January 2017 General Membership Meeting: Accountable WA, Legislative Advocacy

Thanks to those who joined us on Thursday, January 17 for our first General membership meeting of 2017! We had an action packed agenda complete with a call in to Olympia to start off our 2017 legislative advocacy. We were joined by community members from Catholic Community Services & Catholic Housing Services, Crisis Clinic, Friends of Youth, Housing Development Consortium, Jewish Family Services, Low Income Housing Institute, Plymouth Housing Group, REACH, Real Change, Recovery Cafe, All Home, Youth Care, and more! We heard a great presentation, called in to Olympia about legislative priorities, and signed famous Coalition Advocacy Postcards.

Please read on for a summary of our meeting & important actions YOU can take before our next General Membership Meeting on Thursday, February 16th.

Accountable WA, Kelli Smith, WA Budget & Policy Center

As we know, Washington State had one of the most inequitable tax structures in the country, we do not have an income tax and therefore rely on sales tax and property tax to fund vital programs our communities need and to raise revenue. This structure causes people with lower incomes to pay disproportionately more of their income to taxes than people in the highest income bracket.

The WA Budget and Policy Center, working with many organizations, has developed a package of legislation that would fix some of our tax problems, and make it so that people who are earning the least are not contributing the most in taxes (currently people who are in the lowest 20% income group contribute 16.8% of their income as WA state and local taxes, compared to those in the top 1% who contribute just 2.4% of their income to WA state and local taxes).

There are two main goals of Accountable WA, we encourage you to learn more at the links below and click here to view slides of this presentation.

  • Lead with equity by reducing taxes for households making $75,000 or less.
  • Generate $4 billion per biennium in new revenue for schools, other priorities from equitable sources.

Ponder This: 
Have you ever been troubled with choosing between raising property taxes to fund pubic transit, schools, or another important social program? The Accountable WA package has a measure to cap the amount of property taxes that people with household incomes under $75,000 pay: it shuts off property taxes at 2% of household income. It’s AMAZING because the same measures will apply to RENTERS!!! (As you can tell, we’re very excited about this). The gist for renters is that if your household income is under $75,000/year, you can calculate your property tax as 15% of your rent, and if that amount is above the 2% cap of your income, then you get a rebate! More than 40% of Washington homeowners and renters would benefit from this property tax safeguard credit, and then people would hopefully feel like they can vote to fund essential programs through taxes. This is definitely worth calling to your state legislators about 🙂

The proposal is strong and we encourage you to check it out here, visit www.budgetandpolicy.org and www.allinforwa.org For more information!

Legislative Session Highlights & Updates:
The 2017 Legislative Session started on Monday, January 9th. We partner with many organizations for legislative advocacy – check out some of our priority messages below, visit www.wliha.org for Housing & Homelessness priorities & stay tuned for more. Print our postcard to send these priorities to Olympia!

  • Washington Housing Opportunities Act (HB 1570) – prime sponsor: Representative Nicole Macri (43rd LD) – 
    • MAKE PERMANENT & INCREASE funding for housing & homelessness services (HB 1570). End the sunset on all fees. Provide flexibility for local communities; drop the inefficient mandate to use 45% of funds for one purpose.
  • Housing & Essential Needs (HEN), Aged, Blind, & Disabled (ABD), and SSI Facilitation
    • PROTECT elders and people with disabilities, & prevent homelessness. Help people meet their basic needs & access recovery: FULLY FUND Housing & Essential Needs (HEN), Aged, Blind, & Disabled (ABD), and SSI Facilitation. Invest $29.617M to increase the $197/mo. grant to $400 for people eligible for ABD. Invest $1.893M to fund $20/mo. transportation assistance for people eligible for HEN. End the asset limit for ABD & HEN.
  • Source of Income Discrimination – Ban it!
    • ELIMINATE barriers to housing. Ban Source of Income Discrimination so that renters who use housing subsidies and other sources of income support can find and keep homes in their communities.
  • Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)
    • FULLY RESTORE the TANF grant to its 2011 level & end the asset test. This will increase support for a family of 3 to $562/mo. and allow families with children to save for necessities or a rental deposit.

