Fall 2015 Groundviews: Changing systems, changing lives

Imagine you’re a single mom with a permanent physical disability – waiting for federal disability benefits to be approved – and are told you’ve reached your cash assistance lifetime limit. Or maybe you’re struggling to make ends meet, using food assistance, only to be told you were “overpaid” and have to pay back benefits from the last six months. Where can you turn?

Solid Ground's team of Benefits Attorneys

Solid Ground’s team of Benefits Attorneys (l to r: Stephanie Earhart, Katie Scott and Sara Robbins) just might be able to help. Serving both individuals and families, our attorneys primarily represent people having difficulties accessing or maintaining state benefits from the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS).

But it doesn’t stop there: Beyond helping people access benefits, our attorneys work with DSHS to make the system more equitable for thousands of people across our region.

From individual to systemic advocacy

Lead Benefits Attorney Stephanie Earhart explains, “We’re in DSHS Region 2, covering five counties from King all the way to the Canadian border. We meet quarterly with the Regional DSHS Administrator to tell them what we’re seeing on the ground. And if we make complaints or say we need systems change, they listen.”

One type of case our attorneys deal with is families applying for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) cash assistance. In Washington state, there’s a 60-month lifetime TANF limit and very few ways to qualify for an extension. These include families experiencing domestic violence, adults living with severe and chronic disabilities, and people taking care of a child or adult living with a disability.

Yet Stephanie and her team noticed that these extensions were often denied for people who were clearly eligible. “We were seeing two problems: people eligible for the family violence extension weren’t getting it, and people eligible for the disability extension weren’t getting it.”

Through outreach events, trainings and lectures, Stephanie publicized the time limit extension availability and our willingness to appeal denials: “If your family has zero income, somebody disabled in the household, or somebody dealing with family violence, they should still be on TANF. Period.” After several favorable decisions overturning TANF extension denials, Stephanie and her team set their sights on change at the policy level.

Collaborating for success

Teaming up with other advocates from the Northwest Justice Project, they facilitated a meeting in Olympia with DSHS administrators and the Attorney General’s office. “We have really good working relationships with them, and they know that we don’t come to them lightly,” says Stephanie. “So this year, when we advocated for DSHS to rewrite its policy manual around the family violence time limit extension, they took our concerns seriously and improved the way they screen clients for this exception and staff training on the issue.”

Lead Benefits Attorney Stephanie Earhart consults with a client

Lead Benefits Attorney Stephanie Earhart consults with a client

Also, our attorneys convinced DSHS to clarify how disabilities cases should be handled. As a result of their recommendations, DSHS changed the law to include a new disability time limit extension. “They actually agreed to do it, which was huge! I nearly fell out of my seat when I found out,” Stephanie recalls. So now, if a family member meets the eligibility criteria for ABD (Aged, Blind or Disabled), they can get a TANF extension.

“The work we’re doing is very real,” says Stephanie. “I’ve learned so much from the people we serve. Any of us could end up in a hard situation at some point, and it means everything to me that I can do this work now.”

The same end goals

Currently, our attorneys are working to ensure that state food assistance recipients aren’t saddled with unpayable debt when DSHS miscalculates their benefits. According to federal law, recipients are liable for any overpayment of food assistance even if the overpayment was caused exclusively by DSHS’s mistakes. For families living on the edge of poverty, repaying this debt is usually impossible.

Our attorneys represent people facing this situation in hearings and negotiations with the Office of Financial Recovery to show financial hardship and get the entire overpayment waived or put on a payment plan. While helpful on a case-by-case basis, this strategy doesn’t solve the systemic problem: Many people who qualify for a hardship waiver don’t even know about our services or that such a waiver exists.

So now, Stephanie and a Northwest Justice Project attorney are collaborating with the Attorney General’s office, the Office of Financial Recovery and DSHS to rewrite the policy manual regarding overpayments and hardship waivers. “The hope is that DSHS will analyze hardship when they assess overpayments, rather than waiting for clients to raise the issue, which is not something the current regulations require them to do,” she says.

“That’s why our working relationship with DSHS is really important; we can go a lot farther by collaborating. When you sit down at a table, especially with the policy makers, you realize they often want the same things that we do for our clients.”

For more info on Family Assistance, contact 206.694.6742 or familyassistance@solid-ground.org.


‘Changing systems, changing lives’ is the lead article from Solid Ground’s Fall 2015 print newsletter. Sign up here to receive the entire newsletter by snail mail! 


Community Needs Assessment a foundation for strategic planning

Gordon McHenry, Jr.

President & CEO Gordon McHenry, Jr.

Last year, Solid Ground reflected upon and celebrated our 40 years of service in King County and Washington state. We took time to understand the work and impressive legacy of our forebears. We recognized that the culture of Solid Ground is one of Innovation, Partnership and Action, and those intrinsic characteristics have enabled us to be highly impactful in our direct services, social justice and advocacy work.

As a Community Services Block Grant (CSBG) recipient and Community Action Agency, we are required to prepare a Community Needs Assessment (CNA) of the communities we serve. In addition to understanding the current needs of the communities we choose to serve, the CNA is also an analysis of our assets, capabilities and organizational challenges to successfully address the unmet needs of our communities.

