The humanity of homelessness

Several Solid Ground staff members participated in the annual One Night Count of homeless people in King County described in this post. Guest contributor Ray Lumpp is a writer for AllTreatment.com, a website devoted to helping individuals and families facing addiction and mental health issues in Washington State.Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness logo

In the early hours of January 25, 2013, over 900 volunteers for the Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness (SKCCH) spread out across the city and county, searching for men, women and children sleeping outdoors without shelter. Since 1980, SKCCH and Operation Nightwatch have organized the One Night Count. Today, it remains the largest community-organized count in the United States.

In 2013, at least 2,736 men, women and children were found sleeping in cars, riding late-night buses, or curled up in blankets under bridges or in doorways during the three-hour street count – a 5% increase from last year’s total. This number is always assumed to be an underestimate: It is impossible to count everywhere, and many people take great care not to be visible.

Estimated number of people found on the streets or sleeping in cars in Seattle/King Co., '06-'13 (chart by Ray Lumpp, 2013)

Estimated number of people found on the streets or sleeping in cars in Seattle/King Co., ’06-’13 (chart by Ray Lumpp, ’13)

This year, one group of volunteers, including Councilmember Sally Clark, discovered the dead body of a 60-year-old woman near the terminus of I-90 – a sobering reminder of what’s at stake for homeless individuals.

While the One Night Count provides a basic census for tracing the problem of homelessness in King County, another volunteer-based group assembled by the City of Seattle sought to dig deeper. One evening in April 2009, the Homeless Needs Assessment group surveyed 297 homeless people and recorded demographic information for an additional 89 individuals, providing a crucial glimpse of life on the street.

Think of homelessness as a local problem: Most homeless people in Seattle have been living without shelter for over a year and 23% have been living without shelter for over six years. Nearly two thirds reported living in Seattle, and 19% elsewhere in Washington, when they became homeless. Although 91% of people living on the streets would like to find housing, people often wait two years or more for affordable housing options to open up.

Racial disproportionality of Seattle's homeless population compared to the general population (chart by Ray Lumpp, '13)

Racial disproportionality of Seattle’s homeless population compared to the general population (chart by Ray Lumpp, ’13)

Compared to Seattle’s general population, there was a disproportionate number of African Americans (29%), Hispanic or Latinos (13%), and Native Americans (6%), which is similar to the disproportionate number of people with unmet addiction treatment needs. Limited access to information about homeless services is a continuing problem: 67% learned of available services through word of mouth or on the street, while only 10% reported learning of services from an agency or program. Coordinating an effective outreach effort among food banks, drop-in centers, and shelters may help increase access to services.

Food and hygiene programs are the most common services used by homeless people in Seattle. Seventy percent reported using a food bank in the last six months and 48% used meal programs. About half reported using hygiene centers, but only 37% reported staying in a shelter during the last six months. Most of these programs are run and supported by local volunteers, community groups, and ex-homeless people looking to give back and stay clean.

Another telling statistic is that 60% reported health conditions requiring professional care. Though the conditions may range from diabetes to alcoholism, many homeless people use emergency departments for their health needs instead of primary care physicians – wasting time, energy, and taxpayer dollars. In answer to this, DESC (Downtown Emergency Service Center) focuses on the needs of homeless chronic alcoholics who are the heaviest users of publicly-funded crisis services. Exploring other alternative housing models may also help shelter more people in the future.

Interestingly, people who received medical care accessed services at a higher rate. Respondents with recent hospitalization or mental health treatment made greater use of meal programs, hygiene centers, shelter, and other services than those not receiving medical care.

While homelessness continues to be a growing national problem, there are many ways you can create a positive change in your community. Volunteer with a shelter or housing program. (Solid Ground’s Broadview Shelter and Brettler Family Place at Sand Point Housing both have volunteer opportunities.) Donate clean clothes (especially shoes), books, toys, diapers, shampoo, toothpaste, toothbrushes, blankets, old cell phones, or even gift cards to Starbucks or a grocery store. (Broadview Shelter and Sand Point Housing both also have in-kind donation wish lists.)

You can also give money or gift cards to people experiencing homelessness on the street. Do not ignore them. If you have nothing else to give, simply smile and look into his or her eyes and let them know, even just by noticing them, that you recognize their humanity and that you care.

Saluting a local hero: Len Langford

Housing Advocate to the Stars, Len Langford!

Housing Advocate to the Stars, Len Langford!

Editor’s note: We don’t often take the time to acknowledge people on the frontlines of Solid Ground’s efforts to help people thrive. Last week one of our best and brightest retired, Housing Advocate Len Langford. If you care about ending poverty, helping people access affordable housing, and fighting the good fight, you should read what one of his colleagues and dear friends, Karen Ford, had to say about Len. God bless you, Len. Wherever you go next, we know you will shine!

It was my great honor to sit on Len Langford’s interview committee over 14 years ago. Immediately his intelligence and humor shone through and we were all
enchanted. Len was more than qualified for the housing advocate position with his extensive and worldly experience but he also possessed something more intangible – a rare charm that we sensed both clients and landlords would relate to – and they did.

Len was JourneyHome’s first in-house housing advocate, and through the years he steadily and skillfully housed hundreds of homeless families, many with significant barriers to housing that he would somehow convince even the most wary landlord to take a chance on. So now Len is in theory…retiring… at least from Solid Ground! But he has done this retiring thing before (retired Navy Vietnam veteran ((2 tours of duty)), retired Coast Guard officer, retired long-term care facility director/administrator, retired Seattle Housing Authority manager), so given what Len has already done, I’m looking forward to seeing what amazing thing he will decide to do in the next chapter of his life. Whatever it is, he will do it with the same compassion, wisdom, humor and care that he has so graciously shared with all the clients, landlords and colleagues he has worked with.

Len’s JourneyHome email signature says “Housing Advocate to the Stars,” and he always will say humbly that he “is here to serve” (and he does!), but in truth, it is Len who is a brilliant, unique and shining star. Thank you Len for all you are – I, and so many others, love you dearly!

New construction begun at Sand Point Housing

Earlier this month, Solid Ground broke ground on two new sites on our Sand Point Housing campus to begin building 54 new homes for formerly homeless people.

This building will hold 33 homes for single adults and six homes for families.

This building will hold 33 homes for single adults and six homes for families.

