Program changes better meet the needs of chronically homeless families

For families living on low incomes that include an adult with disabilities, affordable housing can be nearly impossible to find, let alone keep. Many times, families rely on fixed income, essentially living “from crisis to crisis,” according to Sand Point Housing Residential Services Manager Tamara Brown.

By February, these transitional housing units at Sand Point will be converted into Permanent Supportive Family Housing.

In 2016, these transitional housing units at Sand Point Housing will be converted into Permanent Supportive Family Housing.

By February 2016, Solid Ground will have converted 26 transitional housing units at our Sand Point Housing campus to Permanent Supportive Housing to help address the needs of chronically homeless families. This conversion is in line with the Housing First strategy, which simply put, provides homes to people experiencing homelessness before addressing any addiction problems, criminal records, or other barriers they may have to accessing affordable housing.

“The idea is to stabilize the family first,” says Brown. “Then we look at the barriers and try to help the family address them. The program will make it easier for families to obtain and maintain housing.”

Housing First has not only been more effective in terms of keeping people housed, but it is also more cost effective. Solid Ground’s program differs from similar ones by providing homes to chronically homeless families, rather than individuals.

Sand Point’s new Permanent Supportive Housing units will have very low screening requirements, meaning that those with poor credit, substance abuse or mental health conditions, or past eviction, domestic violence or criminal histories will not be denied housing.

Brown explains that providing people in dire situations with immediate access to housing allows them to actually focus on recovery and stability. Once people have their basic needs met, they can begin to consider making changes that will improve their quality of life. “What many people don’t understand is that people don’t choose to be homeless – rather, they give in to being homeless … because it’s their best option right now, rather than living with domestic violence, dealing with untreated serious mental illness or addiction, or struggling with a limited income that won’t pay for an apartment. It’s the lack of choices that causes them to remain outside.”

As a result of the lower screening requirements, family members may require more support and access to services such as financial counseling, therapy and medical attention. In response to this predicted need, a Therapeutic Case Manager, trained to address the needs of the tenants, will offer support to residents, and case management staff will provide 24/7 coverage. Additionally, other Solid Ground programs and community supports will be available to provide a holistic array of services to residents.

Before the units open, a lot of work must be completed. Brown explains that families currently in the transitional Sand Point Family transitional housing units will be moving out, though each of them entered the program knowing that it was a 12-month, time-limited transitional program, designed for families to exit to permanent housing as they stabilized.

“There are a couple families who will have been here less than 12 months, but we are working really hard with them,” says Brown. “We sat down with all the families individually to figure out how to comfortably transition them into new housing.”

Once these families successfully find housing, the two buildings will be lightly renovated to meet the needs of the incoming families. For example, one of the transitional housing units will be converted into a community meeting space, in order to foster a supportive environment and communication between neighbors.

Units will be posted on Family Housing Connection in the next couple of weeks, and referrals will be accepted beginning at the end of November.

Bold changes needed to create equitable opportunities to thrive

Our Solid Ground Vision articulates a future where our community is one that has evolved to a place “…where all people have equitable opportunities to thrive.” I’m concerned that for the majority of our King County community, ‘thriving’ is an aspiration that may not be achievable in our lifetimes without bold and dramatic changes.

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray signs $15 minimum wage into law as Gordon McHenry, Jr. (5th from left) looks on. (Photo from murray.seattle.gov)

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray signs $15 minimum wage into law as Gordon McHenry, Jr. (5th from left) looks on. (Photo from murray.seattle.gov)

Last year I participated in a bold step to strengthen the wage structure for those who work in Seattle. The success of the Income Inequality Advisory Committee has sparked a remarkable movement to increase the minimum wage in cities across the United States. Yet an even more difficult challenge to achieving thriving exists: our complex and profound regional housing crisis. The lack of affordable housing, for rent or ownership, has been developing for many years. The majority of King County residents are now feeling the adverse effects of the housing crisis, which are a form of oppression for those who live on low and moderate incomes.

We are a community challenged by the dilemma of growth. The attractiveness of Seattle/King County as a place to live, work and retire plus growth has made Seattle and several other municipalities in King County unaffordable for most residents. Building upon the success of the Income Inequality Advisory Committee, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray created a 28-member cross-sector advisory committee to support Seattle in developing a plan to address our housing crisis. This group was charged with engaging the public and using their experience and expertise to guide the process.

In late July, after over 10 months of collaborative work, the Seattle Housing Affordability & Livability Agenda (HALA) Advisory Committee published its recommendations to Mayor Murray and the Seattle City Council. Reflecting the depth of this crisis, the HALA Advisory Committee report is 75 pages in length and contains 65 recommendations. These recommendations were developed from the perspective that “Seattle seeks to be a diverse, prosperous, and equitable community where individuals and families can build good lives in vibrant neighborhoods. Housing costs rising faster than incomes threaten to make that aspiration unattainable.” (HALA Advisory Committee Mission Statement)

In addition to HALA’s work, we are also looking at the alternatives proposed in the City Council’s candidate-led Progressive-Plan-Seattle-Housing, the Community Housing Caucus Report and the Committee to End Homelessness Strategic Plan, and engaging with other stakeholders.

