Housing Access Project
The mission of the Tenants Union’s Housing Access Project is to increase access and undo institutional barriers to decent, affordable housing for communities criminalized, marginalized, and segregated by commercial and judicial systems. HAP uses organizing, outreach, and political education to develop strong tenant leadership to end housing discrimination against communities disproportionately impacted by race and class bias in the tenant screening, court, and criminal justice systems.
In Washington State there is no right to rent. When vacancy rates are tight housing opportunities can slip through a tenant’s fingers for having a less-than-perfect credit or housing history. Landlords often refuse to rent to people because they have Section 8 vouchers, or based on their source of income. Tenants who win in eviction court are left with a permanent court record that landlords use to deny them housing. A person leaving the criminal justice system will be denied housing and employment because their conviction record will follow them everywhere they go. Many people are denied for having inaccurate information on their screening report, but by the time they fix the problem they’ve already lost their housing opportunity. Every time someone is denied housing the cost of screening is passed on to the tenant, and many pay hundreds of dollars in repeated screening fees for all their housing applications just to be turned down. This leaves many penniless to put down a first, last months rent, and deposit for the landlord willing to rent to them. These are the barriers most tenants face when trying to secure a decent, safe place to live.
Because we live in a highly digital age, all of these records are easily accessible online. A tenant screening industry has grown over the last few decades from a cottage industry into a multi-million dollar business. The use of a tenant screening company is now the standard practice of most property owners. Most tenants are very familiar with having to put down non-refundable screening fees of $35-$70 per applicant with each application for housing. The Tenants Union has fought to break down these barriers to housing over the years on all levels of government, and is now concentrating the access to housing fight into the following campaigns.
Goals of Housing Access Project
- Make eviction records sealable or redactable for tenants who won in eviction court, were wrongly evicted, or have records related to their status as domestic violence survivors.
- Make credit reports portable and affordable.
- Prevent tenant screening companies from using domestic-violence records in housing determinations.
- Support tenants in asserting their rights under landlord-tenant law without fear of retaliation from the landlord in the form of an eviction filing.
- Make it illegal to discriminate against people who use Section 8 vouchers or other governmental source of income (social security, disability) to pay their rent.
- Reduce discrimination against communities disproportionately impacted by racism and classism in the criminal justice system.
- Provide advocacy and education for tenants on their rights in tenant screening.
- Hold individual tenant screening companies accountable through litigation, creating a deterrent effect for screening companies.
- Hold individual landlords and management companies accountable for discriminatory or illegal screening practices.
- Regulate tenant screening companies to stop the misuse of court records.
See also Legislative Advocacy Resources and Tenant Action for more information on how to get involved in the legislative process.
Healthy Housing Organizing
Rental Housing Inspection Program Victory
Enjoy this video of the dynamic stories and leadership of TU members, and please support YOUR Tenants Union by making a gift or becoming a member.
Victory! After a 5 year campaign — and almost 20 years for the TU — the City Council unanimously voted in the Rental Registration & Inspection Ordinance, a bill that will dramatically shift the power imbalance between landlords and tenants and hold the slumlords in our community accountable.
Want to learn more about what the law means to you as a Seattle tenant? Follow this link to read how it will effect your tenancy.
See news coverage here:
Thank you to all tenants who wrote letters and testified in favor of this important legislation, and to all advocates who fought for this bill! This is a tremendous victory for tenants.
Tenants speak out to win safe housing and landlord accountability in Seattle
The Tenants Union is working to win healthy homes for renters and basic licensing requirements for landlords in Seattle. Councilmember Nick Licata is taking a stand for renters with a proposal for proactive inspections that ensure all units in the City are up to basic health and safety standards. Licata listened closely to Tenants Union members and organizers while crafting the proposal. TU tenant leaders Flora Ybarra, Corey Snelson, Melissa Harry and many others courageously brought their experiences directly to City Council members and the media to win protections for all Seattle renters.
