Seattle's housing plan: a key to hope or homelessness?

SEATTLE - Ethiopian refugee Fadumo Isaq came to the Yesler Way Community Center, grabbed a bullhorn and started chanting.

"Housing is a human right," she yelled as a group of dozens started echoing her lead.

Isaq, who came to Seattle to escape war, is a crossing guard and mother of 9. She relies on the Seattle Housing Authority's subsidies to help her with rent and she doesn't like a proposal that could eventually weed out those subsidies.

"We don't have enough degrees to get jobs," Isaq said. "You don't have child care. How are you going to go to school and work?"

SHA's proposed rent policy called Stepping Forward has been under the microscope from tenants like Isaq. Those opponents feel like it would render people helpless, but Executive Director Andrew Lofton feels it would have the opposite outcome.

"We have, over the last decade, been hit with really challenging funding conditions from the federal government," Lofton said. "If we're able to help families be successful, that allows them to move forward and open up other spots for other residents who are in need."

Lofton said the program would require people who get subsidies to have a work force assessment at the start of the help for housing. It will identify work skills and will pinpoint obstacles they need to overcome. As they move forward, the amount of subsidy they get will go down.

"They will be able to be much more successful than they are today," he said. "This is an opportunity for them. This is something we feel will give them much better access to a path that will lead to achieving their life goals; their aspirations for their families."

Joe Read, a senior citizen who came to protest with the group Wednesday, feels like the idea might sound good on the surface but doesn't think it will work.

"That's a nice thought but you're not going to better people's lives if you put them out of housing," he said. "That's basically what these policies will do. Displacement is like a funnel and people at the bottom of the funnel have to leave town."

The Seattle Housing Authority Tenants Union says the plan would increase rents over 5 years for 7,000 "work-able" tenants so high that after those 5 years, they will need to earn between $16 and $20 an hour just to afford rent.

Lofton said SHA has been considering the plan for the last 18 months. It could take about 4 years to implement if it goes into effect.

"Anyone who's concerned about becoming homeless immediately is reacting out of fear, not off of facts," Lofton said. "The key is they get services and support that allows them to participate in the growing economy that's going to happen, just like everyone else is."

Click here to read the plan yourself. You can check out the PowerPoint presentation SHA is handing out at its community meetings below.


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