Members of Solid Ground’s leadership team contributed to efforts that created both the highest minimum wage in the country and HALA. Their input came directly from the lived experiences of our program participants and the increasing difficulty encountered by our housing case managers when trying to find quality affordable housing in greater Seattle. My perspective is that housing affordability in Seattle and King County is one of our most significant social justice issues.

The HALA recommendations are a beginning to the creation, adoption and implementation of much needed public policies. Solid Ground will continue to be an active leader in this fight for housing justice. It will take time, significant struggles and skillful collaborations. And when we are successful, Seattle will be a thriving city that is a diverse, prosperous and equitable community where individuals and families build good lives in vibrant neighborhoods.

Tenant Services out in the community!

1991-LIHI-circleSeattle’s overheated rental market strongly impacts people living on low incomes and those experiencing homelessness. Solid Ground’s Tenant Services team has been out in the community, helping people understand their rights and resources to help them achieve stability.

United Way’s annual Community Resource Exchange took place on April 23rd at CenturyLink Field. The one-day event offered hot meals, health care, haircuts, legal and public benefits help, as well as many other services and community resource referrals all in one location. Over 1,300 people experiencing homelessness attended the resource exchange this year.

Solid Ground Tenant Counselor Chea Berra was there to provide information about our Tenant Services.

“Many attendees seemed to be quickly assessing whether the information, products or services at each table were something that could readily serve their day-to-day existence of homelessness,” Chea said. “It struck me that they were grappling with survival. To think long term – how to ensure just treatment at the hands of a future landlord, for example – was not in the realm of living on the streets. Immediate housing was what they needed and what they sought.”

That same day at the Senior Center of West Seattle, Seattle City Councilmember Tom Rasmussen hosted a panel of housing experts at a community forum. The meeting focused on senior housing issues including increased housing costs, tenant rights, affordable housing options for seniors, and information about the City of Seattle’s Utility Discount Program. Joy Scott, Solid Ground’s Supportive Services Manager, presented on tenant rights.

Seniors living on fixed incomes are particularly concerned about the rising costs of housing in the Seattle area because Social Security and retirement benefits no longer adequately cover the cost of rent. In addition, many seniors report facing discrimination based on the source of their income, and are more likely to be denied housing as a result. Longtime residents face an added challenge when rent increases occur and there is insufficient time to consider relocating, search for housing, and obtain the practical assistance for the physical aspects of moving.

Seniors interested in shared housing as a way to lower the cost of rent also spoke of age discrimination as Seattle’s rental market is dominated by young people. Unless we create fundamental changes within the rental market, seniors will continue to be displaced out of the Seattle area, or onto the streets.

You can watch Seattle Channel’s coverage of the entire forum!

The day closed with a Town Hall Meeting titled, “Rent is Out of Control!” with Seattle City Councilmembers Kshama Sawant and Nick Licata addressing the affordable housing crisis. In addition to creating a forum for public comments, the meeting featured speakers from the Tenants Union of Washington State, the Seattle Displacement Coalition (formerly a program of Solid Ground), and Real Change.

The evening was as much about residents illustrating the grave housing problems we are facing, as it was about discussing possible solutions. Stories shared that night evidence an epidemic of preposterously high rent increases across the Seattle area, the displacement of people of color, people with disabilities, social workers and artists, and the drastically increasing homeless population as a result of the rapid decline of affordable housing that we are experiencing.

In terms of solutions, participants discussed rent control, increased public sponsored affordable housing units, and creative solutions such as converting old shipping containers into housing. Councilmember Sawant clarified for the audience that before Seattle can enact any type of rent control or stabilization, a Washington State law (RCW 35.21.830) prohibiting any city or town from regulating rent needs to be overturned. While this may seem like a large feat, hope was inspired by the reminder that in spite of the odds, Seattle recently succeeded in passing a $15 minimum wage. Councilmember Licata emphasized that in order for this issue to gain momentum, Seattle residents must take action to support and demand the need for more affordable housing solutions within the city.

Seattle Channel also videoed the Town Hall.

Are you interested in sharing your story to join the fight for affordable housing? We need to build momentum in order to expand tenant rights! Call our tenant services team at 206.694.6748!

Sand Point housing dedication

Phyllis Gutiérrez Kenney Place

Phyllis Gutiérrez Kenney Place

I didn’t hammer in a single nail to help build Solid Ground’s Sand Point Housing Campus, which sits on the edge of Magnuson Park on land that was once Naval Station Puget Sound. I did not help any of the 175 formerly homeless households move in, nor do I provide services or resources to support the residents of this new community and help them use it as a stepping stone to reach their dreams.

But for more than 20 years, I have been one of a small handful of people who have been fortunate to play an ongoing role in turning this once contentious idea into one of the greatest swords-into-ploughshares projects in our nation.

Not long after the Base Closure Act of 1990, I was named an alternate representative of the Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness to the Sand Point Liaison Committee formed by the City of Seattle to process community input about how the base should be repurposed. My job was to support our main representative, then Fremont Public Association Executive Director Frank Chopp, in using the McKinney-Vento Act to secure a portion of the base for services for homeless folks. At the time, I worked for The Sharehouse, a furniture bank helping homeless people resettle; we hoped to get a portion of one of the hangars for our warehouse.