Take Action this week & next: 

  • Ride the Advocacy Express to Housing & Homelessness Advocacy Day on Thursday February 2nd! Want to join? Let us know by January 27th. Click here for more information.
  • Speak UP in Olympia TODAY (and every day/week throughout this legislative session)
    • Print Advocacy Postcards and share them with people you work with or in communities you are part of – mail them to the Coalition and we will bring them to Olympia in a stack of over 100 on HHAD.
    • Who are your legislators? If you don’t know, click here to find out (all the way from local to federal level). Next step: call their offices and advocate for important bills & budgets!
    • 1-800-562-6000 – Legislative Hotline in Olympia – you can call from 8am – 8pm Monday – Friday, and the kind people on the phone will take your message and give it to your representatives (you can cc the Governor as well!)
  • Homelessness Advocacy 101 workshops: click here to register today!
    • Saturday, February 4: 10:30am – 1pm at the UW School of Social Work
    • Wednesday, February 22: 6-8pm in Ballard
    • Sunday, February 26: 1pm in Bellevue
    • Sunday, March 5: 1pm in Auburn

Prep for our February 16th meeting: 
In February we will be joined by Sara Hoffman from Coordinated Entry for All to have a discussion about the system. We’ll also have a chance to talk about the new All Home Dashboards. Here’s what you can do to prep:

Reflections on a rousing 2015 Housing & Homelessness Advocacy Day!

2015 advocacy express advertizing photo On February 17, 2015, 650 of our closest friends and allies from all across the state of Washington gathered in Olympia at Housing and Homelessness Advocacy Day to speak up for affordable housing and an end to homelessness.

Driven by an enthusiastic and cheerful bus driver, we headed to Olympia at 7:15 a.m. with 30 Coalition members and friends –  service providers, clients, residents, guests, and others. For some, it was their first time to Olympia and an introduction to advocacy in action. Others were veterans of HHAD. Everyone on the Advocacy Express bus was rearin’ and ready to make a difference, and that they did!

The Coalition’s Advocacy Express bus rolled up right on time to the morning activities, and found inspiration from the first of many speakers that day. Housing Alliance staff, State legislators, and superstar Real Change vendor Pam Russell all spoke how POWERFUL we housing advocates are when we speak up and act together. It’s because of our collective action and advocacy that the Document Recording Fee bill came back from the dead last session, remember!

Our rally at the Capitol steps was a sight to be seen (and heard!). We were inspired by the voices around us. People who have experienced homelessness personally, service providers, representatives from advocacy organizations, students, community members, and people from all walks of life from all over the state were represented as we chanted from the steps through the buildings of the Capitol:

“When they say ‘cutback’ we say fightback!”
“Get up, get down, there’s a housing crisis in this town.”

We were a sea of 650 people wearing red scarves, red shirts, red hats, and many people wore our One Night Count ‘3772’ and Student Homelessness ‘32,494’ buttons. Even as folks dispersed into their legislative district groups, we were unified and unmistakable throughout the halls of the Capitol. Each button and scarf quietly communicated a strong message of solidarity and the importance of these issues.

In addition to the work we do to recruit and transport folks to HHAD, we at the Coalition have the distinct pleasure of also delivering over 1,100 One Night Count advocacy postcards to legislators who represent parts of King County. Hillary and I had great conversations with many Legislative Assistants, some Legislators, and plenty of the helpful staff at the Capitol.

There’s enough energy, passion,and community at HHAD to recharge and reignite our commitment and resolve to take action and make change. Thank you to each and every person who participated! HHAD is but one day a year – and a great day at that – and the other 364 days are just as important. Whatever the method, make sure your legislators hear from you, and hear from you often. Every call, email, letter, and in-person visit throughout the year is what builds and sustains the momentum we need to make positive change in our communities and across our state for people who are homeless and unstably housed.

HHAD 2015 Bus ride home

Thanks for all you do to speak up!

– Hillary and Rebecca

Policy Update: The 2014 Legislative Session — Part 1

Washington State’s 2014 Legislative Session began on Monday, January 13, 2014 and will continue through its 60th and last day on Thursday, March 13, 2014. It’s a short one, Friends. And this is one of the many reasons why your voice needs to be heard in Olympia today, tomorrow, and throughout this Legislative Session.

Today marks the 22nd day of Session. That means we have 4 (four!) days to get important bills voted out of their respective policy committee by February 7.The naysayers are wrong when they tell you it’s too late, that too much has already been decided. There is still enough time and many opportunities to make a difference. Plenty of good bills need help — your help! — to get through the law-making process. In particular, here are some of those bills and messages (with hyper-linked Factsheets) that we hope you’ll stand with us in supporting:

At the Coalition’s Homelessness Advocacy 101 workshops this past Saturday, two Legislative Aides shared with us the “secret” to getting heard in Olympia: tell Legislators that you care, a simple message about why you care, and do it in a way that’s easiest for youNancy Amidei, cheerleader for democracy and our Guest Presenter at the workshops, echoed that sentiment, saying that one doesn’t have to be an expert or have a Ph.D. to be an advocate.

A simple message can make a big impact. Here are Nina, Maggie, Kathryn, and me (Rebecca) holding hundreds of to-be-delivered advocacy postcards at #HHAD2014.
A simple message can make a big impact. Here are Nina, Maggie, Kathryn, and me (Rebecca) holding hundreds of to-be-delivered advocacy postcards at #HHAD2014.

