Dear Members of the Board of Commissioners of Seattle Housing Authority and Andrew Lofton, Executive Director of the Seattle Housing Authority:
We ask you to reject the “Stepping Forward” proposal that will dramatically increase tenants’ portions of the rent until tenants pay full rent after 6 years. This policy will severely impact many tenants who rely on Seattle Housing Authority for stable housing, and will particularly impact immigrants, families, single-parent households, and women. We understand that the Housing Authority currently does not have the means to serve the many tenants on your waiting list, but this policy comes at too high a cost with too little payoff. You are trading putting tenants out on the streets for the slightest improvement in waiting list numbers.
This policy will have a disparate impact on women, families and the immigrant and refugee community, forcing many to move outside the city. 70% of households live in 2 or 3 unit households, and 51% are single parent households. 25% of all impacted households are immigrants and refugees. For the immigrant and refugee community this will severely harm newcomers who rely on community networks and familial support to succeed in a new country. Women in Seattle earn 73 cents for every dollar paid to men in the area, a yearly wage gap of over $16,000.
“Stepping Forward” assumes that work-able tenants are either not working when they are able, making less wages than they could be, or just taking advantage of SHA’s programs. These assumptions are hardly based in the realities of tenants and ignores the systemic issues that cause tenants to rely on SHA for housing. Even with more training, there is a dearth of fulltime high paying jobs in our post-recession economy; in one report from the National Employment Law Project it found that since the recession there are nearly 2 million fewer jobs in mid and higher wage industries while there are 1.85 million more jobs in lower wage industries. Even with a fully implemented municipal $15 dollar minimum wage this proposal will make public housing unaffordable for fulltime minimum wage workers. The result will be more displacement and evictions. Worse, this policy will make whatever gains tenants receive through the $15 minimum wage increase obsolete, forcing tenants to remain in cycles of poverty.
SHA has claimed current budget cuts have forced this change, except they have had positive assets as far back as 2007; with an increase of 27.7 million from 2012 to 2013. Housing Authorities across the country have been underfunded by Congress. SHA is no different; however it is the only agency to propose a system that fundamentally restructures its rent policy across all programs. The King County Housing Authority, which is the next largest housing authority after SHA, went through a similar analysis recently and arrived at different conclusions that did not abandon the basic definition of affordability by decoupling rent from income. SHA’s proposal does not represent a shift in resources, but a shift in thinking on who deserves housing subsidies and who does not.
SHA states this change is to address the more than 24,000 people on their waitlist. However this would only result in serving 600 more households who would then be in the same unstable position as the other 7,000 people who are having their rents raised. The intention of emptying a shelter bed is good, but not if it means another family is evicted who then seek the same shelter bed recently emptied. Stepping Forward is not a solution to SHA’s budgetary issues: it only sends tenants backwards through a revolving door of poverty. SHA and Seattle can do better. We must address the affordable housing crisis in a fair, thoughtful and compassionate manner.