Solid Ground’s Tenant Counselors support renters and address root causes of poverty, racism and inequality. In King County’s incredibly tight housing market, public housing residents and other tenants living on low incomes often face discrimination and unfairness during the rental process.
Solid Ground’s Bilingual Tenant Counselor Arturo Velasquez and fellow Tenant Counselor Vanessa Cobbs are on the frontlines, supporting tenants to know and use their rights to support their stable housing. Through the Tenant Services Message Line,* Rent Smart workshops and other outreach, they educate individual renters on issues like Fair Housing, how to spot discrimination, how to get landlords to repair units, and more.
At the same time, they are holding up the realities faced by renters to advocate around the issues of poverty, racism and inequality that are root causes of many of our housing challenges in the Washington state.
“I can’t change the world, but I can change how I can help others – hopefully in a positive way that they can carry forward.” ~Arturo Velasquez, Bilingual Tenant Counselor
Prior to working for Solid Ground, Arturo worked as a Public Defender and Criminal Defense Attorney. He was also a Vocational Case Manager at the Downtown Emergency Service Center (DESC), where he worked with adults looking for part-time jobs and permanent housing.
“Having defended people who can’t even afford an attorney and working with the homeless, I saw this as a way to inform and help people stay housed,” Arturo says. “There are a lot of services for people that are homeless – not enough, but there are several services – but to me, very little is being done to make sure that people stay housed.”
An average week for Solid Ground’s Tenant Counselors consists of answering tenant hotlines, running tenant workshops, and conducting advocacy work.
Tenant Services Message Line
Solid Ground’s Tenant Counselors principally handle three sets of issues from callers:
- Eviction: Tenants discuss their pre-eviction notices with Tenant Counselors, who provide information and referrals.
- Landlord-Tenant Issues: Tenants discuss issues they have with their landlords, such as the neglect in requested repairs or landlords entering tenants’ properties.
- Spanish Speakers: Spanish-speaking tenants discuss issues with Arturo.
Arturo collaborates with Spanish-speaking service providers countywide. He is currently a member of the Hispanic Advisory Team (HAT) for the new program called Centro Rendu at King County’s nonprofit St. Vincent de Paul. HAT is also connected with other agencies and organizations, such as the Consejo Counseling and Referral Service and the South Park Information and Resource Center. Arturo has also teamed up with the refugee planning committee at the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS).
Our Tenant Counselors also aim to better meet callers’ specific needs. Three-way calls are already implemented with tenants who prefer to speak in languages other than English or Spanish – most commonly Somali and Chinese. Solid Ground utilizes an interpreter service, Certified Languages, to facilitate the three-way calls between the Tenant Counselor, the tenant, and the interpreter.
For other special needs and accommodations, Arturo wants to assure tenants that they will be helped as guaranteed by law. Reasonable accommodations are provided by housing providers, while reasonable modifications – such as adding handrails and widening doorways – are provided on a case-by-case basis following the RCW Landlord-Tenant Laws.
“It’s very hard for people to defend their rights if they don’t know what they are. If you don’t know what your rights are, how are you going to protect your housing? … Especially in a city like Seattle where there is a very tight and expensive housing market, anything we can do to help people stay housed is what we should explore.” ~Arturo Velasquez, Bilingual Tenant Counselor
Tenant workshops guide people through the process of finding a rental, acquiring the place, and staying there until they voluntarily want to leave. By attending these workshops, tenants can learn more about legal responsibilities, how to deal with any pre-eviction notices filed, and how evictions may affect them – whether they are dealing with bad credit/no credit, prior eviction, criminal history, or other issues.
In addition to tenant workshops, the counselors meet one-to-one to provide tenants with more information about the law and to help equip them with what is coming.
Based on what they learn from the people who call for counseling, Arturo and Vanessa advocate for improving various laws and policies impacting renters at the state, city and county levels. Both participate in the MLK Lobby Day and Housing & Homelessness Advocacy Day in Olympia. Solid Ground is also a member of the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance, which works statewide to ensure that all Washington residents thrive in safe, healthy, affordable homes. Vanessa works closely with their advocacy team.
Among the issues currently being focused on are outlawing Source of Income Discrimination (SOID) on a statewide basis, securing stable funding sources for the development of affordable housing, and improving protections for tenants with criminal records.
Tenant Counselors are there to validate the tenants’ concerns and point them in the right direction if there are any misunderstandings of the law. Despite the challenges, Arturo shares that feedback from tenants is one of the most rewarding parts of his work. Hearing success stories tells him that he has been helpful to them.
“I can’t change the world, but I can change how I can help others – hopefully in a positive way that they can carry forward,” Arturo says. “I can’t solve all of their problems, but I can help them with what they need at the moment.”