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
TU Victory! This 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.
The 2011 campaign at the Downtowner Apartments was a major victory for the Tenants Union’s Section 8 Tenants Organizing Project (STOP), reflecting a winning combination of grassroots education, organizing and advocacy. Downtowner tenants were among 100,000 families across the country facing displacement due to the current wave of expiring HUD-subsided mortgages. The Downtowner is an incredibly diverse 240-unit building, largely populated by non-native English speakers, elderly people with cognitive and physical disabilities, and people who have been downtrodden by systemic poverty. Emphasizing thoughtful, deliberate leadership development, agitation-based education, the Tenants Union empowered Downtowner Tenant leaders and set a national precedent changing HUD policy so that an additional 34,000 families across the country will now be eligible to receive Section 8 vouchers who would have been displaced due to mortgage expiration.
The Tenants Union’s STOP campaign had a major victory for their organizing work conducted at the Downtowner Apartments located in the International District in downtown Seattle. Across the country over 100,000 units through 2013 are in jeopardy when their mortgage expires as tenants are hit with rent hikes causing mass displacement and homelessness. The Downtowner was a 240-unit HUD assisted building funded with a less common Section 221 (d)(3) mortgage and Rent Supplement contract. Up until last year, HUD’s policy (PIH Notice 2001-41) for these assisted buildings left many of the low-income tenants extremely vulnerable in the event the HUD-assisted mortgage expires. The Downtowner’s mortgage was set to expire May 2011, and the Tenants Union began door knocking the entire building.
The Downtowner is an incredibly diverse building, populated by low-income non-native English speakers, elderly people, and people with disabilities. The TU organized tenants’ rights workshops and tenant leadership trainings to build political power to not only contest the deficient HUD policy but also the landlord’s attempt to sell the property to a developer who intended to convert the building into a luxury hotel. At the same time legislation was moving through Congress to slash HUD’s budget, decimating the funds for tenant protection vouchers that Downtowner tenants would rely on to afford their homes after the mortgage expired.
Tenant Leaders organized their building and collected over 180 signatures on a joint letter to object to Congress’s slashing of HUD’s budget. Empowered by the political education provided by TU organizers on the strategic importance of Senator’s Murrays position as Chair of the HUD Appropriations Committee tenant leaders hand delivered the joint letter to her local office and met with her congressional staff. The tenant’s action was in solidarity with a national action coordinated by the National Alliance of HUD Tenants (NAHT) on Valentine’s Day to Save Our Homes, and thanks to the work of advocates across the country the Section 8 voucher funds were not cut in 2011.
Back home in Seattle, the TU worked with the Mayor of the City of Seattle and local housing advocates to lobby HUD to change their policy. After considerable political pressure was placed on HUD, tenant leaders and housing advocates celebrated the national office’s decision to issue all 240 units at the Downtowner tenant protection Section 8 vouchers. Bolstered by this precedent setting victory, the Downtowner tenants went to Washington, D.C. to meet with HUD officials to ensure that other tenants across the country received the same protections. HUD in clear and definite terms stated that because of the organizing and advocacy work of the Seattle tenants HUD has changed its policy and that other properties in similar conditions would receive tenant protection vouchers.
In spite of this victory, the owner of the Downtowner Apartments, Martin Seelig, issued illegal rent increase notices to all the tenants and refused to accept the newly won Section 8 vouchers for everyone in the building. The TU campaigned hard to fight the panic that ensued from the building and educate tenants on the illegality of the landlord’s discriminatory actions. With technical help from the TU, the tenants organized into the Downtowner Tenants Association to collectively negotiate with the owner, and secure legal representation from legal aid.
The Northwest Justice Project represented the Downtowner Tenant Association and immediately filed a lawsuit to stop the illegal rent increases – the landlord had already begun eviction actions against some of the tenants. The tenant’s suit stopped all the rent increases and evictions, allowing the Section 8 vouchers to be distributed to all of the tenants.