(l to r) Dan & Cindy Brettler, Gordon McHenry, Jr., Keith Sterling, Phyllis Gutiérrez Kenney & Frank Chopp dedicate the Sand Point Housing Campus

(l to r) Dan & Cindy Brettler, Gordon McHenry, Jr., Keith Sterling, Phyllis Gutiérrez Kenney & Frank Chopp dedicate the Sand Point Housing Campus

When the City of Seattle’s Preferred Reuse Plan for the Naval base was approved by City Council and accepted by the Navy, it included a campus of 200 homes for formerly homeless people. The facility was to be operated by a new nonprofit organization called the Sand Point Community Housing Association (SPCHA), which would be governed by the agencies who hoped to operate housing at Sand Point. As I represented one of the few organizations in the coalition that was not competing to operate housing, I was drafted to serve as SPCHA’s first Board Chair.

The initial years of SPCHA were hectic, but by 1999, under the leadership of the nonprofit housing developer, Low Income Housing Institute (LIHI), the SPCHA opened 26 units of family transitional housing; 42 for single adults and three group homes for street-involved youth. A team of nonprofits provided case management and other services. Since 1999, more than 2,500 people have stayed at Sand Point on their journey from homelessness to stability.

Frank Chopp, Solid Ground Senior Advisor and Speaker of the WA State House

Frank Chopp, Solid Ground Senior Advisor & Speaker of the WA State House

The SPCHA model proved ineffective and in 2007, at the request of the City of Seattle, Solid Ground assumed control of the campus and took on the responsibility of developing 100 new homes. By then I had moved from The Sharehouse to Solid Ground. (Fremont Public Association changed its name to Solid Ground in 2007.) Working in the Development and Communications departments, I had the opportunity to support outreach and fundraising campaigns for the project.

One of my great joys over the past few years has been working with residents of Sand Point to support them in telling their stories. We have featured their successes in agency videos and newsletters, and have given them a platform to share or perform at our annual luncheon and other events.

Last week, these 20 years came together in a glorious afternoon as 300+ people gathered to dedicate the end of planned construction at Sand Point. We honored major contributors to the project and formally named one of the new buildings for former Washington State House of Representatives member Phyllis Gutiérrez Kenney, whose leadership in the legislature and legacy of community service has made a major impact on housing issues in Washington State.

Phyllis Gutiérrez Kenney

Phyllis Gutiérrez Kenney

More than 450 people now live in this new neighborhood, more than half of them children and youth. The stunning park offers respite and a connection to nature for people working to regain solid ground, and it is a great place to be a kid!

Keith Sterling was one of the first dads to move into the family apartments in Brettler Family Place. He told me he loves to take his 5- and 7-year-old children to the park, and marvels at watching them learn about the natural world around them.

What I marvel at is that more than 20 years ago, we had a dream for turning this run-down military base into some of the finest low-income housing in the country, and with the help of hundreds of people and committed organizations, we were able to make it happen.

Keith Sterling

Keith Sterling

Frank Chopp, Phyllis Gutiérrez Kenney, Solid Ground CEO Gordon McHenry, Jr. and major donor Dan Brettler all addressed the audience at the dedication last week, but it was only when Keith Sterling spoke that the sun shone down on us. “This is more than a place to live,” he said. “This is a place to thrive.”

Photos by John Bolivar Photography

Homeowners Tip: Mortgage information & enrollment workshops

Daughter on mom's shoulders in front of homeAre you having a hard time making your mortgage payments on time? Did you receive a notice on your door about foreclosure and you’re not sure what to do next? Are you current on your mortgage but feeling nervous about your ability to continue to make payments on time? Do you feel overwhelmed by the idea of applying for a loan modification and want to make sure you do everything right?

If you’re a homeowner who is worried about your mortgage payments, come to one of our Mortgage Information & Enrollment Workshops! This month, these workshops will be held on Wednesday, May 14th & Wednesday, May 28th from 6-8pm at Solid Ground (1501 N 45th St, Seattle, WA 98103).

At the workshop, you will have an opportunity to connect with other homeowners in similar situations and learn about:

Additionally, you will have a chance to ask questions and complete your enrollment packet, which includes the documents that lenders require to apply for any loss mitigation option. We know that working with your lender to prevent foreclosure can often be an intimidating and overwhelming task. We are here to make that process go more smoothly for you by facilitating timely and clear communication between you and your lender. While we cannot guarantee you a certain outcome, since everyone’s circumstances are different, we will work hard with you to find the best possible solution to your housing crisis.

To register for one of our Mortgage Information &  Enrollment Workshops, please call 206.694.6766 or email housingcounseling@solid-ground.org.

There is no charge for the class or for Solid Ground services.

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.

Homeowners Tip: Notice of Pre-Foreclosure Options

Foreclosure signThe Foreclosure Fairness Act went into effect in its current form in July 2012. The better-known component of this legislation is mediation, which can only be requested by an attorney or housing counselor and only after a homeowner receives a Notice of Default. The lesser-known part of the law is that homeowners have options before the Notice of Default and mediation.

