40th Anniversary Timeline: 1975 recycling our roots

1975 Armen at Fremont Recycling Station

1975

If it’s difficult to define a career in a few paragraphs, it is impossible to capture the essence of Armen Napoleon Stepanian, a man who has always been larger than life, a myth in his own time, the 5th Honorary Mayor of Fremont, Christopher Columbus of Curb Collection, and one of the founders and early luminaries of the Fremont Public Association (FPA).

In 1975, Armen led the FPA in the creation of Fremont Recycling Station #1, the first source-separated, curb-collection recycling program in the nation. The Recycling Center showcased the political savvy that always informed the agency. While the FPA (renamed Solid Ground in 2007) primarily served the north end, recycling routes included the Mayor of Seattle and every Seattle City Council member, regardless of where they lived, to demonstrate the importance of the program and generate political support.

Of course, recycling is just one chapter of Armen’s amazing story.

A carpenter and display designer from Hells Kitchen, New York City, by way of San Francisco, Armen won the title Honorary Mayor of Fremont against 37 opponents (including a Black Labrador) in an election held on February 27, 1973 and began his reign as Seattle’s only unofficial public official.

While some took the mayoral race as a lark, Armen took the position seriously. In the process of accepting the role of Mayor, he became a raucous force for positive change, a creative and tireless promoter, and one of the guiding lights that led downtown Fremont’s transition from a poverty- and drug-saturated neighborhood into the tie dye-tinged, environmentally-conscious “District that Recycles Itself” and, eventually, into the arty “Center of the Universe.”

Armen playing pool with Seattle Mayor Wes Uhlman to benefit the Fremont Food Bank

Armen playing pool with Seattle Mayor Wes Uhlman to benefit the Fremont Food Bank

Mayor Armen was a merchant of hope, convincing the community that Fremont could change its image and pick itself up out of the gutter, that the people of Fremont could rely upon their own strengths and resources to take care of each other. As a citizen activist and member of the FPA Board of Directors, Armen played a major role in infusing this philosophy into the mission of the agency.

While he focused local media on Fremont by campaigning to keep the Fremont Bridge painted orange, playing public pool challenges with Seattle Mayor Wes Uhlman to benefit the Fremont Food Bank, and helping start the Fremont Fair, Armen earned his national reputation for his role as an environmental evangelist preaching the benefits of source-separation, curb-collection recycling.

Fremont Recycling Station #1 ran for 10 years before leading to the development of the City of Seattle’s and many other municipal curb collection programs.

Armen views recycling as much more than a reduction in waste, or lessening of material extraction from the earth:

Recycling is … theology through technology,” he says. “People don’t understand the spiritual side of it … what people are putting in front of their homes is how they feel about themselves. It is how they feel about their neighbors … about the earth … about The Creator….

“Of the many benefits of recycling, energy is the most critical of all – the energy saved from producing virgin products, the foreign policy implications of consuming less energy, and our own personal relationship to the material – the positive energy we get from recycling.”

When the City of Seattle designed a citywide program, the Fremont Recycling Center did not have the capacity to bid competitively for a collection contract. And the City imagined no role for Armen as an ambassador for curb collection. After signing a five-year agreement not to compete with the City, Armen left the area to continue his recycling career in Indianapolis, IN. Armen is an inaugural member of the Washington State Recycling Hall of Fame. While retired and living in Ocean Shores, WA, Armen continues to advocate for a just and caring community.

In this age when Fremont has become one of the most upscale neighborhoods in Seattle – and Solid Ground one of the largest, most stable human service providers in King County – it is hard to imagine that one man, once called by a reporter “a combination of Archbishop Makarios and Phineas T. Barnum,” could do so much to change the face of our community and help set in motion the work that helps so many people today.

 

Integrating financial empowerment

Dollar bills with whistleWe are thrilled to announce that the Corporation for Enterprise Development (CFED) – with funding from Bank of America Charitable Foundation – has invited Solid Ground to participate in a new financial empowerment Intensive Learning Cluster! The 18-month program launched in January 2014 in Washington D.C. Judy Poston, the current project coordinator and Solid Ground’s Financial Fitness Boot Camp Coordinator, and Joy Scott, Supportive Services Manager, attended.

Last March, Solid Ground completed a six-month Intensive Learning Cluster with CFED. The original goal of the first Learning Cluster was the implementation of a financial empowerment plan.

However, the project leadership team – including Kira Zylstra, Stabilization Services Director and project point person at the time, and Judy Poston – soon realized that one standard model would not apply across the entire range of programs and services offered by Solid Ground.

The Learning Cluster became an opportunity to develop a model of financial empowerment that can be integrated into all aspects of our work. “We held focus groups,” Kira explains, “assessed where we were at, what staff was interested in, what they were doing, and what they wanted to do more of; we needed to know how we wanted to move forward. It’s always challenging to bring a service to scale at that level – to bring it across the organization – when that can mean so many things for the different programs with different services and needs.”

Kira and Judy were able to create a framework that included four key opportunity areas and action steps. These areas will be the focus of the new Learning Cluster this year.

The first area focuses on enhancing staff skills to build knowledge of and confidence in personal finances so all staff – from administrative to frontline – can better serve the community. A toolkit of resources and a refined referral system of financial services will act as guidelines for the integration of the financial empowerment plan. The final area will focus on program metrics to track progress and assess the needs of the community.

Kira explains that it is important for Solid Ground to incorporate financial empowerment because “it does carry throughout the work that we do to truly overcome poverty. Within the communities that we serve through our programs at Solid Ground, and even the different programs offering different services, there’s always the component of stability, independence, and financial security.

“We want to help folks work with the resources they have and build upon family strengths. We want to meet basic needs, but beyond that we want to talk about income and asset development – so they’re not only making ends meet, but feel confident and are able to thrive financially and move forward in other areas.”

And all of this, Judy sums up, “can help to end the cycle of generational poverty.”

Help save affordable housing

This post was submitted by Theresa Curry, Program Supervisor of Solid Ground’s Lifelong Housing Safety Net.

Phyllis Gutierrez Kenney Place was built with Low-Income Housing Tax Credit financing.

Phyllis Gutierrez Kenney Place was built with Low-Income Housing Tax Credit financing.

While the movement for a higher minimum wage grows, there are many other avenues to making our community more equitable for all.

One of the largest challenges that those in poverty face is finding affordable housing. Luckily, there is one program that has a proven track record of producing and preserving affordable rental housing throughout the country: the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit.

The Housing Credit, signed into law by President Reagan in 1986, provides an incentive to the private sector to invest in building affordable housing. To date, the credit has financed the construction and preservation of over 2.6 million units of affordable rental housing. Nearly 57,000 of those apartments are in Washington State, including some of the buildings Solid Ground owns and operates as permanent supportive housing. The Housing Credit also creates jobs, approximately 95,000 nationwide each year, and state and local tax revenue.

Unfortunately the credit is facing pressure in Washington D.C.

Please join Solid Ground in advocating to maintain and strengthen the Housing Credit program. We are supporting a campaign, led by Affordable Rental Housing ACTION, to get massive public support for this critical funding mechanism.

You can pledge your support and sign up to receive email updates at Affordable Rental Housing ACTION’s Join the Campaign webpage. Check out their Advocacy Tool Kit with tips on writing letters to your members of Congress or to your local newspapers. Follow the campaign on Facebook and Twitter, and encourage your friends to do the same.

Here’s how the tax credit works: Developers are awarded with Housing Credits by each state in a highly competitive process. They use the credit to raise equity capital from investors (nearly $100 billion nationwide to date), thereby reducing the debt that would otherwise be required to finance the building of the property. In return, they commit to charging lower rents. Without this tax incentive, building affordable housing is fundamentally uneconomical. The demand from investors for Housing Credits is  strong, so the program is very cost effective.

Properties receiving Housing Credits must target at least 20-40% of apartments to low-income residents (though most properties are actually 100% low-income) in order to reduce their federal income taxes for 10 years. States monitor the properties for at least 15 years, and if one is ever not complying with tenant income and rent policies, the credits are subject to recapture by the IRS, meaning the property has to pay back the government for the taxes they were given credit for. States enforce other affordability requirements for an additional 15 years or more using deed restrictions.

So since the program is so effective at producing affordable housing, a win/win for developers and communities, why are we talking about it? What is the problem?

With many in Congress pushing for deficit reduction, tax reform discussions could target tax expenditure programs, including the Housing Credit. Legislators need to know that while tax reform, including reducing or eliminating unnecessary credits or loopholes, is critically important to our national budget and economy, the Housing Tax Credit needs to be maintained, as there would be very little development of affordable rental housing without it.

Also, the IRS calculates the credits based on medium and long-term interest rates, and these variable rates create uncertainty and make the finances more complex. In 2008, the Housing and Economic Recovery Act set a fixed floor rate of 9% for new construction and sustainably rehabilitated properties that were up and running by the end of 2013. In 2012, the American Taxpayer Relief Act extended this provision for projects that were allocated by the end of 2013. Making the 9% fixed floor permanent and creating a minimum 4% rate for purchasing existing properties will ensure that development of affordable rental housing is economically feasible.

Affordable housing is the foundation of stability for families and individuals, and the Housing Credit is the most effective tool we have for building that foundation. Let’s make sure we always have it available in our toolbox.

40th Anniversary Timeline: 1979

 Home Care 1979

1979

While the UN dubbed 1979 the “International Year of the Child,” for Solid Ground’s predecessor the Fremont Public Association (FPA), it was the “Year of the Senior.” That’s because in 1979 we launched Home Care services to help low-income seniors and adults living with disabilities to remain safely in their homes. During the late 1980s and 1990s, Home Care expanded to serve the earliest victims of the AIDS epidemic. While our Home Care program transitioned to another agency in 2008, advocacy through the Senior Care Coalition – which the FPA started – has resulted in the State providing more than $150 million a year in Home Care services.  

Housing Counseling 19791979 was also the year we began Housing Counseling to provide technical assistance and support to help tenants and homeowners avoid eviction or foreclosure and maintain stable housing. Housing Counselor Bess Ervin (left) later initiated one of the region’s first holiday “Adopt-a-Family” programs to give people in transition happier holidays.

 

Hunger Action Center 1979

 

And while McDonald’s was busy launching the “Happy Meal,” we were lauching the Food Resources program to work with food distributors and other service providers to coordinate and maximize the efficiency of Seattle’s emergency food system.

WA Exchange reports strong Obamacare enrollment; Medicaid enrollment stays open

1985_Health CareGreat news on the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) front!

The big enrollment numbers are in and they are looking good:

  • 146,500 people signed up for private insurance on the WA exchange, including 8,000 on March 31, the last day to sign up.
  • 268,164 newly eligible people signed up for Medicaid (called Washington Apple Health in our state) – that’s TWICE the state’s goal!
  • All told, approximately 958,000 people in our state signed up for or renewed their health insurance through wahealthplanfinder.org over the past six months.
  • Numbers are coming soon that outline breakdown by age, as well as new vs. renew – stay tuned.

A few important reminders:

  • Medicaid has open enrollment all the time – it is not impacted by Monday’s deadline. Many in our community are Medicaid-eligible (up to 138% of federal poverty level). If folks are unsure whether or not they qualify, they can call our ACA Hotline at 206.694.6714).
  • People can sign up for private insurance at any time during the year IF they have had a major life event, such as a marriage, divorce, job loss, birth or adoption of a child, or move to/from another state.
  • Wahealthplanfinder.org is the online portal to sign up for both Medicaid and private insurance. People can still use the website to sign up for insurance in either of the above situations.
  • If people tried to buy private insurance on Monday, but got cut off by computer issues, or if they are dealing with a natural disaster, domestic violence, or a few other issues, they can request an extension by calling 1.855.923.4633 or emailing customersupport@wahbexchange.org.
  • Have additional questions about any of my reminders? Check out the FAQ from the WA Health Exchange Board.

This has been a tremendous effort – from all the way back in 2009/2010 when we marched together in the streets to pass the Affordable Health Act, through all the political wrangling, and into implementation and sign up. Congratulations to everyone who advocated for passage of the Act and is helping to get the word out in the community. Let’s keep it up and ensure that we continue investing in the health and well-being of our communities!

Marcy Bowers is Solid Ground’s Advocacy Deputy Director and the Director of the Statewide Poverty Action Network.

40th Anniversary Timeline: 2001 a year of tragedy & hope


2001

Looking back at the year 2001, it is hard to remember anything other than the 9/11 terrorist attacks and subsequent U.S. invasion of Afghanistan. A few other historical bullet points:

  • George W. Bush was sworn in as President.
  • The Congressional Budget Office projected a $5.6 trillion dollar federal budget surplus over the next 10 years!
  • The Taliban began destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas.
  • In the Netherlands, the Act on the Opening up of Marriage went into effect, which allowed same-sex couples to marry legally for the first time in the world since the reign of Nero.
  • Locally, the Seattle Mariners set a record for winning baseball games, but flamed out in the playoffs.
  • The Nisqually earthquake shook the Seattle region, causing significant damage in Pioneer Square.

Financial Fitness 2001

For Solid Ground it was a time of piloting new ways of responding to the changing needs of our community.

We developed the Financial Skills Education program, later renamed Financial Fitness Boot Camp. The program offers money management classes, skill-building workshops and personal support for families working to attain financial and housing stability. Over the past few years, the program has been part of a national Learning Cluster to develop best practices for the field.

Working Wheels 2001Recognizing that lack of affordable transportation was a barrier to accessing well-paying jobs, in 2001 we partnered with Port Jobs to launch Working Wheels. This program received used fleet cars from the Port and the City of Seattle, as well as donations from private donors. The cars were brought up to safety and service standards by our Transportation Department mechanics and sold at affordable prices to people who needed a car to get or keep a job. We partnered with a local credit union to get favorable loan rates, and even provided ongoing maintenance through the short-lived Community Garage. Working Wheels was closed in 2009, a victim of changing economic conditions that made municipalities hold on to their fleet vehicles longer, and made fundraising for the program more challenging.

Undoing Racism 2001

2001 is also the year Solid Ground committed to undoing institutional racism:

  • Trained staff in Undoing Institutional Racism and cultural competency.
  • Formed a multi-racial staff-driven Anti-Racism Committee (ARC) to organize internally and begin to identify and prioritize anti-racism actions to better serve our clients.
  • Engaged staff and community members to recognize and take action against racism in our own lives and communities.

Responsible Lending 2001Additionally, our advocacy work ramped up its efforts to address predatory lending in 2001. The Statewide Poverty Action Network was a founding member of the Seattle/King County Coalition for Responsible Lending (SKCCRL), which increased awareness of and helped consumers avoid predatory loans, and worked with local lenders to increase affordable loan options without limiting credit access. Our staff  served on the founding SKCCRL steering committee and were active on its committees.

Learning to write with compassion & understanding

Solid Ground Communications Intern, Kahla Bell-Kato

Solid Ground Communications Intern, Kahla Bell-Kato

My internship with the Communications team at Solid Ground has come to an end, and I can’t help but be awed by my experiences – an education that extends far beyond mastering catchy titles or figuring out Photoshop.

While keeping the audience my focus, it was important to frame my work around the people I write about – our clients. This internship taught me to write with compassion and understanding about subjects I have never experienced. Throughout my time at Solid Ground, I have seen the face of poverty – not the numbers on a chart of statistics, or labels in a book, but glimpses into the lives of people fighting to survive – and it has changed me.

Interviewing employees and volunteers at Solid Ground stands out as my favorite task during my internship. It was incredibly reassuring to see the passion and intensity the people I interviewed expressed about their work. With eyes sparkling, they recounted all the support, aid and comfort their programs provide for their clients. They lamented the struggles their programs face, and begrudged the policies and red tape that perpetuate poverty and oppression. I am grateful I had the opportunity to work with these folks – many of whom have become my role models.

Through anti-racism work at Solid Ground, I have come face-to-face with my own white privilege and have learned that my silence maintains a system of oppression through which I benefit. However uncomfortable these meetings might have been, they gave me fundamental tools to work and interact with diverse groups of people.

From those working on the frontlines to those in the offices at headquarters, everyone is toiling to fashion this agency into a place that holds its responsibility to the community and the people they serve as their number one priority. Their drive and determination to make their community and the agency a better place, despite the struggles and setbacks, has had, perhaps, the biggest influence on me during my time here.

Before taking this internship, I lacked confidence in my skills and was unsure about what career path to take. However, my time at Solid Ground revealed that I have been fortunate – a reality I tend to forget in the day-to-day grind of things. My internship experience makes me grateful for my education and the opportunity I’ve had to fully dedicate myself to this position.

With a Solid Ground spirit, I intend to make the most of all the advantages and opportunities imparted to me. I will take with me far more than I anticipated, the most profound of which, unfortunately, won’t have a place on my resume.

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