By LISA SAWYER, SHELLY COHEN & ANITRA FREEMAN
More than 600 activists turned up in Olympia on Housing and Homeless Advocacy Day, Feb. 28, to push for affordable housing. The event was coordinated by the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance (WLIHA), but about a dozen of the activists were affiliated with Real Change, and three of them have written about their experiences.
Lisa Sawyer, Real Change vendor and 11th Legislative District Lead:
It was snowy and cold, but this was the biggest Advocacy Day ever, with more than 600 people. We had our first meeting early, at 8:30 a.m., and I’m really glad 11th District Rep. Steve Bergquist was willing to meet us. We talked about House Bill 1453 and its companion, Senate Bill 5600. Here’s what those bills would change if they become law: Right now, renters can be evicted from their homes with only THREE DAYS notice. Not exactly enough time to get another paycheck or find another place to live. The two bills would make it so renters have 14 to 21 days to pay rent or find a new place. When we talked to Rep. Bergquist, those bills were on the floor. Since then, they have each passed the legislative chamber where they originated, and have gone on to be considered by the other one. So there’s a very good chance we’ll have an important change in the law.
We had one funny thing happen: somebody thought someone in our group was State Senator Bob Hasegawa! The most interesting meeting, though, was with Rep. Zack Hudgins. A staff member told us she’d talked with a private landlord lobbying group only the week before. She asked them, do landlords charge first and last month’s rent plus security deposit?
That’s a lot of money for poor people. They told her no, that they had never heard of that. We all said, “Yes, they do!” And I told her I’d just paid that last week.
It’s important to them that they hear from people with real life experience.
Anitra Freeman, Board Member of Real Change and of SHARE/WHEEL (Seattle Housing Resource Effort/ Women’s Housing Equality of Enhancement League):
Those of us from SHARE/WHEEL spent two advocacy days in Olympia instead of just one.
There’s a lot to be learned from a couple of days in Olympia. We were there early because we wanted to talk to legislators about a crisis in Seattle with the funding of the SHARE/WHEEL shelters. It isn’t an issue for the legislature, but the people in Olympia said they’d make some phone calls to show their concern, and they knew some people they’d call to talk about it. No issue is really limited to one level of government. It’s good to talk to everybody you think might have an influence on your subject.
Because we were there in Olympia, we also heard from Orlando Cano, Speaker Frank Chopp’s Chief of Staff, that if we wanted a logistics hub, and we do, we needed to hurry up and get in a budget application for a logistics hub, by the next day. We scrambled and got it in on time, and I doubt we would have made it if it hadn’t been for Orlando. So don’t be put off if you’re not talking right to your legislator. Chiefs of staff, legislative assistants and other aides are often very effective people.
We also knew to take advantage of the organization of other groups: the staff of WLIHA had called weeks ahead of time to schedule appointments with legislators. Even though you normally have to schedule an appointment with your legislator two weeks in advance, we knew they’d be primed to talk about housing and homeless issues.
It worked for us! Plus, Wednesday was also Renters Rights Advocacy Day, and the Tenants Union held a rally for rent control, which we at SHARE/WHEEL also support. Great rally, and the best tamales I ever had.
Shelly Cohen, Real Change vendor:
One big thing I’ve learned from advocacy days: our legislators care. Our group met with Rep. Gerry Pollet when a staffer pulled him out of a committee meeting to talk to us. We talked about the need for money to help the crisis regarding homelessness, the drug situation, and getting people off the streets into proper housing, and not being swept.
We were also there to promote a package of four bills, not only the ones that would lengthen the notice time for eviction, but others that would make eviction more difficult, or encourage investment in affordable housing. Some of those have already fallen by the wayside, but that doesn’t discourage me. Real progress is being made.
Advocacy Day is not over. Every single day is Advocacy Day. We don’t have to be there in person. You don’t need even need to talk to their offices. You can follow the status of bills before the legislature. It helps if you know the number of the bill.
And you can join WLIHA’s biweekly advocate calls, every other Friday at noon through the legislative session. The next call is Friday, March 29, 1 p.m. Call 1-866-339-4555. The access code is 2064429455#.
One person can make a difference. And that person might be you.
Read the full March 27 - April 2 issue.
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