnaround for the eviction. That threw me into 2½ years of shelter and transitional housing. Over circumstances that were beyond my control. So that is why I work on eviction reform.
AM: Do you feel hopeful for the future?
GO: I do, we’ve had quite a few wins. Which I have really enjoyed being a part of and I just think there’s a lot more to come.
AM: Could you tell me about a couple of those wins?
GO: Sure. The first one that brought me into the organization, the agricultural bill, originally the ask was for Congress to support the agricultural bill with $4 billion. By the time our campaign got done with Congress, they not only put the $4 billion in but they increased it $2.4 billion so it ended up being $6.4 billion dollars in all.
Another big one was the Obamacare health care reform. When he signed the ACA bill into law, me and my grandson were in the east room watching it happen. My grandson was the 11-year-old boy on the stage when Obama was signing it. That was due to us telling my daughter, his mom’s, story on how our health care system failed her and we lost her in 2007.
From 2008 until the bill was signed in 2010, we had worked across the country with other organizations on that health care reform.
And then there were some smaller ones, but equally as important.
The incredible thing is, I’m seeing more and more people wanting to come out and get involved. And that’s exciting because that’s what it’s going to take to make change.
Previous Rampant Radicals profiles. Read the full Jan. 16 - 22 issue.
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