The 21 new homes for families and 33 for single adults fulfill the City’s vision of supportive housing for people overcoming homelessness at the former Sand Point Naval Station, which was articulated in the 1997 Reuse Plan.

“Since the initial transitional housing was redeveloped in old Navy buildings and opened in 2000, more than 2,000 people have used the facility as a stepping stone on their journey back to stability and thriving,” said Gordon McHenry, Jr., Solid Ground’s President & CEO. “The program’s ongoing success is based on partnerships among service providers and deep, supportive connections in the local community.”

Future home for 15 formerly homeless families

Future home for 15 formerly homeless families

Site map showing locations of the new buildings

Site map showing locations of the new buildings

View from the south at the site where six family homes and 33 for singles will be constructed

View from the south at the site where six family homes and 33 for singles will be constructed

View from the north at the site where six family homes and 33 for singles will be constructed

View from the north at the site where six family homes and 33 for singles will be constructed

Aerial view looking from the top of Brettler Family Place at the site where 15 family homes will be built

Aerial view looking from the top of Brettler Family Place at the site where 15 family homes will be built

View from the north where 15 family homes will nestle into this wing of Brettler Family Place

View from the north where 15 family homes will nestle into this wing of Brettler Family Place

View from the east where 15 family homes will nestle into this wing of Brettler Family Place

View from the east where 15 family homes will nestle into this wing of Brettler Family Place

Construction banners along Sand Point Way NE

Construction banners along Sand Point Way NE

Adrienne Karls, a resident of Solid Ground’s Santos Place transitional housing on the Magnuson Park campus, said, “We’ve come from being on the street or in our car. We’ve come from homeless shelters. We’ve all come from being in despair. This place has been somewhere I have been able to grow and appreciate things that I haven’t before in life. This community has given me tools and skills to build my future on. I’m confident it will do the same for the people who will move into these new buildings as well.”

Major funding for the project comes from Enterprise Community Partners, The City of Seattle and the Brettler Family Foundation. The project should be completed by late 2013!

Tenant Tip: Evictions in Clean & Sober Housing (Part 1)

recovery-photoThis Tenant Tip addresses RCW 59.18.550 of the Washington State Residential Landlord Tenant Act (RLTA), clarifying the rights and requirements of tenants living in “drug and alcohol free housing,” including their right to due process in an eviction (also known as an Unlawful Detainer Action (UDA) ). Under this section of the law, any tenant who lives in drug and alcohol free housing is entitled to a rental agreement IN WRITING and access to supportive services through recovery programs (i.e. Narcotics Anonymous, Alcoholics Anonymous).

In addition, the rental agreement must include the following provisions:

  • The tenant and invited guests may not use any illegal substances, controlled substances or prescription drugs without a prescription on the premises.
  • The tenant can be required to take a urine analysis test for drug and alcohol at the landlord’s discretion and expense.
  • On a quarterly basis (at minimum), the tenant must provide documentation from the recovery program they are participating in to report progress abstaining from drugs and alcohol.

Furthermore, the landlord must provide a drug- and alcohol-free environment for all tenants and an employee who monitors the compliance with program rules.

The following types of entities are considered to be landlords under the RLTA and must provide the specific requirements and services under RCW 59.18.550:

The eviction process is slightly different for tenants living in drug and alcohol free housing. A landlord can terminate tenancy by delivering a three-day notice to the tenant with one day to comply if the tenant uses, possesses or shares alcohol, prescription drugs without a prescription, or illegal substances on the premises. A tenant may be given the three-day notice if their invited guests are participating in such actions as well.

A three-day notice to terminate tenancy with one day to comply gives the tenant one day after receipt of the notice to stop the use of drugs or alcohol and be in compliance. If the tenant complies, the landlord cannot go further with the eviction and the rental agreement does not terminate. If the tenant is not able to comply within one day after receiving the notice – and at the end of the three-day period, if the tenant has not vacated – the landlord can continue with the eviction process by serving a summons for UDA.

Our website lists an eviction timeline, including the court process to physically remove a tenant from the premises. If the tenant violates the same rule within six months of receiving a three-day notice, the landlord can begin the eviction process by issuing another three-day notice without the option for the tenant to comply again. This section provides the same eviction process and timeline during which landlords are allowed to evict a tenant under 59.12 RCW.

Because of the complexity of this information, it will be posted in two parts. The next post will further address some of the barriers that people living in clean and sober housing face – including the problems a faster eviction process would pose – and how these tenants could benefit from additional protections allowing them to remain in stable housing. 

The tenant information contained in this article or linked to the Solid Ground Tenant Services website is for informational purposes only. Solid Ground makes no claims, promises or guarantees about the accuracy, completeness or adequacy of the information contained in or linked to its website. Solid Ground cannot act as your attorney. Solid Ground makes no representations, expressed or implied, that the information contained in or linked to its website can or will be used or interpreted in any particular way by any governmental agency or court. As legal advice must be tailored to the specific circumstances of each case, and laws are constantly changing, nothing provided here should be used as a substitute for the advice of competent counsel. Solid Ground Tenant Counselors offer these tenant tips as generalized information for renters. People with specific questions should call our Tenant Services hotline at 206.694.6767  Mondays, Wednesdays & Thursdays between 10:30 am and 4:30 pm.

Tenant Tip: Tenant Rights Workshop in South King County, 11/29/12

House for Rent Want to know more about your rights as a renter? Wondering how to get your deposit back or request a repair? Would you like to know how the new changes in the laws impact renters?

Solid Ground Tenant Counselors are hosting a FREE Rent Smart Workshop for the community on Thursday November 29, 5:30-7:30pm, at the Kent City Hall, 1st Fl Chambers (220 4th Ave S, Kent, WA 98032). We’ll provide information about the landlord-tenant laws in Washington State and discuss the laws and ordinances that apply throughout the housing search process, move-in, during tenancy, move-out and eviction. Bring your questions!

Since there is no agency that enforces the Residential Landlord-Tenant Act in our state, it is largely up to tenants to understand the laws and know their rights in order to take appropriate action to effectively enforce them. We’ll talk about some tips and best practices for renters to help you assert your rights and have a successful tenancy – whether you are signing a rental agreement, requesting repairs or have questions about your privacy rights.

