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.

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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.

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