In the 2014 Community Needs Assessment, we noted six areas of significant community need:

  • racial and economic inequities
  • lack of affordable housing
  • lack of educational attainment and opportunities
  • lack of living wage jobs
  • food insecurity and lack of nutritional education
  • inadequate access to health care and health services

Appropriately, Solid Ground has service and advocacy responses in each of these areas. The CNA also identifies some trends which we will need to better understand as we evaluate how we serve an evolving community, including:

  • growth in elderly residents
  • immigrants and refugees
  • an increasing gap in income and wealth
  • significant transportation challenges which exacerbate existing inequities

We look forward to using the 2014 Community Needs Assessment as a foundational analysis as we begin the 2015 process of creating our next agency strategic plan over the next three-to-five years.

May Day march brings community & action to the streets

SolidGroundBannerEditedThe first day of May is one when we feel relief knowing that our harsh winter weather is over and we eagerly await beautiful blooms in spring and (hopefully) bountiful harvests in summer. Traditionally in the past, a “May Day Basket” filled with Easter-like treats and flowers may have been left at a neighbor’s doorstep; a gesture meant to deepen community ties by sharing the celebration of spring and its promise of new beginnings. However, this ritual is slowly fading.

The promise of spring also informs the century-old International Workers’ Day, May 1st is also a day in which activists demand social change, especially as they pertain to immigrants’ rights. The origins of this day trace back to the late 19th century when thousands of workers in Chicago organized, demanding an eight-hour work day, fair wages and safe working conditions. A bomb was thrown into the crowd of picketers (the culprit is still unknown) which spurred a shooting frenzy with police, killing over a dozen people and wounding dozens more. This tragedy became known as the Haymarket Massacre, one that propelled the first day of May forward to unite those in solidarity, never forgetting those that lost their lives in Chicago over 100 years ago.

While violence has marred recent Seattle May Days, this year’s events started peacefully with a rally at Judkins Park, where thousands congregated, assembling signs and conversing with familiar faces. Shortly after 3pm, we were off on our 2.5-mile trek to downtown Seattle, during which temperatures reached up to the mid-80s. Thousands more joined the march as the crowd proceeded down Jackson to Boren Street.

People held signs that read “Health Care is a Human Right” supporting a single payer national health program and “¡Sí se puede!” (“Yes, we can!”), observing the United Farm Workers’ rallying cry so many years ago. Chants like, “Obama! Escucha! Estamos en la lucha!” (Obama! Listen! We are in the fight!) – calling upon the President to curb the over 2 million record deportations that have occurred under his administration – and “What do we want? 15! When do we want it? Now!”— demanding a livable wage of $15 per hour in Seattle proper (and eventually across America) – were heard throughout the march.

But the message seemed disjointed and all over the place, like too many options on the social justice menu. An all-encompassing rally demanding justice for all facets of inequality? Could the statements be confused for a chaotic and unfocused purpose?

“It was an important day of coming together around issues that affect everyone,” says Leah Grupp-Williams, Food Resources Program Assistant at Solid Ground. In the past, Leah has helped organize the May Day March with the May 1 Action Coalition. This year she planned a group from Solid Ground to attend the march. When asked why this march is so important to her, she replied, “Our current immigration policy is an example of how racism thrives in this country. And it’s important for Solid Ground to continue to have a presence in grass roots struggles.”

Another member of the Solid Ground team who attended the march offered his personal connection to the rally. Gordon Pun, Facilities Manager at Solid Ground, states, “I am an immigrant who wanted to be in the U.S. I wanted a better future and freedom in the U.S. …an opportunity to grow.” As he recounts his own experiences, he also relates his story to current immigration issues. “I see the struggle that immigrants have to [endure]. I see why immigrants have to cross the border. I feel bad that the families have to break up. That’s really sad.”

Even though he has a direct affinity with those cries for comprehensive and inclusive immigration reform, Gordon still agrees with the notion that there may be a community sentiment after all. “Everyone has their own reasons for being at the march,” he says.

And isn’t it true? That we all have our own reasons for all-encompassing advocacy? Whether your family is threatened with deportation every day of your life, a friend is living at poverty level because they make minimum wage, or your coworker just filed for bankruptcy because they couldn’t pay their medical bills, we all know someone. We might even be living it. But whether the former or the latter are the case, one has to feel a sense of unity and collective emotion to witness so much participation in a movement that is focused on helping out fellow Americans who are, in essence, strangers. To see them in good health. To prosper and live without fear of separation from their families.

Knowing these issues still plague our people, how can such things that anger and outrage us at times also make us happy in some ways? Happy that thousands came together for the same altruistic purpose. Happy that destructive behavior and obscenities were largely absent among thousands of people within the cramped streets of Seattle. Happy that that feeling of community, which is few and far between for some, showed its face on that warm, sunny, first day of May.

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Poverty Action at the Capitol

On Martin Luther King Jr., Day 2014, Statewide Poverty Action Network members and volunteers took their fight for social justice to the Washington State Capitol in Olympia. Over 200 members joined us for a day of action, and together, our network covered the Capitol in ‘Poverty Action Purple’ and made our voices heard, visiting nearly every member of the Washington State Legislature.

We stood for increasing support for basic needs programs, housing, health care, fighting predatory debt practices, and increasing educational opportunities for all Washingtonians. Thank you to all who participated in this inspiring day; without your support this could not have been possible!

For more information about Poverty Action or to become a member, visit: www.povertyaction.org.

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.

Living on a low income in Washington State? Poverty Action wants to hear from you!

Advocates in Olympia on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, 2013

Help Poverty Action create change in our state!

Poverty Action is committed to making the voice of everyday citizens stronger in the Washington State capitol – especially people living on low incomes who have all too often been ignored in halls of power.

Together, we’re working to eliminate the root causes of poverty by advocating for statewide legislative policies that help people meet their basic needs and have opportunities to prosper.

Every year, Poverty Action goes around the state to listen carefully to people living on low incomes. We want to learn what issues you are facing and enlist your help to advocate for policy solutions that will address the root causes of poverty and provide equal opportunities for everyone.

To make this happen, we need your input. The information you give us informs our requests to lawmakers. Your stories show our elected representatives a more realistic picture of what it means to be living on a low income.

Please join us for an upcoming Listening Session and share your wisdom and stories. You will receive a $20 stipend for your time. Onsite childcare and dinner provided. Registration is required.

We also support you in telling your lawmakers what you told us. After the listening session, we will have a free advocacy training to give you the tools you need to effectively share your story with lawmakers in order to create change. Local state lawmakers have been invited. Now we just need you!

Poverty Action Listening Sessions 2013:

KENT: Aug. 28-29

EVERETT: Sept. 11-12

TRI-CITIES/PASCO: Sept. 25-26

SPOKANE: October 9-10

For more information, visit www.povertyaction.org. To register for a listening session or free advocacy training, contact Mallori at 1.866.789.7726 or email mallori@povertyaction.org.

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.

Technology connects people living on low incomes with support networks

Guy on Cellphone by Brick WallIn our recent post “When homelessness hits home,” we reprinted Solid Ground Board President Lauren McGowan’s touching reflections on her mother’s passing, and the important role her cellphone had in keeping her in touch with loved ones during the years she experienced homelessness. As Lauren writes, “She felt safe outside as long as she could end the night with a text or a call to say, ‘Love you, love you more.’ … I always made sure she had a phone so we could maintain connection.”

ConnectUp logoSolid Ground’s ConnectUp (formerly Community Voice Mail) exists to keep people who are struggling to get by on low incomes and/or experiencing homelessness connected to support networks, jobs and housing opportunities via telecommunications access in King County, WA. Specifically, ConnectUp helps people access phone, voice mail, internet and other connections to the services they need. The program also does education and outreach on telecommunications assistance programs for service providers and people living on low incomes, and they broadcast information about community resources.

The following story, “A Homeless Man and His BlackBerry: It’s not loitering if you’re on your phone” by Kat Ascharya is reposted with permission by Mobiledia (originally published 6/12/13). It highlights just how important staying connected can be to the dignity, livelihood and emotional well-being of people experiencing homelessness.

You could tell he was different the moment he walked in the coffee shop. It wasn’t his appearance. He looked presentable, if a little rough around the edges, clutching an old BlackBerry to his barrel chest. It was how he moved: warily, shoulders hunched over and eyes darting. The body language would read as suspicious, if not for the flicker of fear and apprehension in his eyes – as if he was scared of being noticed, vigilant to his surroundings and desperately trying to blend in at the same time.

He ordered a coffee, carefully counting out coins on the counter. He sat down at the table near me and pulled out his phone, just like nearly everyone else at the shop. He punched in a few numbers and began talking in a low voice, discreet but urgent. I was only a few seats away, but I couldn’t help but overhear his conversations.

Did someone have some cash jobs for him? Could he crash at a friend of a friend’s place? Could he get a ride out to the soup kitchen? After a few calls, it became clear: he was homeless. A homeless man with a smartphone.

Bert isn’t unsheltered. He bounces between emergency shelters and friends’ couches while he seeks temporary, cash-based day-laborer work. He refuses, in fact, to call himself homeless. “This is just a temporary condition,” he tells me more than once, after we struck up a conversation. Over and over again, he said he would get himself out of “this tight spot,” though he was vague about how long he’d been in it and how he got there. He made it clear: he hadn’t given up.

It wasn’t easy to engage him in conversation. When I first asked how he liked his BlackBerry, he looked at me like I was crazy. Later, he chalked up his guarded nature to the fact that he often doesn’t have casual conversations anymore. Most people, he said, tend to avoid him once they realize he is poor and transient. “You can’t hide it, being poor,” he said.

He made a joke about people acting as if poverty was an infectious disease. They give him a wide berth and pretend he’s not there. “I can go whole days without people not even looking at me,” he said. “And when they do, it often means they’re sizing you up, wondering if they need to kick you out or something.” The result, he said, is a sense of exile, from any feeling of belonging you have to the human race.

His phone, then, functions as an important conduit. On the surface, it’s his most important, practical tool. He can call places for work with it. He can call up shelters and other social services to see what’s available. He calls public transportation to find out which bus lines are running and check out schedules.

E-mail and text is especially important. He can reach out to friends to see if he can crash with them for a night or two, especially if the weather is rough. But he has to be careful. “You don’t want to impose,” he said. “You can’t exhaust your friends. Otherwise they’ll get tired of helping you, thinking, ‘Why are you still struggling?'” The hidden worry is that you’ll never leave.

Ironically, all this is easier to manage over text and e-mail than the phone. “You don’t have to worry about sounding upbeat and confident all the time,” he said. No one wants to help out the hopeless, and sometimes it’s not really so easy to disguise the worry and anxiety from your voice.

Slippery Slopes
Despite nearly everyone owning a cell phone, we think of them as luxuries, especially as data plans approach $100 a month. The idea of a homeless man with an iPhone, but no job or roof over his head, is discomfiting, mostly because poverty is perhaps one of the last bastions of unexamined prejudice in the U.S. Few would argue that people of different races or genders shouldn’t own phones, but it’s still common to temper sympathy for the homeless or destitute if they have a phone.