If you miss payments on your mortgage, lenders can issue what is called a Notice of Pre-Foreclosure Options (NOPFO). When you are late on your mortgage payment, it can be easy to get overwhelmed with the letters and paperwork your lender sends. But if you don’t open and read everything, you may miss an important opportunity to work with your lender and buy yourself some time to avoid foreclosure. This notice can be easy to miss because you will actually not see these words on the first page. Instead the first page will say “Important Rights for Homeowners.”

The notice gives you the right to request a meeting with your lender – referred to as a “meet and confer” session – to discuss options to avoid foreclosure. Unlike mediation, a there is no neutral third party involved, and borrowers can request the meeting themselves. In addition to allowing for the meet and confer, this notice can also extend the foreclosure process by another 60 days.

Simply receiving the notice doesn’t guarantee you these rights. They are only available if you respond to the NOPFO within 30 days of the date listed on the notice. The notice will give you two ways to request the meeting, either in writing or by phone. We suggest that you respond in writing by certified mail so you have a record of it. Here’s some sample language you can use to write your own letter.

Your lender should contact you to schedule a meeting after they receive your response to the NOPFO. The best way to use this time is to submit your loan modification request beforehand so the lender has a chance to review it. This allows the meeting to focus on your specific situation, rather than just general options. Solid Ground’s housing counselors can help you prepare this packet for submission and represent you at the meet and confer session.

The meeting may result in a decision about eligibility for a loan modification or other options, or the lender may outline additional documents needed for review. If there is no agreement reached at this meeting, the lender can continue with the foreclosure process and issue a Notice of Default.

 If you have questions about this or any mortgage related issue, you can contact us at 206.694.6766 or by email at housingcounseling@solid-ground.org. Solid Ground is a HUD-approved housing counseling agency and provides mortgage counseling at no cost. Visit our Mortgage Services webpage for more information.

Kids’ programs spark interests and create bonds

4-H Puppy Power

Puppy Power encourages reading on the Sand Point Campus

For families who have experienced homelessness, finding the time and money to participate in afterschool programs can be challenging. However, these activities and programs play an important role in building a foundation for growth and healing after families enter permanent or transitional housing.

With this in mind, staff at Brettler Family Place and Sand Point Housing have been busy building relationships with community program providers to make sure that the children have opportunities to learn and enjoy their childhoods.

Joanna Tarr, a Children’s Case Manager at the Sand Point Campus, is grateful for the wealth of events and activities community partners and local programs provide. “Brettler Family Place has a small staff,” Joanna says, “so outside programs are very important.” Once all the construction is complete, Sand Point Housing and Brettler Family Place is estimated to house up to 250 children. Community partners’ and volunteers’ continued support is greatly appreciated and necessary to ensure the kids receive the best opportunities.

“Offering a variety of activities,” explains Joanna, “ensures the kids have the opportunity to find what they want to do in their lives, gives them a lot of interests, keeps them busy and active, and creates opportunities and positive experiences they might not have otherwise.”

The activities and programs vary wildly. Some kids have dirtied their hands refurbishing old bikes (a program at the Cascade Bike Club) and building remote control cars, while others play sports, learn to cook nutritious meals (Cooking Matters and Apple Corps), or create works of art (curriculum provided by A Window Between Worlds as a means to use creative expression to overcome trauma). As Joanna states, “You never know what’s going to catch a kid,” and so the more exposure to different arts and occupations, the more possibilities each child has to find a passion, deal with stress, and learn skills for the future.

There are plenty of ways for the children to study. Kumon, a learning center in University Village, provides free program admission for the Sand Point children who are able to make it out to their location. Local high school students and adult tutors also volunteer their time four times a week to tutor the kids and help with homework. Science and engineering events and exhibits, provided by the Museum of Flight and Pacific Science Center, have also been held onsite.

Perhaps the most adorable educational program at The Sand Point Campus is offered by Puppy Power, a 4-H group that trains service pets. Once a month, kids and canines convene for an hour-long reading session. The relaxed atmosphere and open puppy ears encourage reading and help the children keep up with school reading assignments.

Building life skills and teaching cooperation is also a focus. The Girl Scouts have been an integral part of learning and fun in the community. Two times a week, the Girl Scouts nurture confidence and responsibility through leadership training, cooperation activities with the troop, community service projects and, of course, the peddling of their scrumptious cookies. In acknowledgement of their hard work and progress, the girls of Brettler have performed the flag-raising ceremony at a Mariners game and at the Girl Scouts’ annual luncheon.

The Mountaineers have been active with Sand Point kids as well – crafting a new generation of fit and rugged Pacific Northwest outdoorspeople. With the help of University of Washington volunteers, the Mountaineers open their facility and offer their expertise to teach the kids rock climbing, survival, first aid and navigation – all of which culminates in a final ‘survivor’ event.