Tenant Ownership can be a powerful tool to create, preserve and improve affordable housing. It is also a means to create greater stability for low-income people, and an avenue for low-income people to generate equity and wealth for themselves and their families. Tenant owned and controlled housing enables low-income individuals and communities to benefit from development in our own neighborhoods and have greater control over the future of our communities. Communities of color can use tenant ownership to prevent displacement and gentrification.
Benson East Tenants Association
TU Victory! The Benson East Tenant Ownership project exists because tenant leaders and members of the Tenants Union worked together and fought for it. Go to Tenants Union Membership to find out more about becoming a member to support the TU’s work for housing justice.
The Tenant Ownership Project began as a new Tenants Union initiative to create affordable, dignified and secure housing for low-income people. In 2002 the multicultural, multilingual Benson East Tenants’ Association (BETA) became the first tenant organization in the NW to become low-income tenant-owners. The Benson East Project brings together a partnership of BETA, the TU, the Channel Foundation and the Low Income Housing Institute. These partners created an innovative ownership structure in which the tenants have control over the day-to-day operations of the development, and all proceeds will benefit future tenant ownership campaigns.
BETA has been recognized with a Friend of Housing Award from the State Housing Finance Commission. The TU continues to staff BETA and provide technical assistance to the project as tenants run the property. We also continue to seek out future tenant ownership projects.
Section 8 Tenants Organizing Project
Founded in 1996 as a program of the Tenants Union of Washington, STOP is a group of tenants and supporters working to preserve and improve Section 8 housing and give tenants a voice in decisions that affect their housing stability. STOP uses outreach, education and organizing to develop Section 8 tenant leaders to preserve long term affordability for multifamily buildings, affect change in Section 8 policy, and raise community awareness about the Section 8 program.
Contract expirations, owner opt-outs and budget cuts threaten the safety and stability of thousands of low-income tenants in Washington who depend on the Section 8 program to make housing affordable to them. STOP tenants and supporters work together to:
- Educate Section 8 residents and the general public and about Section 8 housing
- Develop tenant leaders in organizing and advocacy
- Advocate for the preservation and promotion of Section 8 housing
- Secure a place for Section 8 tenants at the decision-making table
- Develop allies in the community who can assist tenant leaders in achieving their goals
STOP has organized in over 20 project-based Section 8 buildings, and has won substantial victories in the long-term preservation of many of those properties, including the Royal Hills Apartments, Security House, the Oxford, Eastwood Square, and the Benson East, which became the first tenant-controlled housing in the Northwest. STOP tenants also organized for the successful reform of local Section 8 voucher policy regarding grievance hearings and increased accountability with local decision-makers. STOP works to educate Section 8 tenants about federal and local changes in housing laws and policies. STOP also mobilizes tenants to push Congress and HUD to increase funding for Section 8 programs and increase accountability and transparency in local housing authorities to win just process and safe, healthy, and affordable housing for all.
STOP was instrumental in passing statewide Section 8 tenant protection legislation that requires 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 was the TU’s first statewide legislative victory.
TU Victory! The Section 8 one-year notice law exists because members of the Tenants Union worked together and fought for it. If you have benefited from this law, go to Tenants Union Membership to find out more about becoming a member to support the TU’s work for housing justice.
Seattle, WA – On Tuesday December 16th, 2014, Seattle Housing Authority (SHA) Director Andrew Lofton sent a letter to the Mayor and City Council announcing that Stepping Forward, a policy that would increase tenants’ rents by over 400% has been put on hold. According to the letter, a new policy will not be considered likely until at least 2016.
Tenants living in Seattle Housing Authority buildings, on rent vouchers, and in other SHA programs led a movement to ensure this policy would not pass. Tenants rallied, marched in the streets, flooded City Hall, and made their positions clear through call and response chants during SHA board of commissioners meetings.
Tenants have made their position clear that no policy that decouples rent from income will be acceptable and that tenants need to be included at the outset of any rent policy proposal. Nimco Abdirahman, an eighteen year old who fought against the proposal to ensure that her family of eight can remain in their homes, says, “This is what happens when amazing people get together and fight back for their rights. This victory is only the beginning of change”.