Even the most progressive areas of the country can show a certain callousness to what poverty should look and feel like. In San Francisco, for example, city supervisor Malia Cohen sparked controversy when she posted a picture of a homeless man on Facebook, talking on a phone while huddled underneath a freeway overpass. “This kind of made me laugh,” she commented, which led to an uproar and eventual removal of the picture. Ironically, California last month decided to expand their Lifeline program to give free phones and service to the homeless, recognizing the value of the devices for the disadvantaged.

The reality is homelessness is a simple term for a complex sociological condition, affected by a mosaic of factors that interact and affect one another in often unexpected ways. Large-scale trends like unemployment combust with local factors, such as lack of affordable housing or services easily accessible and open to those in need. Add in volatile personal situations – like addiction, family violence, financial instability or simply being far from family – you have a slippery slope to stand upon.

The homeless themselves range from the “unsheltered” living on the streets to doubled-up families living in single-occupancy homes. That includes those in transitory housing or emergency shelters, as well as the famous 2004 case of a student at NYU who attended school while sleeping at the library and showering at the gym.

About 20 out of every 10,000 people are homeless, according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness. Anyone without enough personal or social capital can get caught in the cycle, and it’s not easy to pull out, when you consider the tremendous shame and judgment they experience within themselves and from the world at large. But there’s one effective tool that can help. Yes, phones.

Keeping Up Appearances
On another level, Bert said his phone connects him to less tangible, but still important, resources. He knows people can reach him, no matter where he sleeps at night. He gets daily e-mails from an online ministry, with inspirational messages and passages from the Bible. Those keep up his spirit and faith and keep him going. He can read news on the browser, too. Ironically, his biggest criticism of BlackBerry is the browser: it’s slow and outdated and most websites won’t load on it anymore. He only gets a certain amount of time on the computer at the public library, so he often begins researching jobs and housing on his phone and makes a list of websites he wants to visit when he gets on a computer with a faster connection.

The phone also, in part, structures his day in an often chaotic life. He has an exhaustive list of places to charge his phone, and he makes sure to hit them at some point during the day. He’s careful about his power and data usage and carries his charger at all times, in one of the capacious pockets of his army jacket. “When I see a free outlet somewhere, I have to say, it feels like Christmas,” he said. Free Wi-Fi inspires the same feeling; he can save up his valuable data usage.

But the most valuable aspect about his phone, is simply that it makes him look like everyone else. “You won’t believe it,” he tells me, “but if I didn’t have my phone, I probably couldn’t just sit here and have my coffee and be talking to you. It gives me something I can do in public. It’s not loitering if I’m typing or talking on my phone.” Loitering, he said, is often a good excuse to kick the homeless out of a place. And a phone is a passport that lets him stay in places longer than he would otherwise.

“You have to realize about my situation, most people don’t look beyond appearances,” he said. And if there’s one thing that matters when you’re homeless, according to Bert, it’s appearances. The minute the facade cracks and reveals his struggle, no one wants to be around you. No one wants to see it. People kick you out of places; they can tell you don’t belong anywhere.

In talking with Bert about not just phones, but his life in general, I realized he’s someone with a clear-eyed inventory of his scant resources. And he maximizes them with an eye to maintain appearances. Within that ruthless calculus, a phone was more important than his car, which he sold after the winter and didn’t need to sleep in as a last resort. And besides, he said, cops are on the lookout for people sleeping in cars – it’s not as practical as you think.

He used the car money to save for his phone bill, as well as a cheap $30-a-month membership to a local 24-hour gym in a central part of town, which gives him regular access to a hot shower and a place he can go late at night if he needs. He knows that sounds ludicrous, but says nothing marks a homeless man more than pungent body odor and an unclean appearance.

You could have all the iPhones in the world with you, he said, but if you don’t have a regular way to stay clean, that’s the most dangerous thing of all in a precarious situation. Nothing gets a homeless person kicked out faster, rejected from a job instantly or denied housing than looking dirty. He kept repeating, “Dirty ain’t dignified.” It’s often that dignity that Bert fights so hard to maintain, even at the expense of other things – but definitely not at the cost of a cell phone.

Through the Cracks
Bert’s ability to stay afloat and even keep up his personal dignity sheds light not only on how central phones are to our lives – no matter how poor you are – but also the world’s poverty of generosity and compassion. For every great example of helping others – such as the Reddit user who found a Chicago homeless man and delivered a care package to him – there are countless others who slip through the cracks, who walk in through doors of public places, face stares of cold evaluation and wonder if they’ll be kicked out.

Bert lives assuming that people’s generosity and compassion are limited to a certain point – and once you push past that point, you’re lost beyond all help. Despite his situation, he’s a proud man, but burdened with the “double consciousness” that marginalized people often have – able to see himself both through his eyes, and through the eyes of how others would judge him. And it was clear that the discrepancy between the two distressed him, and much of his survival strategy tried to bridge that gap.

I saw Bert only a few times after our first conversation, though we never did talk as in-depth. Sometimes he let me buy him a coffee refill, though he wanted to buy the first cup himself. But after a few months, I didn’t see Bert anymore, and I’m not really sure what happened to him.

Did he finally pull himself out of his “temporary condition,” as he called it? Or was he like countless others who slipped through the cracks into the shadowy netherworld of genuine destitution and poverty, becoming one of the “unsheltered”? I just don’t know. He may still have his own phone number, but he remains out of reach, lost somewhere in a world where social ties are tenuous connections, no matter how many devices we have.