In addition to keeping minds sharp, the programs keep bodies busy. The recently finished Tennis Center Sand Point contributes tennis instructions for kids during half-day and no-school days, and even offers exemplary students scholarships for regular classes. Soccer and football are staple activities for many of the kids, and the kids have even canoed and kayaked on Lake Washington. The local YMCA also opens their facilities to the kids at much appreciated discounts, and the City of Seattle Magnuson Community Center holds events and activities at Brettler throughout the year including hiring and training teens to work as counselors at the summer camps. This amazing program provides teens with jobs skills and experience, and gives the younger children a productive way to spend the summer.  

While it’s never certain which activity might ignite a passion or spark a future career, we are certain of the influence these activities can have on the kids. The success rate at Brettler is high, according to Joanna. “There’s a great sense of community. There’s a Brettler clique. The kids have bonded to each other and support each other.” While she admits a large part of the supportive relationship comes from the stability permanent housing affords, Joanna, who has been at Brettler practically since it opened, concedes she’s seen a change. “The kids get to know each other in different ways than if they were just neighbors. When they participate in all these activities they get to know each other on a deeper level – doing activities like rock climbing where they have to support each other.”

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We are looking for great volunteers to support our children’s programming at Sand Point! If you’re interested in getting involved or would like more information, please contact our Volunteer Coordinator at volunteers@solid-ground.org or at 206.694.6825.

CANCELLED: Tenant Rights Workshop in Wallingford, 1/30/14

We apologize for the late notice, but we’ve had to cancel this workshop due to staff schedules. We hope to reschedule within the next couple of weeks and will post here when we have a new date.

RENT SMART WORKSHOP:
For current & future renters & tenant advocates

Solid Ground Tenant Services is offering another opportunity for renters, housing advocates and service providers in King County to attend a free training about tenants’ rights and responsibilities as laid out in the Washington State Residential Landlord-Tenant Act.

Rent Smart Tenant Rights WorkshopsWHEN / WHERE:
Rescheduled date/location TBD

We’ll cover topics such as:

  • Understanding your rights and responsibilities as a renter
  • Finding affordable housing
  • Navigating landlord screening criteria
  • Protecting yourself from eviction & housing loss
  • Learning how to get your deposit back
  • Requesting repairs

Since we are in the middle of the legislative session from January 13 to March 13, we will also provide an update on any potential legislation that our lawmakers are considering. You can advocate by signing a letter to send to your lawmakers to support the Fair Tenant Screening Act or other legislation that benefits renters!

Whether you are a long-time renter who would like a refresher on landlord-tenant laws or a new renter who wants to know about your rights and responsibilities, we hope you will join us for the workshop! Email questions regarding the workshop or RSVP 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 10:30am and 4:30pm.

Rapid Re-Housing: The transition to permanent housing got a lot faster!

Image of keys to houseSolid Ground is participating in King County’s new Rapid Re-Housing for Families pilot created to help homeless families achieve stability.

Rapid re-housing works to shorten the time families and individuals spend in homelessness, and provides the tools they need to stabilize their lives in permanent housing.

Instead of weeks spent in shelters, and months or years spent in already-packed transitional housing programs, rapid re-housing addresses the causes of homelessness with tailored case management, housing services and employment assistance.

Rapid re-housing pilots and programs conducted across the nation show promising results. A study of 14 communities in seven states, produced by the National Alliance to End Homelessness, revealed that 85% of families participating in rapid re-housing programs exited into permanent housing. Of these families, only 4% returned to homelessness within the year. In comparison, only a little more than half the families in transitional housing made the move to permanent housing; 11% of those who transitioned were homeless by the end of the year.

Chart depicting the differences in outcomes between shelter and transitional housing stays, and rapid re-housing

Building Changes, King County DCHS, United WayCity of Seattle Human Services Department, and Seattle and King County Housing Authorities are funding the Rapid Re-Housing for Families pilot that launched in November 2013.

Career Connections, Neighborhood House and YWCA will provide Employment Navigators for the pilot. These Navigators will work with other resources already in place, such as WorkSource, to help families find employment and build skills with job training and education.

In 2012, the Washington State Department of Commerce released a study on Employment Outcomes Associated with Rapid Re-Housing Assistance for Homeless DSHS Clients in Washington State. According to the research, rapid re-housing halted the upward trend in unemployment, and clients earned more than other homeless families not in the program and were more likely to be employed a year after intervention.

Whether through a sudden crisis such as job loss or a medical emergency, for many, homelessness is an isolated incident.

Since there are a myriad of causes of homelessness and barriers that prevent the transition to permanent housing, there cannot be just one way to prevent or remedy it. Rapid re-housing, for some, may be all they need to get back on their feet. For others, it could take long years of intensive support and assistance to get to that point. The more options available to those experiencing homelessness, the higher the likelihood they will overcome it.

Tenant Tip: Concerned about rising rents? Join housing advocates in Seattle to meet with legislators: 12/19, 6:30pm

Join housing advocates for a meeting with your legislators to let them know how rent increases are impacting you, your family and your community.

WHEN? Thursday, December 19, 2013, 6:30pm

WHY? Not only do rent increases in Seattle lead the nation, but some rent increases are actually used to circumvent other tenant protections such as the Tenant Relocation Assistance Ordinance. Each year, more and more tenants find out they were deprived of critical relocation assistance following a massive rent hike due to loopholes created by Washington State law.

We are limited on how we can address these problems in private rental housing because of these words: “The imposition of controls on rent is of statewide significance and is preempted by the state. No city or town of any class may enact, maintain, or enforce ordinances or other provisions which regulate the amount of rent to be charged…” —RCW 35.21.830

THE SOLUTION? Seattle City Councilmember Nick Licata and Washington State Senator David Frockt (D), 46th District, are meeting with constituents to have a conversation about how we might work towards addressing these issues in the 2014 Legislative Session.

IF YOU ARE INTERESTED IN PARTICIPATING, please contact Tenants Union Organizer Stina Janssen (stinaj@tenantsunion.org) or call 206.722.6848 × 102.

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 10:30am and 4:30pm.

Tenant Tip: Rent increases on the rise in Washington State

Graph from Seattle Times depicting rent growth in the Seattle-area since 1995, with a 6% increase since last year.

Graph from Seattle Times depicting rent growth in the Seattle-area since 1995, with a 6% increase since last year.

Have you received a notice of a rent increase in the last year? If you are renting in Washington State, especially in a major urban area such as Seattle, it’s likely that you’ve seen an increase in your housing costs over the past year. We’ve heard from many people on the Tenant Services Hotline that rent is increasing significantly, and even doubling in some parts of the state. Imagine paying $700 for a one-bedroom apartment in August, and then being asked to pay $1,400 for that same apartment in September!

A recent Seattle Times article states that rents in Seattle increased nearly 6% in the past year  more than any other major U.S. city included in the study. Now the average rate for a one-bedroom apartment is nearly $1,200 a month.

The soaring cost of housing is also drawing attention to the shortage of affordable housing for families, individuals and students, who are forced to spend the majority of their paychecks on housing costs alone.

With the trend in major rent increases, we thought it would be a good time to review the laws and requirements for rent increases and rule changes.

When can the landlord increase my rent? What kind of notice is required?

The Residential Landlord-Tenant Act in Washington State has specific laws that address how much notice landlords must give tenants before increasing the rent or making changes to the policies or rules included in a rental agreement. The section of the landlord-tenant laws that address rule changes or rent increases is RCW 59.18.140.

Tenants who have a term lease for a fixed amount of time  for example, January 1, 2013 through December 31, 2013 ­­­­ can only be issued a rent increase or change to the rental agreement at the end of the lease period, in our example, after December 31.

Tenants who have a month-to-month agreement have the right to at least 30 days’ written notice before the rent increase goes into effect. To increase the rent effective on February 1, landlords should give tenants written notice on or before January 1. The idea is that tenants could still give at least 20 days’ notice  by January 11 in order to end the rental agreement and move out if they are unable to pay the increased amount.

Within Seattle city limits, there are additional protections through the Rental Agreement Regulation, which requires Seattle landlords to provide 60 days’ written notice if the rent increase is more than 10% over a 12-month period. All of the state laws about notice requirements still apply in Seattle as well. This is just an additional protection.

Is there a limit or maximum amount a landlord can raise the rent?

There is NO rent control in Washington State, therefore there is not a cap or limit to the number of times a landlord can raise the rent in a year (RCW 35.21.830). Similarly, there is no maximum dollar amount or percent increase limit for a rent increase.

What can I do if the landlord does not provide me the correct amount of notice to increase my rent?

If landlords do not provide at least 30 days’ notice before the increase is to take effect, or if they increase your rent in the middle of a rental period, you may want to address the issue in writing so you are not held responsible for paying the increased amount until you’ve received the correct notice required by law. We have a Sample Letter that may be helpful in starting that conversation with landlords.

Keeping a paper trail of documentation is a good idea during this process. If you pay the rent increase to avoid having the landlord illegally evict you for unpaid rent, then you still have options for later recovering that month’s increase where correct notice was not provided. Some tenants have used Small Claims Court to sue for the money paid for a rent increase where the landlord did not provide the correct 30 days’ notice or tried to increase the rent in the middle of a lease period.

If you think the rent increase was given out of retaliation­  for example, you asserted your rights by asking that the landlord make a repair, and the landlord responded by giving you a rent increase ­ then you may want to speak to an attorney to see what your options are. See our Legal Assistance Guide webpage for more information.

Where can I find other resources about rent increases and rule changes?

You can check out our Rental Agreements webpage for more information and FAQs. The City of Seattle also has information about the Rental Agreement Regulation for Seattle residents. And if you would like to read more about the trend in rapidly rising rent costs, here are a few of the recent articles to get you started:

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 10:30am and 4:30pm.

Tenant Tip: Secondhand smoke in apartments

Smoke-free housing signNinety-two percent of renters in Washington State have indicated that they prefer smoke-free housing. As a response to more landlords choosing to convert their buildings to smoke-free properties, the Washington Department of Health created some helpful resources for landlords and tenants to make this change, called SmokeFreeWashington.com.

Living in an apartment building where the smoking policies are not clear or are not enforced can be frustrating at best. The landlord-tenant laws do not specifically address smoking policies. These policies are generally included in a rental agreement. If a landlord has designated the property as smoke-free, then they would be responsible for enforcing the policies that are in place. However, it can be frustrating when those policies aren’t enforced and there is secondhand smoke in a non-smoking building.

Our Tenant Services website has some tips and suggestions for working with roommates or neighbors in these situations on our Roommates & Neighbors webpage.

In order to make a policy change in an apartment or rental unit, as with any rule change, a landlord must provide at least 30 days’ written notice to tenants who have a month-to-month agreement (where there is no fixed time period connected to the contract). With a lease agreement which has a fixed time period attached to it, such as one year or six months, a landlord cannot make any policy or rule changes during the lease period. However when the lease term is up, for example at the end of the one-year contract, a landlord can institute a policy change such as converting a building to non-smoking.

If you would like to talk to your landlord about smoking policies, or if you are a landlord considering a change, check out these videos, sample letters and resources related to making your building smoke-free: www.smokefreewashington.com. The e-learning course for landlords, owners and residents provides information about the business and health benefits of going smoke-free, and how to do so. The course includes easy-to-use sample downloadable documents to support the implementation process.

If you are a person with a disability and experiencing health problems as a result of secondhand smoke, you may consider contacting a local civil rights office to ask about Fair Housing laws and requesting a reasonable accommodation. For information on how to contact your local civil rights office, see our Renters’ Resources page.

For more information, check out the resources available on our Tenant Services website on Rental Agreements, Rule Changes and Neighbors & Roommates. You can also call our Tenant Services Line to speak with a tenant counselor about brainstorming ways to resolve your situation. The phone number is 206.694.6767 and the line is open for messages on Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays from 10:30am-4:30pm.

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 10:30am and 4:30pm.

Santos Place improvements

When Community Action was launched through LBJ’s War on Poverty in 1964, weatherization programs were a key component of our work. For many years Fremont Public Association (now Solid Ground) offered Minor Home Repair and weatherization services. Now, we are delighted to be completing the first phase of preservation and energy updates to Santos Place, a former Navy barracks that provides transitional housing for 42 formerly homeless men and women at Magnuson Park.

The scope of work includes installation of a new roof, insulation in walls, and new windows and siding. These improvements, along with a new boiler system, will generate about $25,000 in annual energy savings for the building and create a facility that is warmer in the winter and a cooler during warm weather.

South side of Santos Place with protective plastic wrap

South side of Santos Place with protective plastic wrap

South side of Santos Place, before new siding is installed.

South side of Santos Place, before new siding is installed

The first phase of preservation is funded by the Washington State Department of Commerce, City of Seattle HomeWise Program and Solid Ground. Ally Community Development is our developer, Environmental Works is our architect, and Walsh Construction Co. is our contractor.

Tenant Tip: Tenant Rights Workshop in Bellevue, 10/21/13

Solid Ground Tenant Services is offering another opportunity for renters, housing advocates and service providers in King County to attend a free training about tenants’ rights and responsibilities as laid out in the Washington State Residential Landlord-Tenant Act.

House for RentRENT SMART:
For current & future renters & tenant advocates

WHEN:
Monday, October 21
4:30-6:30 pm

WHERE:
Highland Community Center
14224 Bel-Red Road
Bellevue, WA 98007

We’ll cover topics such as:

  • Understanding your rights and responsibilities
  • Finding affordable housing
  • Navigating landlord screening criteria
  • Protecting yourself from eviction & housing loss
  • Learning how to get your deposit back
  • Requesting repairs

Whether you are a long-time renter who would like a refresher on landlord-tenant laws or a new renter who wants to know about your rights and responsibilities, we hope you will join us for the workshop! Email questions regarding the workshop or RSVP 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 10:30am and 4:30pm.

Tenant Tip: Tenant Rights Workshop in Beacon Hill, 9/24/13

WomanMovingIntoHomeSolid Ground Tenant Services is offering another opportunity for renters, housing advocates and service providers in King County to attend a free training about tenants’ rights and responsibilities as laid out in the Landlord-Tenant Laws.

Rent Smart: For current & future renters & tenant advocates

Tuesday, September 24, 5-7pm
Beacon Hill Library, Conference Room
2821 Beacon Ave S, Seattle, WA 98144

We’ll be covering topics such as:

  • Understanding your rights and responsibilities
  • Finding affordable housing
  • Navigating landlord screening criteria
  • Protecting yourself from eviction & housing loss
  • Learning how to get your deposit back
  • Requesting repairs

Whether you are a long-time renter who would like a refresher on landlord-tenant laws or a new renter who wants to know about your rights and responsibilities, we hope you will join us for the workshop! Email questions regarding the workshop or RSVP 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 10:30am and 4:30pm.

Tenant Tip: Public meetings on the use of criminal records in employment

In our 6/24/13 blog post, “Seattle Jobs Assistance Ordinance bans the box,” we wrote about the Jobs Assistance Ordinance that Seattle City Council passed to regulate how conviction and arrest records are used during the hiring process.

The ordinance removes the arrest/conviction history checkbox on employment applications and requires that employers conduct an initial screening before asking about a person’s criminal record. It also requires that an employer has a legitimate business reason for denying a person based on their conviction record. (There are exemptions to the ordinance; this FAQ provides more information.)