Though this is an important victory, tenants believe they still need to organize for accountability at SHA. Lynn Sereda, board member of the Tenants Union says, “When tenants work together and are determined, it’s possible to achieve a victory that people may have thought would be impossible…We still need to make sure that from now on there is greater city oversight of SHA and more accountability to SHA tenants and that we especially have a credible voice in the next Board of Commissioner appointments”.
Tenants are continuing to organize to ensure that this victory be made permanent by having the Mayor appoint Board Commissioners that share the values of SHA tenants and reject Stepping Forward, as well that the City Council enact a resolution seeking greater accountability to tenants in future SHA policy decisions that may still cause great harm.
The Tenants Union Education Program empowers tenants with the knowledge and skills needed to keep themselves and their families safely housed. Tenants in Washington have no governmental agency to rely on to enforce their rights. Landlord-tenant laws in Washington State are considered “self help” — it is up to individual tenants to get their rights enforced. The TU provides empowerment-based education and assistance to help tenants learn their rights and take action to resolve housing problems.
The Section 8 Tenants’ Organizing Project is a nationally recognized organizing project formed in 1997 to mobilize tenants of privately owned HUD subsidized housing. STOP has a long history of victories for the preservation of low income housing in Washington State, and has organized in over 20 project based buildings from Royal Hills in 1996 to the Downtowner in 2011.
Take a look at the the Section 8 Tenants Organizing Manual for detailed information on how tenants in HUD multifamily buildings can form tenant councils to work for the preservation of their housing and building improvements
The Fair Tenant Screening Act addresses the lack of affordability, accuracy, and access to justice in tenant screening. Renters are routinely denied housing for reasons they never get to know by screening reports they never get to see. Low-income renters and homeless families are spending hundreds of dollars on repeated screening fees ending up penniless to pay for a first month’s rent or move-in deposit. Domestic violence records can be improperly included in a screening report causing a survivor to be illegally denied.
Screening reports many times contain incomplete, inaccurate or misleading information. When a tenant is threatened with an eviction lawsuit the record will often not reflect if the tenant won in court, or distinguish if the tenant was evicted due to a foreclosure at no fault of their own or even if they were never actually evicted at all. As a result many tenants waive their rights under threat of legal action because the simple filing of an eviction lawsuit is enough to permanently mark their record. The misleading record will systematically result in the denial of housing, effectively chilling a tenant’s rights and access to justice.
To see a webinar on the Fair Tenant Screening Act (FTSA), go to Housing Alliance Learn at Lunch: Fair Tenant Screening Act, Part 2 101.
Watch a video from Northwest Justice Project on An In-Depth Look at Tenant Screening in Washington State:
Watch a video on the Fair Tenant Screening Act:
This manual applies to tenants in HUD multifamily (or project based Section 8) buildings. If you are looking for information about your rights as a Section 8 voucher tenant, see Section 8 Vouchers and Section 8 Voucher Organizing.
The purpose of this manual is to help tenants in project based Section 8 buildings learn how to organize with other tenants to defend, assert, and expand their rights. If you organize well, you can help build a movement to not only protect and expand your rights but also win respect and a voice in your future. The most important existing right you have is your right to organize. Section 8 tenants in Minnesota along with tenants from around the country campaigned to win a federal law specifically protecting the right of Section 8 tenants to organize. It is through organizing that all your other rights have come to exist, and it is through organizing that you gain the power to decide which newer, stronger rights you need.
Discrimination against renters based on verifiable and legitimate sources of income is an unfair and discriminatory practice. Tenants who attempt to legally use a subsidy frequently hear comments like, “I don’t rent to people like you”. Some landlords advertise “No section 8” or will refuse an application for tenancy, regardless of the tenant’s rental and credit history, simply because of their lawful source of income. Washington State has already recognized the need to protect residents from housing discrimination based on their race, disability, sex, familial status and others. But a gaping loophole exists that leave many people in these categories, such as single parents, the disabled and the elderly open to discrimination based on their source of income. Policies like “no section 8” are a pretext for illegal discrimination and have a disparate impact on Washington’s most vulnerable families.
TU Victory! This STOP victory was possible because members of the Tenants Union worked together and fought for it. Go to Tenants Union Membership to find out more about becoming a member to support the TU’s work for housing justice.
Grievance Hearing Reform at Seattle Housing Authority
The STOP grievance hearing reform campaign ran from 2005-2009. Hundreds of Section 8 voucher tenants were being terminated and made homeless by the Seattle Housing Authority (SHA) because of a grievance hearing process that denied tenants due process. Over 90% of hearings went in favor of SHA, and the one hearing officer employed by SHA categorically refused to consider the tenants’ documentation, civil rights laws or domestic violence protections in his decisions. Tenant leaders reviewed 6 years’ worth of hearing decisions, built community support, had a series of meetings with SHA leadership, and secured 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 was settled and the recommendations made by STOP to improve the Section 8 program and protect tenants’ rights in grievance hearings were fully adopted by SHA. SHA agreed to hire a panel of legally trained hearing officers who consider all relevant evidence and legal arguments to ensure that tenants are no longer terminated unfairly or capriciously. Significant improvements were made in SHA policies around domestic violence, language access and disability issues, and several tenants 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.
The Tenant Education Program helps tenants get the knowledge and skills to keep themselves and their families safely housed. The TU provides empowerment-based tenant counseling, education and assistance to help tenants learn their rights and take action to resolve housing problems. Trained non-attorney Tenant Counselors offer free phone and walk-in tenant counseling services to assist people with questions about landlord-tenant laws and discuss strategies to prevent housing loss.
Tenants Rights Hotline: 206-723-0500
(Please note that these hours are for the hotline only, see below for walk-in clinic hours)
- Monday – Wednesday: 10am-12:30pm &1:30-4pm
- Thursday: 10am-12:30pm
- Saturday: 11am-3pm
(As of May 2019, our hotline is no longer open on Fridays)
Interpretation is available in many languages.
We are closed:
- New Years Day
- MLK, Jr. Day
- Presidents Day
- International Worker’s Day / May Day
- Memorial Day
- Independence Day
- Labor Day
- Indigenous People’s Day
- Veterans Day
- Thanksgiving and day after
- Christmas Eve
- Christmas Day
- New Years Eve
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.
Discrimination is a significant problem in Seattle in two major areas — housing and the criminal justice system. A recent investigation by the Seattle Office of Human Rights confirmed that African Americans and People with Disabilities encounter frequent discrimination when applying for rental housing. A new U.S. Justice Department report revealed that there are serious concerns that some of the Seattle Police Department’s (SPD) policies and practices could result in discriminatory policing. The report also found that the SPD uses unnecessary or excessive force when arresting people for minor offenses – particularly people with mental health issues. Another report found that African Americans are significantly over-represented, and Whites under-represented among those arrested by the SPD for delivering drugs in Seattle. Statewide, African Americans are 62% more likely to be sentenced to prison than Whites for felony drug crimes. In WA, Blacks are incarcerated at more than 6 times the rate of Whites.
The Tenants Union has won and is active in many legislative campaigns for tenants rights, housing justice, and safe healthy housing for all. See Tenant Action for more information on how to get involved in TU campaigns.
To learn more about legislative advocacy at the state and national level, click on the links below:
The Tenants Union can occasionally provide educational workshops for groups seeking resources or information about tenant rights, how to organize a tenant association, or other organizing and advocacy skills.
Because the TU does so much work with a very small amount of time and resources, we have limited availability and will consider workshop requests on a case-by-case basis.
When you request a workshop, please be ready to answer the following questions via intake form or cut and past the questions into an email message and send to info (at) tenantsunion (dot) org. We will use this information to see if a TU workshop is the right fit: