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May 20, 2006

Open Letter Regarding Proposed Development of Low Income Housing in Hillman City

To: Residents of the Rainier Valley, City of Seattle Office of Housing, Seattle City Council, Southeast District Council, Tenants Union Members

Open Letter Regarding Proposed Development of Low Income Housing in Hillman City

Recently there has been heated debate around a proposed affordable housing development in the Hillman City neighborhood of the Rainier Valley. The project as proposed will provide permanent affordable housing to 80 formerly homeless adults, many of whom are disabled by mental illness and some of whom have suffered from the often co-occurring illness of addiction.

The Tenants Union is a part of this community. Our office is located a block from the proposed development site, and Tenants Union members live and work in the neighborhood. The Tenants Union is a grassroots membership organization dedicated to creating housing justice through education, community organizing and advocacy. As an organization we have 29 years of expertise in housing and tenants’ rights concerns.

We are committed to the expansion of permanent, affordable housing to meet the devastating unmet need for safe, healthy, affordable places to live for all members of our community. Additionally we are deeply committed to supporting equitable development in the Rainier Valley that reflects the needs and interests of the entire community, including the low-income people, people of color and immigrants and refugees who call this neighborhood home.

Based in these values the Tenants Union has considered the housing project proposed by DESC and decided to offer our support for this housing development.

Some of those who suffer mental illness are fortunate enough to have a safety net of family, money, health insurance, and medical care which is broad and strong enough to keep the ill person safe and housed. Sadly, for many who suffer the ravages of mental illness, the result is a spiral of inadequate care, loss of resources, and ultimately, homelessness.

Restoring the dignity and safety of housing is a basic building block to enabling mentally ill people to reclaim a life that any of us would want. Among the diverse communities of the Rainier Valley there are undoubtedly a myriad of personal stories of the struggles of living with mental illness. We don’t have to consider this project a service for others. We can claim it as a service to those who are in need in our own communities.

DESC and the city of Seattle need to be responsive to the desires of the community to have input into the design and management of the project, but we do not believe that they should sacrifice the core goals or the financial viability of the project in order to accommodate opposition. DESC should continue to reach out to broad sectors of the community to share design plans, open dialogue and solve problems as the project develops and once it opens.

This housing project is not an assault on Hillman City, or the Rainier Valley. Despite the claims made by some opposing the project, low income housing and community services are not disproportionately located in Southeast Seattle. On the other hand, substandard and dangerous rental housing conditions, presided over by slumlords profitting off the suffering of the Rainier Valley’s poor residents, are disproportionately located here. This dangerous and inadequate housing is currently the only option for many people at the edge of homelessness, including those suffering from mental illness. The Tenants Union helps the individuals and families living in this housing every day, and we know that coping with broken stoves, mold, water leaks, cockroaches, lack of heat and abusive treatment from slumlords adds enormous stress to lives of people already facing a huge battle to make it through each day. This project offers to bring an opportunity to create homes; safe, healthy, stable homes for people who have faced the fear and violence of homelessness.

Some of those organizing to oppose the project have stated that their efforts are not NIMBYism. But their arguments against the project echo the traditional claims of any community that wants to close its doors to the poor, the ill, or the different. The cloaking of the opposition in concerns about process, the existing amount of services in the Valley or the timeline of the decision doesn’t obscure the fear and distaste of the poor and ill who will make this project home.

This project is not an assault on Hillman City or the Rainier Valley. It is one development option that will help to balance the influx of new development serving the housing interests of higher income residents, the majority of whom are white newcomers to the Rainier Valley. Many of those who are now opposing this project were involved in the creation of the Southeast Seattle Action Agenda adopted by the Southeast District Council. The Action Agenda lays out a clear goal that development in the Rainier Valley should preserve the diversity of the neighborhood and include housing to serve the interests of low-income renters. This development is one opportunity to put some action behind those words. It presents not an obstacle to improving the Rainier Valley, but an opportunity to work with a publicly accountable developer to create a project that reflects the interests of the community.

The TU encourages our members and the entire community to support the continued development and improvement of housing for the very low income in the Rainier Valley. Feel free to contact us for more information at [email protected] or 206-722-6848 × 108.


Tenants Union of Washington Board of Directors
Esther “Little Dove” John, Board President
Sofia Olson, Vice President
Michele Marchand, Treasurer
Jules Hughes, Secretary
Jan Munger
Leslie Morishita
Jeri Gates
Irene Basloe Saraf
Roberta Miner
Lisa Chappell

Tenants Union of Washington Staff
Siobhan Ring, Executive Director
Michele Wilson Thomas, Organizer
Emily Paddison, Organizer
Alice Campbell, Membership Coordinator
Federico Martinez, Tenant Counselor