Dear Real Change community,
This is a momentous time at Real Change. This month, through House Our Neighbors!, the Real Change political action committee, we have the chance to vote on a ballot initiative that the Advocacy department has put much energy, time, intentionality and love into.
This is Real Change’s first ballot measure campaign. Our advocacy has traditionally focused on harm reduction, public hygiene, increased shelter access and destigmatizing homelessness. We’ve shed light on the trauma of sweeps and joined lawsuits with the ACLU calling for a stop to the sweeps. We’ve advocated for more funding for RV safe lots and symbolically rang a gong after the results from the annual point-in-time count.
With this campaign, we had a chance to fight for something. As an organization, we had the opportunity to take a step back and analyze our work. To ask if the work we are doing is transformative or reactionary. These questions and self reflection are critical to what makes Real Change truly special and a trusted voice in Seattle. We owe it to the vendor community to use our position to push for transformative change where we can. That’s what we are hoping to do with Initiative 135.
Community conversations brought this initiative to life. Vendors shared their concerns for their futures. We analyzed the current housing market, and it painted a bleak picture of our future. This initiative came after we organized against the Charter Amendment 29 initiative, which would have codified sweeps as a cornerstone of Seattle’s homelessness policy. We wanted to offer a bold, inclusive and caring vision of Seattle, a Seattle in which we all can afford to live and thrive.
There have been some questions from former Real Change board members, staff, the Seattle Times Editorial Board and community members about what Real Change is trying to accomplish. They assert that we are straying from our mission, that since we aren’t focusing solely on homelessness we are derelict of our duty to vendors. These detractors may be surprised to know that vendors not only gave input on the policy, they also gathered signatures for the initiative, are helping to get out the vote and served on a panel to discuss why we need social housing. Vendors know that we need to do way more to solve the housing affordability crisis and they are the voice we listen to.
I-135, which Seattlites have the opportunity to approve on Feb. 14, will create a Public Development Authority tasked with creating social housing in Seattle. This social housing model will create housing options for Seattleites making between 0 and 120 percent of the area median income. This not only allows for people from all parts of the workforce to access housing, it also eliminates the ever-burdensome benefits cliff that so many vendors face. It ensures that regardless of changes in income, people can live in their housing forever. It also creates a new model for housing, where those with higher incomes can put their rental payments into an organization helping their lower-income neighbors, instead of a for-profit corporation. Social housing also has the ability to prevent the pipeline into homelessness by doing away with arbitrary evictions and rent increases.
The leadership at Real Change has invested in an intentional approach of systems change, even as we continue to focus on meeting individual needs of those experiencing homelessness and poverty. Under Executive Director Camilla Walter’s leadership and a new strategic plan overseen by this board, we have identified bold, transformative advocacy as central to our theory of change. The Advocacy team at Real Change, led by Tiffani McCoy, has focused on social housing as a key strategy to address the housing and homelessness crisis.
We no longer want to continue reacting to the decisions of the powerful. We want to use our position to push for transformative change. We owe it to our donors, our supporters, and most importantly, our vendors.
Please cast your “yes” vote for I-135 by Feb. 14. When we come together to invest in this more inclusive vision of Seattle’s future, we all win.
Real Change Board of Directors
Yolanda Altamirano, President
Matthew Echohawk Hayashi, Vice President
Hannah Hunthausen, Secretary
Breanne Schuster, Treasurer
Maria Elena Ramirez
Read more of the Feb. 8-14, 2023 issue.