We’re hitting the road: Poverty Action Listening Sessions begin July 23

Summer is in full swing here in Washington State. That means it is Listening Session season at the Statewide Poverty Action Network! We will hit the road to meet our members and gather our network’s priorities for the upcoming year. We’ll also host advocacy trainings in a town near you!

Over the next few months, we will head to Tacoma, Seattle, Pasco/Tri-Cities, Spokane, Everett, Kent and more. We are also pairing each Listening Session with one of our Advocacy Trainings to make each stop on the Listening Session Tour double as an opportunity to tell your story directly to your legislators!

Protect WA State FamiliesPoverty Action Listening Sessions 2013:

  • SEATTLE: July 23-24
  • TACOMA: Aug. 9-10
  • KENT: Aug. 27-29
  • EVERETT: Sept. 10-12
  • TRI-CITIES/PASCO: Sept. 25-27
  • SPOKANE: October 8-10

Our first Listening Session is in Seattle on Tuesday, July 23 (from 2:30-4:30pm at the 2100 Building, 2100 24th Ave S, Seattle, WA). It will focus on Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and State Family Assistance (SFA). We’re especially in need of members with the following experiences:

  1. Do you currently receive TANF or SFA?
  2. Have you received TANF/SFA in the past three years?
  3. Do you have ideas about how to improve TANF/SFA to make it a better program for families?
  4. Are you looking to share your experience using these programs with lawmakers?

If you answered yes to ANY of these questions, we want to hear from you! Please call 1.866.789.7726 to learn more or to RSVP. You will receive $20 for travel expenses; please RSVP for childcare.

Come and share your story and help shape our legislative agenda, then join us on day two for a roundtable discussion with lawmakers on the issues you care about! Spots are limited for these sessions, so don’t delay – reserve your space today!

We need to hear from you!
There is no better time than now to get your story heard. Check back with the Poverty Action website soon for more information about upcoming Listening Sessions near you. And if you are interested in attending any of the dates above, give us a call TODAY at 1.866.789.7726 or email gwen@povertyaction.org to reserve your place at a Listening Session, Advocacy Training or both! We hope to see you on our Listening Session Tour!

Community Report 2012: ‘Breaking the cycle of generational poverty’

Solid Ground's Community Report 2012

Solid Ground’s Community Report 2012

Hot off the press! Solid Ground’s report to our community on our 2012 work and accomplishments is now available. “Breaking the cycle of generational poverty” reports on recent impacts we’ve made in our community. But it also highlights the long-term positive change our programs can have in the lives of the people who access our services, and the ripple effect this has on their children’s lives.

As Solid Ground approaches our 40th anniversary, we remain focused and committed to our mission to end poverty in our community, and to help our society become one without racism and other oppressions.

Our engagement in this work is only possible through the support of passionate and committed employees, donors, volunteers, and government and nonprofit partners. With this continued support, we look forward to working ever more purposefully to help families and individuals overcome the challenges of living in poverty and progress to a place of thriving.

Feel free to share “Breaking the cycle of generational poverty” with others who may be interested in our work. If you’re not already on our mailing list and would like a hard copy of the report mailed to you, please email your mailing address to publications@solid-ground.org.

Changing lives & systems through advocacy

Advocacy has always been a central watchword for Solid Ground. Throughout our 39 years of providing for people’s basic needs, we have also addressed the political realities that create barriers for people to thrive.

Advocates in Olympia on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, 2013

Advocates in Olympia on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, 2013

The more than 50,000 people who come to us each year are the true experts on poverty in our community. Their lives revolve around the challenges of living on less in an increasingly class-divided world. Twenty five years ago, low-income communities organized across Washington State through our Fair Budget Action Campaign and the Welfare Reform Coalition. Both were instrumental in passing the Seattle Housing Levy, creating the Molar Majority to fund adult dental care, and other groundbreaking efforts that get more people to solid ground in our community.Fair Budget eventually became the Statewide Poverty Action Network, bringing together leadership from low-income communities around the state to articulate a community-based agenda and run impactful organizing campaigns. Poverty Action and allied coalitions and agencies have been instrumental in protecting lifeline benefits, passing the Foreclosure Fairness Act, grading legislators on the racial justice impact of their work, and giving previously incarcerated people, teens and other marginalized populations training and support to reclaim their political power.

This approach creates tremendous synergy. The personal becomes political as our advocacy in Olympia is strengthened by decades of direct service and the individual voices of people most impacted by policies. Case managers help identify trends and stories among program participants that seed efforts to make laws more responsive to the needs of people living on low incomes.

At Solid Ground, we believe education is foundational to a better future. In addition to our partnerships to support literacy, skill building and leadership development in Seattle/King County schools, we actively work to close the opportunity gap between wealthier white students and those with lower incomes and students of color.

Disenfranchised people – those experiencing homelessness, immigrants with limited English proficiency, and those who lack education or job experience – can all achieve their dreams if they have access to equal opportunity and resources. By bringing their testimony into the political process, Poverty Action and allies influence laws, policies and practices and set the stage for transformative, generational success.

At Solid Ground, we believe our community can move beyond poverty and oppression to a place where all people have access to quality housing, nutritious food, equal justice and opportunities to thrive. We believe strong advocacy is a vital component of interrupting generational cycles of poverty. We believe effective advocacy starts in the personal narratives of our community.

And we believe that successful advocacy secures long-term, positive changes in our society.

June 2013 Groundviews newsletter: Finding her voice

Groundviews is Solid Ground’s quarterly newsletter for our friends and supporters. Below is our June 2013 lead story; visit our website to read the entire issue online.

