The Section 8 Tenants Organizing Project of the Tenants Union has had a series of significant victories for Section 8 tenants over its 16-year history. Many strong tenant leaders and activists have emerged from STOP work, and hundreds of units of low income housing have been preserved as a direct result of STOP organizing. Here are some highlights and significant moments in the history of STOP organizing at the Tenants Union.
The Royal Hills Apartments in Renton nears end of Section 8 contract. 130 people speaking three languages come to the first tenant meeting. Tenants organize a letter writing campaign, educate elected officials, and win the owner’s support to renew the Section 8 contract.
Rally to Save Section 8 at Federal Building in Downtown Seattle draws 100 tenants from Renton and Seattle and press coverage in newspapers and TV.
TU applies for funding from the Catholic Campaign for Human Development. Tenants from the Royal Hills speak on behalf of the Tenants Union.
STOP members attend the National Alliance for HUD Tenants (NAHT) Conference for the first time.
CCHD approves funding and STOP gets a dedicated Community Organizer, Siobhan Ring.
The STOP Policy Board is formed, a group of tenants from Section 8 buildings whose leadership guides and provides accountability for STOP’s work.
The Oxford Tenants Association begins a 4-year organizing campaign. The tenants at the Oxford face rent increases and displacement when the owner sells the building and cancels the Section 8 subsidy contract without proper notice to tenants.
Tenant leaders from Security House begin an 18-month preservation campaign. The elderly and disabled tenants face a $300 rent increase and potential displacement from conversion to a hotel. Tenant leaders gain the support of politicians and win extensive media exposure. The preservation campaign is won, and funding policies are changed to require preservation of the Section 8 contact if the developer receives local, county or state housing funding.
Tenants attend a hearing on Section 8 with Senator Murray in Everett.
“Eyes and Ears” meetings are held in collaboration with the Community Alliance of Tenants in Portland.
STOP tenants make presentations to Seattle City Council and King County Council members in order to educate local elected officials and gain support for preservation work. The Section 8 Summit, a regional meeting of Section 8 tenants. STOP initiates a Statewide tenants’ caucus at statewide housing conference.
The Seattle Right of First Refusal campaign kicks off and gains 30 organizational endorsers. STOP tenants pack city council hearings and hold an action at the Mayor’s office. A State Supreme Court ruling comes down against mobile home right of first refusal law and the City Council refuses to move forward.
The TU applies for HUD OTAG funding.
STOP offers tenant ownership training for 25 TU members.
The Eastwood Square Organizing Campaign begins.
The Century House Tenants Association is formed.
Tenants from the Court Arthur in Spokane form an association.
A lawsuit against the owners of the Oxford is settled and the tenants win rent control, right of first refusal, 15 units affordable for another 15 years, and other amenities.
National HUD tenants right to organize legislation is passed. This law guarantees tenants’ rights to distribute information, go door to door, meet and organize to address concerns. It also requires owners and HUD to respond to and consider tenant input in key project decisions.
Statewide Section 8 Tenant Protection Legislation is passed, requiring property owners to provide notice to tenants, state and local jurisdiction one year prior to cancellation of federal subsidies, and to provide tenants with information about their rights. This is the TU’s first statewide legislative victory.
Benson East Organizing Campaign begins. The 32 families at the Benson East in Kent, WA are facing displacement when the owner plans to cancel the Section 8 contract and sell off all 16 buildings.
6-year campaign at Provail Burke Gilman Apartments begins with first tenant meeting. Tenants are people living with disabilities.
Winthrop Tenants Association is formed.
Tenants win a new right to organize legislation in Seattle that offers tenant protections against retaliation, guarantees tenants’ rights to distribute information, talk to their neighbors and meet to address concerns.
SHA Voucher Committee formed.
Tenants from Eastwood Square win a new deal with the owner, who is locked in to Section 8 for 30 years and begins rehabilitation on the building.
The Benson East becomes first tenant owned complex in Northwest. With the support of STOP, the Low Income Housing Institute, and a generous donor, the tenants organized, form a new non-profit organization, and partner with a developer to purchase the complex. The tenants, who conduct all meetings in a minimum of four languages, have legal and day-to-day control over the management and operations of the complex, and continue to take an active role in promoting tenants’ rights and tenant ownership. The Benson East supports preservation work and seeks other tenant ownership opportunities in Washington State.
STOP Organizer Siobhan Ring becomes Executive Director of the Tenants Union. New STOP Community Organizer Emil Paddison starts at the TU.
Save Section 8 Rally draws 350 tenants and supporters out to the Seattle’s Federal Building. Congressman Jim McDermott, staff from Senator Patty Murray’s office, and many more community leaders and advocates speak on behalf of full funding for the Section 8 voucher program.
STOP grievance hearing reform campaign begins. Hundreds of Section 8 voucher tenants are being terminated and made homeless by the Seattle Housing Authority (SHA) because of a grievance hearing process that denies tenants due process. Over 90% of hearings go in favor of SHA, and the one hearing officer employed by SHA categorically refuses to consider the tenants’ documentation, civil rights laws or domestic violence protections in his decisions. Tenant leaders review 6 years’ worth of hearing decisions, build community support, have a series of meetings with SHA leadership, and secure legal representation from Northwest Justice Project attorney Eric Dunn in an attempt to push SHA to reform these hearings a provide tenants with due process. Ultimately, the lawsuit is settled and the recommendations made by STOP to improve the Section 8 program and protect tenants’ rights in grievance hearings are fully adopted by SHA. SHA agrees to hire a panel of legally trained hearing officers who will consider all relevant evidence and legal arguments to ensure that tenants are no longer terminated unfairly or capriciously. Significant improvements are being made in SHA policies around domestic violence, language access and disability issues, and several tenants have had their vouchers reinstated as a direct result of STOP organizing. STOP serves as a national model for organizing led by Section 8 voucher holders.
Owners of the Provail Burke Gilman Apartments keep the buildings in the Section 8 program.
STOP Organizer Emily Murphy comes to the Tenants Union. Emil Paddison becomes the Tenants Union’s Deputy Director.
STOP organizes with tenants from the Downtowner Apartments who are facing displacement because the landlord plans to opt out of the Section 8 program. Tenant leaders form a tenants association and are able to secure low income housing, meetings with the owner, and media attention in an attempt to preserve the building as affordable. Downtowner tenants also took their concerns directly to HUD and were able to set national precedents in affordable housing policy, winning housing choice vouchers for tenants in expiring mortgage buildings with rent supplement contracts.