Especially with recent changes and additions to the laws, challenging situations can arise for tenants. For example, the laws around landlord entry and privacy rights changed in 2011, requiring landlords to provide written notice before entering a tenant’s unit (see our Tenant Tip from September 2011 for more information). If a tenant is unaware of this law or the changes, their privacy rights could be compromised. There are remedies available to tenants if a landlord is not complying with the laws, but tenants have to know those remedies are available in order to use them. Knowing the laws and what steps to take, tenants can take action to correct the problem.

If you are a tenant or service provider and would like to attend the workshop, please RSVP to our Tenant Services Workshop & Advocacy Line at 206.694.6748 or email tenantwa@solid-ground.org.

We are also available to provide workshops to organizations and groups throughout King County free of charge. Please contact us if you are interested in scheduling a workshop specifically for your agency or community group. For more information, visit our website at www.solid-ground.org/Tenant.

We look forward to seeing you on November 29!

The tenant information contained in this article or linked to the Solid Ground Tenant Services website is for informational purposes only. Solid Ground makes no claims, promises or guarantees about the accuracy, completeness or adequacy of the information contained in or linked to its website. Solid Ground cannot act as your attorney. Solid Ground makes no representations, expressed or implied, that the information contained in or linked to its website can or will be used or interpreted in any particular way by any governmental agency or court. As legal advice must be tailored to the specific circumstances of each case, and laws are constantly changing, nothing provided here should be used as a substitute for the advice of competent counsel. Solid Ground Tenant Counselors offer these tenant tips as generalized information for renters. People with specific questions should call our Tenant Services hotline at 206.694.6767  Mondays, Wednesdays & Thursdays between 10:30 am and 4:30 pm.

Tenant Tip: Coming Soon – Seattle’s Rental Housing Inspection Program

Seattle skylineIf you live in the City of Seattle, a new ordinance passed on October 1, 2012 which will affect tenants in residential housing. The Rental Housing Inspection Program (RHIP) requires landlords to register their rental properties within Seattle so they can be periodically inspected. While the program will not be implemented until 2014, the Department of Planning and Development will be working with stakeholders throughout 2013 to work out details, such as establishing a fee structure and inspection standards. It is exciting to see Seattle take proactive measures to protect renters and make sure the available rental housing is safe and habitable!

The program will be introduced gradually over the next several years, with the goal of inspecting all rental properties – but not necessarily all units – over the next 10 years. Registration will begin with properties that have five or more units in January 2014, followed by inspections beginning in 2015. All other types of rental housing – single family, duplex, triplex, etc. – will need to register by December 31, 2016. Inspection of all other units will begin in 2017.

Inspections will not be intrusive for renters since they will typically occur very infrequently. Once a property is inspected, it will not be subject to another inspection for at least five years, unless there have been Notices of Violation issued by the City’s Department of Planning and Development (DPD). There will be requirements for inspectors to provide notice to renters in advance of the inspection, similar to the privacy laws within the Residential Landlord Tenant Act (see our blog post for notices required in residential housing).

RHIP is different from the current complaint-based system that relies on tenants to report code violations to Code Enforcement Inspectors at the DPD. Because of the risk of retaliation from landlords, some tenants are hesitant to contact code enforcement. RHIP will provide a more proactive way of making sure that housing is safe and habitable for renters by periodically inspecting all buildings. While tenants can still report code violations to the DPD, RHIP has the added benefit that anyone in the community – including housing advocates, police officers, neighbors, etc. – can call and alert the city to units that they suspect are uninhabitable.

Housing advocates are already working with the City to determine how to implement the new legislation and discuss how education about the program will take place over the next couple of years. For reliable information about the new ordinance, visit the Seattle Department of Planning and Development’s website. It explains in detail the timeline for completing inspections for each type of rental housing.  The Tenants Union website also offers information specifically for renters about the Rental Housing Inspection Program.

In addition to the DPD and the Tenants Union, renters can also call the Tenant Services Hotline at Solid Ground with any questions regarding your rights as a tenant, questions about the Residential Landlord Tenant Act or City of Seattle ordinances. The message line is 206.694.6767 and our hours are Monday, Wednesday and Thursday from 10:30 am – 4:30 pm.

The tenant information contained in this article or linked to the Solid Ground Tenant Services website is for informational purposes only. Solid Ground makes no claims, promises or guarantees about the accuracy, completeness or adequacy of the information contained in or linked to its website. Solid Ground cannot act as your attorney. Solid Ground makes no representations, expressed or implied, that the information contained in or linked to its website can or will be used or interpreted in any particular way by any governmental agency or court. As legal advice must be tailored to the specific circumstances of each case, and laws are constantly changing, nothing provided here should be used as a substitute for the advice of competent counsel. Solid Ground Tenant Counselors offer these tenant tips as generalized information for renters. People with specific questions should call our Tenant Services hotline at 206.694.6767  Mondays, Wednesdays & Thursdays between 10:30 am and 4:30 pm.

Tenant Tip: Rental applications & tenant screening fees

In June 2012, a new law took effect providing additional regulations around the tenant screening process. Our post from 5/30/12, Fair Tenant Screening Act passed!, describes in detail the new requirements that landlords provide written notice of what information will be accessed in a screening, what information may be used to deny housing, and notification of why a tenant was denied. However, there’s still more advocacy work to be done to improve tenant screening practices.

Rental Application imageHousing barriers
can mean repeated
screening fees
Landlords frequently deny people housing based on marks on their rental history – such as prior evictions, poor credit, criminal background, etc. – forcing tenants to apply elsewhere. Tenants with a history of housing barriers must often apply to multiple places in hopes of finding an affordable unit they will be accepted into. This screening process can become very costly, because every time a tenant applies for a new rental, they must pay a screening fee ($35 to $75+) so that each different landlord can run a background check.

Be wary of portable screening reports
Some screening companies offer the option to purchase a portable report, which allows tenants to pay one fee and take the report to several landlords or have online access to it. In theory, this method prevents tenants from having to pay fees to each landlord that conducts a check on them.

Unfortunately, landlords are NOT required by law to accept reports provided by tenants. Many landlords choose to have their own screenings conducted and require that tenants pay a separate screening fee, even in cases where the same exact screening company is used by both landlord and tenant.

Because of this, paying for a portable report from a screening company can be risky and costly – and can actually cause tenants to spend more on screening fees. While tenant advocates are working to address the issue, to date there are no laws mitigating rental application screening costs.

