Below is the Big Picture News insert from our Winter 2015 Groundviews print newsletter:
Solid Ground’s Housing Case Managers work with families like Alena Rogers’ – featured in our Groundviews main story – helping them develop goals to overcome barriers to their housing stability. Meanwhile, our Housing Advocates act as liaisons between clients and potential landlords to get people into housing.
It’s a job made ever-more difficult by skyrocketing rents in the region. In Seattle, the average cost of a 1-bedroom unit is $1,412.
Over 60% of very low-income households (less than $26,250 annual income) in Seattle are “cost burdened” or pay more than 30% of their income to housing costs, the traditional measure of housing affordability.
“Most of what we do is try to get people back into market-rate housing, and we pay their move-in costs and short-term subsidies,” says Housing Advocate Stacey Marron, who has been with Solid Ground’s JourneyHome program for 11 years.
“The hardest part about my job is that rent prices are really high and vacancy rates are really low, so landlords say, ‘why do I want to rent to your client – who barely makes any money and has a felony and an eviction – when somebody’s standing here in front of me with a checkbook ready to pay their deposit?’ It’s gotten much worse lately.” In addition to rising costs, the homeless and low-income housing systems are all but overloaded.
With such high demand and limited resources for affordable housing, there can be long waits to access low-income housing programs.
Stacey says, “It’s much harder to get into any housing now – even shelter. A lot of times, people have been on waitlists for a really long time, and then they finally come to me. They hear of some housing program, and when they meet me they think I’m going to be showing them some place to live. They’ve been waiting for so long, so they’re very disappointed that our program is just the beginning of looking for housing. That’s hard, because I like to be the “Santa Claus” person. I want to give people things – and I hate being the bearer of bad news – and frequently, I am.”
With such a tight rental market, race and class issues come into play, particularly the intersection of race and involvement in the criminal justice system.
“I think it’s hard for many landlords to understand that you’re more likely to have had a brush with the law if you are African American or Latino, because people of color are disproportionately targeted by the criminal justice system. And then there’s a lot of discrimination against people with Section 8s [federally-funded vouchers that pay landlords to help subsidize renters],” Stacey says.
“I’ve been told: ‘Oh, I’ve rented to people with Section 8 before; they trashed my place.’ They think anyone who’s poor is going to be a crappy renter. It’s ironic because a lot of our clients are real neat freaks. I think it’s a coping mechanism: When people don’t have a lot of control of their situation, that’s one thing they can control.”
Housing Advocates face a myriad of challenges, but there is deep meaning in every success.
“Recently, I found housing for a wheelchair-bound client. What I love about Jamie [not his real name] is he’s just really the most positive person ever. Every time I saw him, he made me laugh,” Stacey recalls. Even in the worst-case scenarios, he would see some silver lining.
“Finally, after being in a hotel for months, he got a place not far from Boeing Field. He loves that it has a view. He’s like, ‘I never told anybody this, but I really love watching airplanes.’ It’s funny: After so many months of homelessness, just watching the planes land makes him so happy.”