I am a Real Change vendor, a homeless advocate and a Washington Low Income Housing Alliance (WLIHA) Resident Action Project (RAP) statewide committee member. RAP has been going on for two years. Just in these two years we accomplished a lot, pushing bills that will help homeless and low-income people by building more housing and making it easier to rent an apartment.
It took six months of hard work to figure out what would work well to combat homelessness, not just for the city of Seattle but the state of Washington, and then get those policies into action.
First we had listening sessions in Bellingham, Federal Way, Kent, Seattle and other locations to hear people’s issues and ideas. Then we gathered data to present at a summit around housing and homelessness issues.
At the summit, we divided into groups on topics about homelessness and housing discrimination. Available housing doesn’t meet diverse needs, nor is it accessible, especially when people are homeless. We figured out which policies would help solve the problems that people across the state raised during the listening sessions. That included making an increase to the Homeless Housing and Assistance Surcharge (HB 1570) which funds more than 60% of our states homeless services, and banning source of income discrimination (HB 2578).
HB 1570 will help 11,500 people who are homeless or at risk of being homeless with access to housing assistance and services.
HB 1570 will help 11,500 people who are homeless or at risk of being homeless with access to housing assistance and services. This is a $22 increase to a fee that is paid when real estate documents are filed, such as those signed to close on a new home purchase.
HB 2578 bans source-of-income discrimination. This bill means that landlords will no longer be allowed to refuse to rent to someone just because they have rental or income assistance. That includes Section 8 and federal benefits, among other programs.
The biggest event was the Housing and Homelessness Lobby Day, which took place on Feb. 1. All of the advocates who support housing and homelessness issues went to Olympia and told our legislators in person what we’d been through and how these bills could help people like us. That was a big success. The people who are part of the RAP are district or co-district leads for their areas. I was district lead for the 36th, which covers the Ballard, Queen Anne and Magnolia neighborhoods of Seattle. I love seeing all of the advocates from all over Washington fighting for the same thing, because housing is a human right.
After Lobby Day, there were committee meetings in Olympia on the different bills to make them law. Some of you readers know that I’ve testified at Seattle City Hall and at town meetings, but I had never testified in Olympia until Feb. 28. It was in front of the Human Health Services committee on HB 1570, the bill to fund homeless services and housing assistance. It was a great experience. Yes, I was nervous because the state Capitol is where an idea turns into a bill and a bill turns into a law. So to me, it felt like going to the big leagues.
Housing is a human right
WLIHA asked me to testify on that bill. It was the same day that the source-of-income discrimination bill passed the Senate. It took more than a decade to pass this bill. Can you believe how many people have spoken and testified to this bill? I can’t. I was so excited when I found out that it had passed. When Teresa Clark, who works with WLIHA, came downstairs from her office and told me that, I actually said, “What? Repeat that.” And she did.
I said, “You’re kidding me, right? We actually got lawmakers to get this finally passed? Am I in the right state?” We both laughed at that part.
Nick Wood, a new member of WLIHA, helped with my testimony. I told him the story about the help that I got to get housing. We prepared a five-minute, two-minute and one-minute testimony. It took a while because you have to be prepared for anything. We used the two-minute version. We made copies of my story to give to each committee member. I was happy that HB 1570 also passed. I’d like to say thank you to all of the advocates this session. I have to say, this was our best session yet. I also want to say to our lawmakers: Thank you for taking the time. I’m happy you all can relax now that the session is over.
We’re taking a few months’ break to relax and chill out and be happy with the success, but the work ain’t finished yet. We’ll be back in the next session, fighting for people who can’t fight for themselves.
*This article has been updated.
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