Renee K. Jones (center front, in a red coat) at the MLK Day 2013 rally on the capitol steps In Olympia, WA

Renee K. Jones (center front, in a red coat) at the MLK Day 2013 rally on the capitol steps In Olympia, WA

Renee K. Jones is a busy woman. She’s a single mom of two preschool-age girls. She’s in college full time, working toward a BA in Social Work at the University of Washington, having graduated with honors from Highline Community College. She also works 20 hours a week and volunteers at a domestic violence agency one day a week. On top of it all, she frequently speaks publically: to her legislators in Olympia, WA, to groups learning about the impacts of domestic violence – even delivering Highline’s 2012 commencement speech.  

But in the fall of 2011, Renee didn’t yet know the power of her voice. At the time, domestic violence had left her and her daughters homeless, living in transitional housing, and struggling to make ends meet. Then, through the Statewide Poverty Action Network’s advocacy training, Renee found that not only does her story matter, she has access to all the tools she needs to express it.

As Renee puts it, “I had escaped my violent situation, and through the housing program, Poverty Action came and spoke about advocacy training – how to be your own advocate and speak out on behalf of issues. I am a TANF [Temporary Assistance for Needy Families] recipient, and I rely on Working Connections Childcare and a lot of things that the state was looking to cut.”

At the advocacy training, Renee found out about the annual Poverty Action at the Capitol event in Olympia, bringing together people struggling to get by on low incomes along with their allies to learn about issues impacting people living in poverty, then guiding them to frame their stories and share them with their legislators, face to face.

Renee says, “I was very excited for the first time to be able to participate in that, because I knew that the potential budget cuts would really impact my life. In Olympia, I raised my hand and shared a little bit of my story. And the staff from Poverty Action pulled me to the side and asked if I could go and speak to some of the legislative representatives. And that’s what I did, the first time! I just jumped right on board.”

Renee speaks with Q13 Fox News political analyst C.R. Douglas after sharing her story at a legislative press conference to save TANF.

Renee speaks with Q13 Fox News political analyst C.R. Douglas after sharing her story at a legislative press conference to save TANF.

Since her initial experience in Olympia, Renee has been an advocate on fire. In March 2012, she published her story in an Op-Ed in the Tacoma News Tribune and also testified at a Washington State legislative hearing. Thanks to her actions and those of other activists, no new cuts were made to TANF, and some funds were restored to Working Connections Childcare.

“The first time I went down – to be very, very honest – I was sitting here thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, this millions of dollars that they’re looking to cut from low-income families, there’s no way that my voice will make a difference.’” But, she says, “To have the support and direction of the Poverty Action staff – to take my story and not alter it, but empower it to explain it to others, and for that to be the pivotal reason why things were not cut – is an amazing feeling. Beyond amazing; I can’t even explain it. It made me feel like I have a voice.”

Here’s an excerpt from Renee’s testimony:

    … As I worked 40-hours per week in a minimum wage position, I struggled to afford paying for basic necessities including rent, utilities, food, childcare, diapers and basic hygiene items. When my meager checks would arrive, I was forced to decide what we had to be without that month. Sometimes that meant no diapers, sometimes that meant no toilet paper or shampoo, sometimes it meant I wouldn’t be able to do laundry that month. Every cent was spent monthly, and I still wasn’t able to afford what it took to survive.
“… It has taken me four years, but I am finally at a point where I have begun to reach stability. Living off of $348 per month, I have had to be very creative with finances. We certainly still struggle, but through accessing state assistance, I have been able to attend school and will be graduating with honors this spring – an education that is critical to getting a better paying job, gaining full self-sufficiency and keeping my family from reverting back to dependence on the system. … TANF isn’t about luxuries, it’s about necessities.”

Renee says speaking to her legislators is “nerve-wracking, but phenomenal. It’s so wonderful to be on this journey and be able to advocate, not just for myself, but for 60,000 other people in Washington State who really rely on this. There’s a lot of stigma behind welfare recipients and a lot of the things that happen within the system. So I wanted to explain how this program does help. Cutting this would not help anybody, it would just create a bigger problem.

“This is how my experience has shaped this – and I know that other people are going through it – and I want to help other people come through this as well. And to know that my voice does make a difference is an incredible feeling.”

For more information about the Statewide Poverty Action Network, visit www.povertyaction.org or email info@povertyaction.org.

Fair Tenant Screening Act Passes in the Senate and Moves to House Judiciary

Solid Ground celebrates a great victory for renters in Washington: On Monday, March 11, 2013, the Washington State Senate moved one step closer to making landlord-tenant laws more fair and just for tenants. The Senate voted on the Fair Tenant Screening Act, and with true bipartisan support they passed SB 5568 with a vote of 46-3. This is a huge step toward making sure that domestic violence survivors are not discriminated against or denied housing based on a protection order or their history of domestic violence.

SenJeanne_Kohl-WellesTo hear senators Hobbs, Kohl-Welles and Frockt’s moving testimony on the Senate floor, visit the TVW website for March 11, 2013 Senate coverage, and scroll to 21:30 minutes to watch the 6 ½-minute video coverage.

But that doesn’t mean our work is done! Please send an email to thank Senator Hobbs (steve.hobbs@leg.wa.gov), Senator Kohl-Welles (Jeanne.Kohl-Welles@leg.wa.gov) and Senator Frockt (David.Frockt@leg.wa.gov) for their ongoing support and leadership for the Fair Tenant Screening Act.