Whether you want to send an advocacy postcard, e-mail your Legislators, leave a message through the Legislative Hotline (1-800-562-6000), or head down to Olympia to meet in-person, your voice is valuable and needed. Communicate with your Legislators what you care about and why to ensure that Everyone Counts 365 days a year. 

Senate Releases Proposed Budget that Slashes Funding for Housing and Human Services

The Washington State Senate released their proposed budget yesterday which, if enacted, would be devastating for housing and human services.  Housing and Essential Needs (HEN) was cut by 50% and the Aged, Blind & Disabled (ABD) program, with the tiny cash benefit of $197 a month for people waiting for federal Social Security benefits, was completely eliminated.  Working Connections Child Care – a program that helps low-income parents pay for child care – was cut by $180 million.  In addition, advocates are concerned that there is a chance that neither the Senate nor the House will allocate funds for the Housing Trust Fund, our most powerful  tool for creating affordable housing and good jobs across Washington.

The Senate’s proposed budget is unacceptable.  We need to let our senators know how we feel about this budget, which places heavy burdens on low income people. Yesterday, the Coalition’s Alison Eisinger was among several housing and homelessness advocates who went down to Olympia to deliver testimony on the importance of the programs that were cut in the Senate’s proposed budgets.  Here are two strong testimonies from Greg Winter, Director of Whatcom  Homeless Service Center in Bellingham, and from Ania Beszterda-Alyson, Community Engagement and Advocacy Manager with the Low Income Housing Institute.

Greg Winter, Whatcom Homeless Service Center

I’m here to ask you to support the Disability Lifeline programs – Housing & Essential Needs and Aged, Blind & Disabled. I’ve witnessed first hand how these programs have transformed the lives of Whatcom County residents who were extremely vulnerable. I understand that your budget released today eliminates ABD – this is a very bad idea. This program provides modest support for people who are disabled and applying for SSI. The state receives approximately $50 million in reimbursements from the Federal Government for the modest cash grant and this is $50 million that will no longer come to the state or this vulnerable population. I understand that these people will be eligible for HEN if they are homeless or at great risk of homelessness, but it appears that your budget doesn’t fund HEN at the same level and certainly doesn’t increase it to accommodate for this newly eligible population, which is much larger than the current HEN-eligible population.

The usage of the HEN program is increasing each month in every county of the state and we need to grow this critical program not shrink it and add more demand to it. Please reconsider your budget proposal and don’t leave these vulnerable people with nothing. Otherwise, many of these people will eventually show up in much more expensive, publicly funded systems of emergency care.

Ania Beszterda-Alyson, Low Income Housing Institute

Mr. Chair and members of the committee, my name is Ania Beszterda-Alyson and I am here to urge you to preserve the Housing and Essential Needs /Aged Blind Disabled program in its current form,  and protect Washington’s most vulnerable residents.  The Low Income Housing Institute works to end homelessness in six counties across Puget Sound by developing and providing affordable homes to nearly 4,000 low income, homeless and formerly homeless people, including over 700 families. Overall, 72% of units developed by LIHI are occupied by formerly homeless households.

I drove to Olympia today to share a story of one of our residents who gave me permission to relay to you just how vital the Housing and Essential Needs Program has been for him. Due to his circumstance he preferred not to appear in person or have his name shared. I will call him Will.  Will became homeless when he turned 18 as do so many of our foster kids (I’m a foster mom myself and find this heartbreaking). Will’s biological family abused him when he was very young, but an older couple took him in and fostered Will until he was 18. He still visits his two foster parents regularly and affectionately calls them grandma & grandpa. Being homeless was particularly traumatic for Will due to his childhood experiences, but also because youth easily become victims once on the streets and are abused terribly. After two years of living in youth shelters and outside Will’s case manager helped him secure a HEN voucher so he could move into one of LIHI’s apartment buildings – Gossett Place in the University District. Will qualified for HEN because he was homeless and he has a developmental disability. Just last month he heard that his SSDI was finally approved after two attempts with help of a lawyer. Thankfully he will continue to be able to live at Gossett Place where he’s been thriving thanks to the on-site case management, counseling and services. Staff at Gossett Place have commented that Will’s behavior has improved dramatically since he moved in 10 months ago and has become very stable. Will is now looking forward to working towards his GED; he volunteers at Gossett Place – helps to tend to the rooftop garden boxes, and hopes to begin training to become a barber. HEN truly was a lifeline for Will – it secured his housing while he waited for the SSDI payments to be approved and allowed him to escape the trauma he experienced on the streets as a vulnerable youth.

Please protect the Housing and Essential Needs and the Aged Blind Disabled Programs and fund them at the current $130M level as they are a true lifeline for our state’s most vulnerable residents like Will. Thank you for your time.