Your tenant screening rights
Prior to paying for screening, it is important for tenants to remember that landlords must present a list of criteria they will use to determine tenancy eligibility. Some landlords are able to discuss their criteria with tenants in detail, and this can guide a tenant’s decision whether or not to continue with an application process and pay the screening fee. Having a conversation with a prospective landlord prior screening, proactively asking questions, and reviewing criteria for denying housing can sometimes prevent costly screening fees. 

Lastly, everyone is entitled to a free copy of their credit report from the three main credit reporting agencies; you can get yours at AnnualCreditReport.com. Bring your credit report to prospective landlords and ask if they will accept it. While some landlords may choose to conduct additional screening anyway, presenting your credit report may be another way to avoid screening fees. If a landlord refuses to accept the credit report, then you can choose whether or not to continue with the process and pay the screening fee.

For additional information on screening fees and the rental housing application process, visit Tenant Services – Housing Search on Solid Ground’s website.

The tenant information contained in this article or linked to the Solid Ground Tenant Services website is for informational purposes only. Solid Ground makes no claims, promises or guarantees about the accuracy, completeness or adequacy of the information contained in or linked to its website. Solid Ground cannot act as your attorney. Solid Ground makes no representations, expressed or implied, that the information contained in or linked to its website can or will be used or interpreted in any particular way by any governmental agency or court. As legal advice must be tailored to the specific circumstances of each case, and laws are constantly changing, nothing provided here should be used as a substitute for the advice of competent counsel. Solid Ground Tenant Counselors offer these tenant tips as generalized information for renters. People with specific questions should call our Tenant Services hotline at 206.694.6767  Mondays, Wednesdays & Thursdays between 10:30 am and 4:30 pm.

Tenant Tip: Rent Smart! Tenant Rights Workshop

Rent Smart Tenant Rights Workshop, 7/27/12, 4-6pm, Beacon Hill Library

Rent Smart Tenant Rights Workshop, 7/24/12, 4-6pm, Beacon Hill Library

Want to know more about your rights as a renter? Wondering how to get your deposit back or request a repair? Would you like to know how the new changes in the laws impact renters?

Tenant Counselors are hosting a FREE Rent Smart workshop for the community on Tuesday July 24, 4-6pm, at the Beacon Hill Library Conference Room (2821 Beacon Ave S, Seattle, WA 98144). We’ll provide information about the landlord-tenant laws in Washington State and discuss the laws and ordinances that apply throughout the housing search process, move-in, during tenancy, move-out and eviction. Bring your questions!

Since there is no agency that enforces the Residential Landlord-Tenant Act in our state, it is largely up to tenants to understand the laws and know their rights in order to take appropriate action to effectively enforce them. We’ll talk about some tips and best practices for renters to help you assert your rights and have a successful tenancy – whether you are signing a rental agreement, requesting repairs or have questions about your privacy rights.

Especially with recent changes and additions to the laws, challenging situations can arise for tenants. For example, the laws around landlord entry and privacy rights changed in 2011, requiring landlords to provide written notice before entering a tenant’s unit (see our Tenant Tip from September 2011 for more information). If a tenant is unaware of this law or the changes, their privacy rights could be compromised. There are remedies available to tenants if a landlord is not complying with the laws, but tenants have to know those remedies are available in order to use them. Knowing the laws and what steps to take, tenants can take action to correct the problem.

If you are a tenant or service provider and would like to attend the workshop, please RSVP to our Tenant Services Workshop & Advocacy Line at 206.694.6748 or email tenantwa@solid-ground.org.

We are also available to provide workshops to organizations and groups throughout King County free of charge. Please contact us if you are interested in scheduling a workshop specifically for your agency or community group. For more information, visit our website at www.solid-ground.org/Tenant.

We look forward to seeing you on July 24th!

Rent Smart Workshop Flyer, 7/24/12

The tenant information contained in this article or linked to the Solid Ground Tenant Services website is for informational purposes only. Solid Ground makes no claims, promises or guarantees about the accuracy, completeness or adequacy of the information contained in or linked to its website. Solid Ground cannot act as your attorney. Solid Ground makes no representations, expressed or implied, that the information contained in or linked to its website can or will be used or interpreted in any particular way by any governmental agency or court. As legal advice must be tailored to the specific circumstances of each case, and laws are constantly changing, nothing provided here should be used as a substitute for the advice of competent counsel. Solid Ground Tenant Counselors offer these tenant tips as generalized information for renters. People with specific questions should call our Tenant Services hotline at 206.694.6767 Mondays, Wednesdays & Thursdays between 10:30 am and 4:30 pm.

Tenant Tip: Fair Tenant Screening Act passed!

Credit check imageIn March 2012, the Fair Tenant Screening Act (Senate Bill 6315) passed in the Washington State Legislature, creating new regulations for how landlords and tenant screening companies can screen prospective tenants. A new section of the Residential Landlord Tenant Act (RLTA) reflects the regulations – and two RLTA sections and one Fair Credit Reporting Act section were amended to include the law changes. SB 6315 goes into effect on 6/7/12.

Section 59.18.257 of the RLTA now includes the following new requirements for criteria used in tenant screening:

  • Tenants can only be charged screening report fees if the landlord provides eligibility requirements prior to screening. Before performing a screening or background check on a prospective tenant, landlords must first provide written notice detailing the information they will access to determine if a tenant is accepted or denied housing – as well as what specific criteria can be grounds for denial.
  • If a landlord uses a consumer reporting agency to determine tenant eligibility, they are required to provide tenants the name and address of the agency. Landlords must also inform tenants of their rights to obtain a free copy of the agency’s report and to dispute any errors in the report if they are denied housing or experience other adverse actions.
  • If a landlord does not use a consumer reporting agency and instead screens tenants on their own, they can charge tenants a screening fee – but the fee cannot exceed the standard amount charged by screening companies in the general area.
  • If a landlord denies an applicant or takes any other adverse action against prospective tenants, the landlord is required to provide tenants written notice listing specific information such as: reasons for denial, information used to deny or take adverse action, etc. The notice must include the date, address and signature of the landlord or agent.
  • If a landlord fails to follow the proper steps in conducting a tenant screening, they can be held liable for up to $100 plus court and reasonable attorney fees.

These new requirements provide more organized regulations for tenant screening and allow prospective tenants to know what information will be used to determine their acceptance or denial before paying screening fees. However, reports often contain inaccurate and misleading information, and tenants are not made aware of this until after they have been denied housing and paid fees. (Our November 2011 Tenant Screening blog post describes some housing barriers that unfair, misleading and inaccurate screening reports can create for low-income families, domestic violence survivors and many others.) So despite the new regulations, screening costs and misinformation in screening reports continue to prevent thousands of families from getting into housing.

A group of stakeholders – including tenant advocates, landlord groups and representatives of consumer reporting and screening agencies – will convene to address tenant screening costs and the information included in screening reports. This group will provide recommendations to the legislature by December 1, 2012.

Individuals who have paid multiple screening fees, have been wrongfully denied housing by a screening company or landlord, or face other housing barriers due to tenant screening are encouraged to share their experiences to help influence the recommendations made and increase the regulations to better protect tenants. To find out more about the law changes and how you can share your experiences to make the most beneficial recommendations, contact Solid Ground’s Tenant Advocacy Line at 206.694.6748 or email tenantwa@solid-ground.org.

The tenant information contained in this article or linked to the Solid Ground Tenant Services website is for informational purposes only. Solid Ground makes no claims, promises or guarantees about the accuracy, completeness or adequacy of the information contained in or linked to its website. Solid Ground cannot act as your attorney. Solid Ground makes no representations, expressed or implied, that the information contained in or linked to its website can or will be used or interpreted in any particular way by any governmental agency or court. As legal advice must be tailored to the specific circumstances of each case, and laws are constantly changing, nothing provided here should be used as a substitute for the advice of competent counsel. Solid Ground Tenant Counselors offer these tenant tips as generalized information for renters. People with specific questions should call our Tenant Services hotline at 206.694.6767 Mondays, Wednesdays & Thursdays between 10:30 am and 4:30 pm.

On Solid Ground at Sand Point Capital Campaign complete!

This update was contributed by Joan Caine, Capital Campaign Consultant. Scroll down for a slideshow of photos by Arthur Shwab featuring four of the first families to live at Brettler Family Place.

Andrew & his dad Hugo play together on the jungle gym

Andrew & Hugo play together on the jungle gym

The On Solid Ground at Sand Point Capital Campaign reached its fundraising goal in February 2012, marking a new beginning for families and formerly homeless individuals, including veterans. The first 51 families moved in during the spring of 2011, and there is already an active community taking shape. Phase II construction begins in September 2012, and by the fall of 2013, Brettler Family Place and Sand Point Housing will be home to over 100 adults and nearly 200 children.

Sand Point Housing represents a bold new way to utilize defunct military bases for the public good. It speaks to all that is best about our community commitment to end homelessness.

Capital campaigns call upon vision, rigorous planning, and the investment of a wide range of public and private donors. Despite the campaign having launched less than one year before the dramatic economic recession, the community rallied behind the project and ensured its success. We are deeply grateful for the generosity of our campaign donors.

As we look to the future, we know that housing is just the beginning at Sand Point. Our wraparound services are growing to meet the needs of the families and individuals who are now residents. As we address immediate needs through programs that build financial skills, teach cooking and nutrition, connect families to mental health and employment services, and offer a full complement of children’s programs, we know that the long-term goal is to ensure that each resident moves to a place of thriving and stability.

Our intention is to end cycles of generational poverty through the comprehensive approach at Brettler Family Place and Sand Point Housing.

We believe in the future of our residents and the successful completion of the capital campaign is the community’s vote of confidence that better days are ahead for all of the men, women and children who will call Sand Point their home.

In December 2011, photographer Arthur Shwab photographed several families in and around their new homes at Brettler Family Place:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

http://www.arthurshwab.com/ ~ www.arthurshwab.com/blog

 

Tenant Tip: Financial Fitness Day!

On March 31, 2012 from 10am-2pm, the Seattle-King County Asset Building Collaborative and several community agencies – including Solid Ground – are partnering to provide a day of workshops related to finances, money management and other community resources such as job search, housing, personal budgeting and more. Financial Fitness Day will take place at the Rainier Community Center at 4600 38th Avenue S, Seattle, WA 98118.

The event will feature a series of free workshops as well as one-on-one help with filing income taxes, credit and mortgage counseling, financial advising, and information on receiving public benefits.

This is a great resource fair for renters interested in getting a free credit report, free counseling on debt management, and credit repair tips. It can help renters understand the information that is often listed on screening reports and know what to expect when completing rental housing applications.

It will also be a useful event for homeowners seeking mortgage counseling and resources as well as anyone looking for financial tips, business startup and consumer rights information, and much more. The flyer below provides a list of participating organizations and some of the services that will be offered.Financial Fitness Day, 3/31/12, 10am-2pm

 

Tenant Tip: Help pass the Fair Tenant Screening Act!

Current Washington State Residential Landlord-Tenant Law creates some serious housing barriers for domestic violence (DV) survivors and people living on low incomes – such as a requirement to pay separate screening fees for each new rental application. The Fair Tenant Screening Act (FTSA), going before the WA State Senate Rules & Means Committee next Wednesday, February 14, would eliminate those barriers.

Contact your Senators to let them know that FTSA will help keep families housed and prevent homelessness! Below is a brief overview of FTSA by the Housing Alliance detailing why it is important for these bills to pass in order to address serious barriers to housing. You can follow this link to the Housing Alliance’s website and send an email to your senators to ask them to keep them moving in the Senate. You can also call 1.800.562.6000 and ask your senators to support SSB 6321 and SSB 6315.

Substitute Senate Bill 6315 (SSB 6315) will address the high cost of tenant screening reports by asking a work group of stakeholders, including tenants, landlords and tenant screening companies, to examine how to make a portable report work in Washington, or otherwise drive down the high cost of tenant screening reports. It will also require adverse action notices when a landlord decides to not rent to a tenant and will allow a tenant to know the criteria that will be used to determine whether or not to rent to them.

SB 6321 provides tenants who have prevailed in court and survivors of DV an opportunity to ask the court to seal or redact their record so that their future housing prospects will no longer unfairly be diminished.

Currently, the reports generated to landlords can contain misleading, unfair and inaccurate information. They report merely if a tenant has been named in an eviction lawsuit – not the outcome, not if the tenant was wrongfully named, not if the tenant prevailed, not if the tenant’s eviction was the result of a bank foreclosing on their landlord – but nothing about the circumstances is provided.

No matter the circumstances (even when they’ve won in court), a tenant is treated guilty for years to come and they struggle with a mark on their record that will cause many landlords to reject their application. This creates an extremely chilling effect on a process that ought to be accessible to tenants who want their day in court, and instead many are deterred from arguing their case while they meekly seek new housing to avoid the progression of an eviction lawsuit.

Additionally, domestic violence protection orders can be listed in these reports. It is unthinkable that this information could be considered viable in fairly determining someone as a good tenant.

For more detailed information on the Fair Tenant Screening Act and to ask questions or share your story related to these bills, you can leave a message on Solid Ground Tenant Services Advocacy line at 206.694.6748, or email your story to tenantwa@solid-ground.org.

The tenant information contained in this article or linked to the Solid Ground Tenant Services website is for informational purposes only. Solid Ground makes no claims, promises or guarantees about the accuracy, completeness or adequacy of the information contained in or linked to its website. Solid Ground cannot act as your attorney. Solid Ground makes no representations, expressed or implied, that the information contained in or linked to its website can or will be used or interpreted in any particular way by any governmental agency or court. As legal advice must be tailored to the specific circumstances of each case, and laws are constantly changing, nothing provided here should be used as a substitute for the advice of competent counsel. Solid Ground Tenant Counselors offer these tenant tips as generalized information for renters. People with specific questions should call our Tenant Services hotline at 206.694.6767 Mondays, Wednesdays & Thursdays between 10:30 am and 4:30 pm.

Tenant Tip: Changes to state law – Receipts for Payments

blank rent receipts

receipts

RCW 15.18.063 of the Washington State Residential Landlord-Tenant Act was changed to require landlords to give tenants a receipt when they pay rent in cash. Previously a landlord was only required to provide receipts if the tenant asked for one.

Under the new law, tenants still need to ask for receipts if they pay with methods other than cash, such as check or money order. It is generally a good idea to ask for receipts to be dated and signed or stamped by the landlord or the management company.

You may also want to print out bank statements detailing rent payment and save them along with other documents related to paying rent. By keeping an organized folder with documents related to your tenancy and payment activity, a tenant can better protect themselves from a landlord who may claim that rent was not received on time or is missing.

This issue comes up more often with management companies that have high employee turnover. Additionally, tenants are sometimes faced with having a new property manager claim that a previous manager did not document a rent payment.

Bookkeeping errors can also be reason enough for a landlord or an apartment manager to claim that the tenant may not have paid rent. In these situations, it is much easier to present the landlord with a receipt that proves payment than it is to challenge the bookkeeper. Without proper documentation and receipts, a tenant may have to double pay for previous months’ rent and face unnecessary confrontations with the landlord.

It is also a good idea to save receipts for utility payments, especially where the tenant is provided with a third party utility bill from the landlord. While the Residential Landlord-Tenant Act does not cover utility billing, tenants can still take proactive steps by documenting their payments for utilities. An example of a situation where saving receipts can be helpful is when a utility bill is drastically higher than previous ones.

RCW 15.19.063’s receipt requirement is for any payment the tenant makes to the landlord, which can include paying the landlord for third party utility billing. In some cases the tenant has made no changes to their daily habits, and electricity or water usage has not increased, however the landlord may be asking for a much higher amount in utility payments.

This is especially important in cases where the utility bill increases for the tenant due to a repair issue that the landlord needs to address, such as a leak in water pipes. In these situations having a “paper trail” of receipts and documents may also be helpful. In addition to receipts, tenants can also take proper steps in addressing the repair with the landlord.

For information on repairs, tenants can review a previous Tenant Tip on Requesting repairs from your landlord as well as visit the Tenant Services Repairs webpage.

The tenant information contained in this article or linked to the Solid Ground Tenant Services website is for informational purposes only. Solid Ground makes no claims, promises or guarantees about the accuracy, completeness or adequacy of the information contained in or linked to its website. Solid Ground cannot act as your attorney. Solid Ground makes no representations, expressed or implied, that the information contained in or linked to its website can or will be used or interpreted in any particular way by any governmental agency or court. As legal advice must be tailored to the specific circumstances of each case, and laws are constantly changing, nothing provided here should be used as a substitute for the advice of competent counsel. Solid Ground Tenant Counselors offer these tenant tips as generalized information for renters. People with specific questions should call our Tenant Services hotline at 206.694.6767  Mondays, Wednesdays & Thursdays between 10:30 am and 4:30 pm.

Tenant Tip: Housing barriers for people living with disabilities

Editor’s note: This post was submitted by Jennifer Valente, a case manager with Solid Ground’s Homeless Prevention Programs. Thanks also to Jeanne Winner for her help with the article.

Man in wheelchairImagine, you have just lost your housing – not to any fault of your own, you’ve been an excellent tenant – but your apartment is being renovated. You are wheelchair bound, you have no family or friends to help you, and you’re out of resources. You need housing immediately. As a last resort, you call King County 2.1.1 and are directed to Solid Ground’s Housing Stabilization Services program. You ask for help.

Basic knowledge of social services would lead one to believe, to hope even, that between the many Fair Housing Laws and benefits of the Americans with Disabilities Act, someone in the above situation would have a number of options available to them – that they would not end up in this predicament.

Unfortunately the above scenario is far too common, and the case managers with Housing Stabilization Services at Solid Ground are often faced with trying to help clients secure housing against unfavorable odds. Specifically with regard to handicap-accessible apartments, it is not that suitable apartments do not exist – but there are too few to support the growing demand, and long waiting lists act as barriers for those in urgent need. Clients too often hear the words, “Sorry, but…” and grow frustrated and discouraged.

Indeed, an October 2011 press release describes testing that confirms discrimination does exist for people living with disabilities (as well as for African Americans) in far higher percentages than expected, and the Seattle Office for Civil Rights is taking action by prosecuting six property owners. The release states that more than half of all properties recently tested showed evidence of illegal housing discrimination.

While the battle against discrimination is ongoing, Solid Ground is committed to being an ally to those in need. By acting as a resource hub to current and prospective tenants and providing direct case management to clients like the one above, Solid Ground serves as an advocate and friend to individuals and families who have nowhere else to turn and may otherwise end up in shelters or on the streets.

Tenant Tip: Tenant Screening

Landlords typically screen prospective tenants to decide their eligibility to move into a rental unit. Often landlords hire a screening company to decide tenants’ suitability. Screeners investigate potential tenants’ credit, rental history, employment history, criminal background, previous evictions and court records. RCW 59.18.257 is the section of the Washington Residential Landlord-Tenant Act which provides information on tenant screening. The screening process can be burdensome, costly and unfair for tenants, especially if they have wrongful evictions on their record or because of their status as domestic violence survivors.

One of the main challenges is that the tenant is responsible for paying the cost of screening fees which may range from $30 to $75 per application. Even if the landlord decides not to offer a unit to the tenant, the tenant loses their screening fee. Currently, tenants can be denied for any number of reasons, causing them to pay many screening fees. Often people with poor credit or evictions on their record are faced with spending hundreds of dollars on screening fees without ever being offered a unit. These fees can prevent low-income tenants from being able to afford move-in costs and can leave tenants facing homelessness.

A report released this month by the Seattle Office for Civil Rights (SOCR) indicates that housing discrimination based on race or disability occurs frequently in Seattle. In their investigation, nearly 70% of landlords showed some sort of race-based discrimination in which inconsistencies favored white applicants. Disability-based discrimination tests revealed that 38% of the properties used practices that created barriers for people living with disabilities to get access to housing. Read the full press release on the SOCR webpage. These issues of discrimination in tenant screening are happening outside of Seattle as well. We receive calls on our Tenant Services Hotline from all over Washington State from tenants who face housing discrimination based on race, ethnicity, criminal history and disability status.

In addition, mistakes contained in the screening reports or credit reports used to decide tenant eligibility can also cause tenants to be wrongfully denied housing. Tenants may never even see a copy of the report to find an error and dispute the inaccuracy. These inaccuracies may include wrongful evictions that were filed illegally or incorrectly. Once an eviction, or Lawsuit for Unlawful Detainer, is filed with the courts, the eviction record remains on the tenant’s public record for life. Even if the judge rules in the tenant’s favor and they win the case in court, potential landlords are still able to see the eviction on their record and deny housing.

Domestic violence survivors also face discrimination in the tenant screening process, and they are often denied housing because of a protection order on their record. Even though RCW 59.18.570 states that it’s illegal to deny housing based on an individual’s history as a victim of domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking, many landlords will deny housing to these people without providing a reason. Stronger protections are needed for survivors so they do not have to face discrimination in trying to meet their basic need for safe housing.

Tenant Advocates are working to improve laws to help tenants when going through the screening process in search of housing. The Fair Tenant Screening Act proposes to address the following issues within the screening process:

  • Wrongful evictions
  • Inaccuracies on screening reports
  • High screening fees
  • Additional protections for domestic violence survivors

In order to make these changes, state legislators need to hear from renters throughout Washington State who are directly affected by this serious issue that creates so many housing barriers. If you’d like to share your story and be part of the advocacy effort to support the Fair Tenant Screening Act, please call our Tenant Advocacy Line at 206.694.6748 and attend the Access to Housing Forum to learn more about the Fair Tenant Screening Act and how you can help.

The tenant information contained in this article or linked to the Solid Ground Tenant Services website is for informational purposes only. Solid Ground makes no claims, promises or guarantees about the accuracy, completeness or adequacy of the information contained in or linked to its website. Solid Ground cannot act as your attorney. Solid Ground makes no representations, expressed or implied, that the information contained in or linked to its website can or will be used or interpreted in any particular way by any governmental agency or court. As legal advice must be tailored to the specific circumstances of each case, and laws are constantly changing, nothing provided here should be used as a substitute for the advice of competent counsel. Solid Ground Tenant Counselors offer these tenant tips as generalized information for renters. People with specific questions should call our Tenant Services hotline at 206.694.6767  Mondays, Wednesdays & Thursdays between 10:30 am and 4:30 pm.

Tenant Tip: Access to Housing Forum

You are invited to attend an open forum to learn more about opportunities to increase access to housing, address discrimination in the tenant screening process, and work to break down other barriers that low-income renters and domestic violence survivors face in finding housing. Please join the Race & Social Justice Initiative, the Seattle Women’s Commission, the Tenants Union and the Housing Alliance for:

Access to Housing Forum

Thursday, November 10, 2011, 6:30pm
Seattle City Hall, 600 4th Ave
in the Bertha Knight Landes Room

Snacks and Childcare provided. To request childcare, please click here.

Join tenants, advocates and invited elected officials to discuss how we can break down barriers to housing.

Panelists include:

Eric Dunn, Staff Attorney
Northwest Justice Project

Linda Olsen, MA, MSW,
Housing Program Coordinator
Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence

Laurie Lippold, Public Policy Director
Children’s Home Society

Tenant Tip: Holding Deposits

A holding deposit is money a landlord can ask a tenant to pay to take a unit off the market until the tenant moves in at a later time. This typically happens when a tenant sees a unit that they like but they are not able to move in right away. By paying a holding deposit, the tenant secures the unit and the landlord agrees that they will not rent the unit to any other prospective tenant. RCW 59.18.253 addresses holding deposits, and tenants can refer to this section of the Residential Landlord-Tenant Act (RLTA) for exact language of the law including the changes that took effect in July 2011.

The following tip is general information that tenants may find useful in addition to reviewing the exact language of the law.

In order to take a holding deposit from a prospective tenant, the landlord needs to provide:

  • A receipt to the tenant upon payment of the holding deposit.
  • A written statement of conditions in which the holding deposit may be retained.

When the tenant moves in, the landlord must apply the holding deposit towards the tenant’s security deposit amount or first month’s rent. If a tenant chooses not to move in, for example if they change their mind and find a different place to rent, the landlord can keep the holding deposit. It is important for tenants to understand how holding deposits work before paying one to a landlord, because it can be costly to have it withheld if the tenant chooses not to move in. Continue reading

Summertime done come and gone, my oh my

With the autumnal equinox upon us, we bid goodbye to summer 2011.

We remember this as the first summer of Brettler Family Place, where 120 young people and their parents are recovering from transitional phases in their lives, living in a park-like setting along Lake Washington.

These photos are a brief glimpse into how important this location is for these young people. Thanks to the good folks at Sail Sand Point for this fabulous day on the water!

Mohamed gets his balance

Bent gets ready for his first paddle

Marr relaxes on the lake

Chudier, Triniti, Ximena and Chris strike happy poses

Help save Magnuson Community Center!

Kids at summer nature programs (from Seattle.gov website)

While you can probably hear a half a dozen languages bubbling up during workshops at the Magnuson Community Center, what rises above them all is the laughter of neighborhood kids and youth having a great time.

Just down the street from Solid Ground’s Brettler Family Place and Sand Point Family Housing, the Center is a vital part of what brings stability and safety to this community.

But unfortunately, according to Magnuson Children’s Garden Committee Co-Chairs Cindy Hazard and Emily Bishton, the City of Seattle’s 2012 budget process has given the Magnuson Community Center a “2b” rating, which will result in “a drastic cutback of Magnuson Community Center’s open hours and staff time, and will make it impossible for it to offer the kind of great programs and special events that we have all come to love.”

The Center has played an important role in the lives of the families living in Solid Ground’s transitional and permanent housing at Sand Point. Currently almost 200 kids live there, and another 40 or so are expected when new units are built next year.

“The Community Center plays a vital role in helping our families break away from the cycle of homelessness. Kids spending time there are supervised, active and learning about social interactions — they are also meeting other kids from the surrounding neighborhood, and vice versa, which helps them recover from any problems being homeless has caused,” said Tamara Brown, Solid Ground’s Deputy Housing Director.

“It’s so important that we give these kids the same chance that our own kids have had — to participate in team sports, to have fun, to be safe — intervening now can prevent a repeat of cycling back into homelessness like their parents.”

Summer activities like the Center’s Rock the Park “truly helped to change the lives of the kids who attended,” said Joanna Tarr, Children’s Case Manager at Brettler Family Place. “It gave them a feeling of belonging to and pride in the park where they live, and something positive to do with their time. The camp gave them the opportunity to experience many different activities … they were able to bond with each other, form positive relationships, and have the staff as wonderful role models. The kids so looked forward to the camp and often told me how much they enjoyed it and the staff.”

Unless the Center’s rating is restored to at least “2a,” these transformational programs will be cut.

But it is not too late.

You can email or call the City Council Parks Chair Sally Bagshaw at sally.bagshaw@seattle.gov or 206.684.8801, and the Mayor’s office at Mike.Mcginn@seattle.gov or  206.684.4000, to tell them how you feel about Magnuson Community Center. Tell them which of their special events and programs you personally have been touched by. And ask them to restore Magnuson Community Center to at least a “2a” rating to help strengthen our community!

Tenant Tip: Changes to the Residential Landlord-Tenant Act—Landlord Entry

The following tip will address landlord entry detailed in Washington State law, in particular, subsections 5-9 of RCW 59.18.150 of the Residential Landlord-Tenant Act. These subsections address landlord right of entry and the recent changes that were made to this section of the law. This is important information for tenants to understand, because landlords often violate this section of the law, and it seriously impacts the privacy of the tenant.

Sections 1-4 detailing information about search warrants, fire officials’ right of entry, and written notice requirements will not be covered. For information about search warrants and the responsibility of the landlord and tenant pertaining to this issue, you can read the entire section of the law and seek legal advice from an attorney.

The following information is a general summary of the law and the changes. It does not interpret or analyze what the law states. For exact language of the law, tenants can access RCW 59.18.150 in the WA State Legislature’s webpage where a link to the Bill of Changes will also be available.

In order to enter a tenant’s unit, landlords are required to provide tenants with written notice. The notice needs to include specific dates and times that the landlord intends to enter as well as a phone number for the tenant to contact the landlord in case the dates and times listed do not work for the tenant. This notice is meant to inform the tenant ahead of time as well as to give the tenant time to contact the landlord in case there are time conflicts. Previously the law stated that the landlord could give verbal notice. It is now required by law that the landlord give written notice.

Some reasons why a landlord can enter a unit after giving at least 2 days’ notice in writing are:

  • to make repairs as requested by the tenant
  • inspections (often specified on the rental agreement)
  • other agreed upon reasons

In addition, the landlord can enter the unit by giving the tenant 24 hours notice in writing to show the unit to a prospective tenant or buyer.

In cases of emergency or abandonment, the landlord can enter the unit without notice. A landlord cannot interfere with a tenant’s right to enjoy their dwelling unit or abuse their right to access the unit to harass the tenant.

Tenants often ask about the landlord’s right to enter common areas such as a yard, a porch or other areas in close proximity to a tenant’s dwelling unit and if the landlord is required to give notice for such entry. Because every situation is different including complicated situations where a landlord and tenant share the same house and common areas, tenants with these questions may want to consult with an attorney.

If the times a landlord has listed in writing do not work for the tenant, then they can address their concerns with the landlord. While the landlord is required to list a phone number in the notice to enter, tenants can choose to respond to the notice in writing to address the conflicts they may have with the times and dates given by the landlord. The tenant can keep a copy of the letter for themselves for documentation.

A tenant may not be unreasonable in withholding entry to the landlord. If a tenant does not make reasonable efforts to allow the landlord entry, the landlord can recover damages in court including attorney fees. A tenant can choose to provide the landlord with alternate dates and times that will work for the tenant in order to give options so that they address potential concerns of unreasonably refusing to allow the landlord to enter.

Likewise if the landlord unreasonably abuses their right of entry, the tenant can pursue legal action such as Small Claims Court to recover damages. If a landlord has entered without proper notice or is in other ways violating this section of the RLTA, the tenant can send a letter to their landlord to address the violation. If the landlord continues to violate the law after the letter is sent, the tenant can take the landlord to Small Claims Court for $100 per violation.

Because this is a very brief and general overview to a very complicated section of the law, tenants who have questions about privacy and landlord’s right of entry can contact the Tenant Services hotline at 206.694.6767 on M, W or Th from 10:30 am-4:30 pm to receive more information, including sample letters and potential referrals to free legal services.

The tenant information contained in this article or linked to the Solid Ground Tenant Services website is for informational purposes only. Solid Ground makes no claims, promises or guarantees about the accuracy, completeness or adequacy of the information contained in or linked to its website. Solid Ground cannot act as your attorney. Solid Ground makes no representations, expressed or implied, that the information contained in or linked to its website can or will be used or interpreted in any particular way by any governmental agency or court. As legal advice must be tailored to the specific circumstances of each case, and laws are constantly changing, nothing provided herein should be used as a substitute for the advice of competent counsel. Solid Ground Tenant Counselors offer these tenant tips as generalized information for renters. People with specific questions should call our Tenant Services hotline at 206.694.6767  Mondays, Wednesdays & Thursdays between 10:30 am and 4:30 pm.

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