Thanks to everyone who offered their support of this critical bill by writing emails and letters and making calls. Also, special thanks and congratulations to the advocates who stood strong on this issue and made this victory possible: Washington Low Income Housing Alliance, Tenants Union, Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence, Columbia Legal Services and Northwest Justice Project.

Join us for Hunger Action Day in Olympia on February 22!

Your voice is needed to end hunger in Washington!Hunger Action Day logo

Join Solid Ground’s Hunger Action Center for the Anti-Hunger & Nutrition Coalition‘s HUNGER ACTION DAY at the Washington State Capitol, Friday, February 22!

This Lobby Day allows the Coalition and supporters to highlight current issues affecting families facing hunger and bring forward priorities to reduce food insecurity in Washington State. Through the collective voice of a coalition, legislators hear the struggles of Washington State residents, food banks, farmers and service providers and are asked to make policy decisions that will end hunger in our communities.

Over the years, this coalition has successfully brought hunger advocates to Olympia to promote strategic policy and state appropriations that maximize federal nutrition programs, reinforce our community-based emergency food assistance system, and link local farmers with the needs of the hungry.

The Anti-Hunger & Nutrition Coalition’s priorities this year are:

  1. Restore full benefits for families on the State Food Assistance Program.
  2. An increase to WSDA’s Emergency Food Assistance Program.
  3. Restore WSDA’s Farm to School and Small Farms programs.
  4. Create a balanced and sustainable state budget that includes new sources of revenue.

Let your legislators hear your voice and encourage them to support a food secure Washington. Visit the Anti-Hunger & Nutrition Coalition’s website to register.

Individuals who are not able to come to Olympia can participate in the Coalition’s online Lobby Day. Click here to join an online petition. This petition asks lawmakers to ensure that Washington families don’t go hungry in these tough times.

If you have any questions about Hunger Action Day 2013, please contact Elsa Ferguson at elsaf@withinreachwa.org.

Zombie Debt: Help stop the haunting!

Marcy Bowers is Director of the Statewide Poverty Action Network.

After building on Poverty Action’s successes passing landmark consumer protection bills, we are mobilizing our network to support HB 1069, which will help regulate an alarming new predatory industry called “Zombie Debt.”

Here’s a quick look at what we’re fighting against:
The Zombie Debt industry is largely unregulated and profits off deceptive practices that intimidate people into paying on old debt or “debt” that they might not even owe. Like a zombie coming back from the dead, old debt comes back to haunt consumers. We urgently need your help to pass this bill which regulates Zombie Debt and the predatory practices of debt buyers.

Check out this video to see how you can help stop Zombie Debt:

TAKE ACTION!

More on the ghoulishness of Zombie Debt:
Zombie Debt occurs when companies sell their old debts for pennies on the dollar to third-party debt buyers. Debt buyers then try to collect on old debts or debts that have already been paid (and sometimes never even owed in the first place). Many times, the information is out of date, has already been paid in full, or is assigned to the wrong person entirely.

Everyone is at risk to be targeted by debt buyers’ search for profit by using the courts and financial system against the public. Debt buying is one of the nation’s fastest growing industries. It is largely financed by Wall Street and is exploiting the lack of industry regulation to extract billions of dollars from people all over the US.

Debt buyers are flooding our court systems:
Debt buyers are increasingly taking advantage of state courts by filing lawsuits to collect on the debt they purchase. Unfortunately, these predatory debt buyers are exploiting our courts by using default judgments against Washingtonians when they might not even owe the debt. Debt buyers don’t even know if they have the right person, the right amount, or any real evidence, but they are able to obtain judgments due to antiquated state laws that don’t protect people from deceptive financial industries.

Low- and moderate-income consumers are disproportionately affected:
One study found that 95% of people with default judgments entered against them lived in low- and moderate-income communities. At a time when struggling families need every penny to survive, Zombie Debt is threatening Washingtonians’ well-being and economic security.

TAKE ACTION: WE NEED YOU!

  • Send your legislators this message: “Washington needs to regulate debt buyers and protect consumers from unfair debt practices. SUPPORT HB 1069.”
  • Have experience with debt buyers attempting to collect on debt you don’t owe or never incurred? Have you paid high fees to a debt settlement company only to end up in a worse situation than when you started? Give us a call to share your story! Call 1.866.789.7726 or email danielle@povertyaction.org.

Poverty Action at the Capitol

Poverty Action members march & rally in Olympia in 2012

Poverty Action members march & rally in Olympia in 2012

Join the Statewide Poverty Action Network in Olympia on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, Monday, January 21. Speak out about the importance of basic needs services, fair housing, racial equality, healthcare and other issues impacting the lives of people across Washington State.

Poverty Action’s annual lobby day brings together hundreds of people from across Washington State. It supports issues brought forward by people from across our state through face-to-face meetings with lawmakers, direct actions, and trainings to take our movement back to our hometowns.

This is a great opportunity for both seasoned activists and people who have never expressed their opinions to our lawmakers. Students are especially encouraged to join us and bring the perspective and power of the next generation to the state political process!

WHAT: 
Poverty Action Day at the Capitol – A day of community building, advocacy trainings and exercising political power!

The Washington State Capitol, where YOU have the power!

The Washington State Capitol, where YOU have the power!

WHEN:
Monday, 1/21/13,
9:30am – 3:30pm (bus leaves Seattle 7:30am, returns about 5pm)

WHERE: 
Temple Beth Hatfiloh
201 8th Avenue SE
Olympia, WA 98501

HOW: 
Register online or call 206.694.6794
(toll-free at 1.866.789.7726).

Poverty Action has planned a morning of issue and advocacy briefings in preparation for the 1pm rally at the Capitol and group meetings with lawmakers.