SeaOCRlogoSince the new requirements will take effect on November 1, 2013, the Seattle Office for Civil Rights will hold several public meetings to provide information, answer questions, and gather input from the community.

To request an accommodation, please contact Brenda Anibarro at 206.684.4514 or Brenda.Anibarro@Seattle.gov.

Help spread the word to your community by sharing this flyer or blog post. Hope to see you there!

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 10:30am and 4:30pm.

Tenant Tip: Tenants’ Rights Workshops, 7/23 & 24

Rent Smart Tenant Rights WorkshopsNext week, Solid Ground Tenant Services is offering two opportunities for renters, housing advocates and service providers in King County to attend a free training about tenants’ rights and responsibilities as laid out in the Landlord-Tenant Laws.

We’ll be covering topics such as:

  • Understanding your rights and responsibilities
  • Finding affordable housing
  • Navigating landlord screening criteria
  • Protecting yourself from eviction & housing loss
  • Learning how to get your deposit back
  • Requesting repairs

Rent Smart: For current & future renters & tenant advocates
Tuesday, July 23, 5-7pm
Bellevue City Hall (450 110th Ave NE, Bellevue, WA)
Room 1E-108

Landlord-Tenant Law Overview for Service Providers
Wednesday, July 24, 10am-12pm
Lifelong AIDS Alliance (1002 E Seneca St, Seattle, WA)
Enter from the lower level parking lot at right set of doors.

Whether you are a long-time renter who would like a refresher on landlord-tenant laws, or a new renter who wants to know what your rights and responsibilities are as a renter, we hope you will join us for a workshop! Email questions regarding the workshops 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 on Mondays, Wednesdays & Thursdays between 10:30am and 4:30pm.

Housing shapes up at Magnuson Park

Sand Point Housing construction continues apace at Magnuson Park. Solid Ground is adding permanent supportive housing for previously homeless families, single men and women. We hope to have the two new buildings complete late this year and leased up soon thereafter.

Framing of Building 5 along Sand Point Way.

Framing of Building 5 along Sand Point Way.

Building 4, nestled in the courtyard of Brettler Family Place.

Building 4, nestled in the courtyard of Brettler Family Place.

Building 5 takes shape south of the long barracks building on Sand Point Way.

Building 5 takes shape south of the long barracks building on Sand Point Way.

Building 5 from the balcony of the Lowry Community Center.

Building 5 from the balcony of the Lowry Community Center.

Once completed, the new facilities will bring to 200 the total number of homes at Sand Point for formerly homeless people!

Tenant Tip: New law prevents housing discrimination against survivors of domestic violence

Gov. Inslee signs the Fair Tenant Screening Act

Gov. Inslee signs the Fair Tenant Screening Act

Thanks to all the stories, phone calls, emails and advocacy from all of you, the second part of the Fair Tenant Screening Act (SSB 5568) was signed into law by Governor Inslee on April 23, 2013. This is a huge win for tenants, housing advocates and survivors of domestic violence across Washington State!

What does the new law do?

When you fill out an application for rental housing and pay a screening fee, often a landlord will use a third party company to put together a tenant screening report on a prospective renter. The new law prevents these tenant screening companies from reporting information about a person’s status as a survivor of domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking. This means tenant screening companies cannot report that a tenant has a history of domestic violence, nor can they disclose that a victim has a protection order in place for their safety.

In addition, the law prevents screening companies from reporting to a landlord that the tenant has previously broken a lease and moved out early – as the law allows survivors of domestic violence to do in RCW 59.18.575.

Filing a protection order and breaking a lease are both available as legal remedies to ensure the safety of domestic violence survivors. Therefore, we need to make sure our laws also guarantee that people are not punished – by repeatedly being denied rental housing – for choosing to use these options.

Current law prohibits landlords from denying housing based solely on a person’s history of experiencing domestic violence (RCW 59.18.580); however, additional protections were needed to make sure a victim’s history of domestic violence could not be accessed by a landlord and used against them when applying for housing. Everyone needs to be able to have a safe place to start over.

When does the new law go into effect?

The new sections of the law will be added to RCW 59.18.580 and will go into effect on January 1, 2014.

What are the next steps?

There is still plenty of work to be done to make tenant screening a fair and equitable process. Challenges that often arise for people include:

  • Having a wrongful or illegal eviction filing on their record, which a future landlord may use to deny housing.
  • Paying the high cost of tenant screening and application fees, and still being denied housing.
  • Ensuring that the information on a tenant screening report is accurate and reflects the prospective tenant’s actual history.

Do you have a personal story about the challenges you’ve faced as a renter applying for rental housing? If so, please call and leave us a message on our Legislative Advocacy Line at 206.694.6748. We’d love to talk with you about ways to share your story and help change the Landlord-Tenant Laws.

Thanks to all those who contacted their representatives, lobbied, made their voices heard, bravely shared their stories, and spoke up for fair, accessible, housing for all!

Questions?

If you have any questions about the new legislation or what it means for renters, please call and speak to a counselor on the Tenant Services Line 206.694.6767. The message line is open on Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays from 10:30am to 4:30pm, and Tenant Counselors respond to callers throughout the week.

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