This session, Poverty Action will focus on:

  • Saving safety net programs by protecting them from budget cuts.
  • Fortifying recent changes in payday lending laws that protect consumers, but are under fire from the industry.
  • Tightening up consumer protections against debt collectors and Zombie Debt.

There is free transportation from Seattle to Poverty Action Day at the Capitol (the bus leaves Solid Ground, 1501 N 45th Street in Wallingford, at 7:30am). Breakfast and lunch are provided. Childcare and interpretation services are available upon request.

You can register online or call 206.694.6794 (toll-free at 1.866.789.7726). And for more information, visit the Poverty Action website.

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.

Solid Ground names new leadership team

Gordon McHenry, Jr., Solid Ground President & CEO

Gordon McHenry, Jr., Solid Ground President & CEO

Solid Ground is pleased to announce that Gordon McHenry, Jr. has been named President & Chief Executive Officer. McHenry most recently served as the Executive Director of the Rainier Scholars, a Seattle-based academic enrichment and leadership development agency. Rainier Scholars increases college graduation rates for low-income students of color by providing comprehensive support from 6th grade until college graduation.

Solid Ground also announces that Sandi Cutler has been named Chief Operations & Strategy Officer. Instrumental in the growth of Bastyr University and other agencies, Cutler brings significant strategic, operational and organizational development experience.

The hirings highlight a time of intentional introspection and change at the King County nonprofit, as the agency implements a new strategic plan calling for increased collaboration and coordination among its services.

“We are thrilled to bring this talented leadership team to Solid Ground,” stated Lauren McGowan, Solid Ground Board Chair. “We undertook a national search and in our own backyard found leadership whose careers and life stories embody the notion of creating opportunity for all to thrive,” she said.

“People in our communities continue to suffer from the prolonged economic downturn,” McGowan said. “As an agency, we are being called on to do more, often with less. Gordon and Sandi have the vision and skills to expand Solid Ground’s response to poor and oppressed people, as well as our advocacy to address root causes of social injustice.”

“Fundamentally, it’s about leadership,” McHenry said. “We envision Solid Ground being perceived as a key leader when it comes to addressing economic disparities.”

McHenry previously served in a variety of executive leadership roles in The Boeing Company, most recently as Director of Global Corporate Citizenship in the Northwest Region. A lifelong member of the Seattle community, McHenry has served on many local boards, including the Central Area Motivation Program (now called Centerstone), United Way and The Seattle Public Library. He currently serves on the boards of Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust and Seattle University.

McHenry’s father was the first African-American engineer promoted into management at Boeing, as well as the first person in his family to graduate from college. His mother grew up and was educated in a segregated community in Texas. Their experiences gave their children deep respect for education and a strong belief in being active community leaders.

Cutler’s father led efforts to desegregate public schools in the Central Valley of California. His legacy bore fruit in Cutler’s early work as a political activist and management of progressive political campaigns and reform efforts.

“I am delighted to team up with Sandi Cutler. His activist roots and organizational development experience will help Solid Ground strengthen our community by giving more people the firm foundation they need to succeed,” McHenry said.

Ruth Massinga, Interim CEO since August 2011, will continue working with Solid Ground through the fall on several strategic initiatives.

“Ruth stepped out of retirement and guided us through a strategic refocusing. We are indebted to her for the gift of leadership,” McGowan said.

Vote for a Change! 2012

Senait Brown is a Community Organizer with Solid Ground’s Statewide Poverty Action Network.

Poverty Action Members register new voters!

Poverty Action Members register new voters!

In 1993, Congress passed the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) to increase the number of citizens registered to vote in Federal elections by requiring voter registration with every driver’s license application and renewal. An equally important but less well-known provision of the NVRA is the requirement that states offer voter registration opportunities to clients and applicants of public assistance programs like Temporary Assistance For Needy Families (TANF), Medicaid and Food Stamps.

Solid Ground is a direct service, anti-poverty organization and as such, we are in a unique position to increase voter registration rates in King County’s low-income communities and communities of color. And through Poverty Action’s Vote for a Change! campaign, YOU have many opportunities to get involved.

Every two years, Poverty Action sends a candidate questionnaire to all candidates running for office in Washington State and publishes their responses in this useful Voter Guide. Share this guide widely with your family and friends!

We also need volunteers to register citizens to vote, inform people of their voting rights and help make sure everyone’s voice is heard in the upcoming elections! While our official Vote for a Change! Campaign Kick Off is Thursday, August 16, voter registration opportunities in low-income communities and communities of color are coming up this weekend. Here’s the current schedule: 

  • August 4 & 5: Umojafest Voter Registration Drive, Judkins Park
    (2150 S Norman St, Seattle, WA 98144), 11am-7pm
  • August 16: Vote for a Change! Campaign Kick Off, Solid Ground in Wallingford
    (1501 N 45th St, Seattle, WA 98103), 5:30pm
  • August 17-19: Hempfest Voter Registration Drive, Myrtle Edwards Park
    (3130 Alaskan Way W, Seattle, WA 98121), 10-8pm (Fri) /12-8pm (Sat/Sun)

Is your voter registration outdated? If yes, you can register online. The voter registration deadline for the General Election is October 8, so register right away!

For more information, to volunteer, or to otherwise support the Vote for a Change! campaign, please contact Senait Brown at senait@povertyaction.org or call 206.694.6794. And for more information about Poverty Action’s work, visit our beautiful new website at povertyaction.org.

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.

%d bloggers like this: