This winter, Elisha Velazquez had her quinceañera. For a 15-year-old girl, turning 15 should be a time of joy and celebration.
But for Elisha, it’s been a time of almost unendurable stress and worry. For the past two years, she has fought to keep her home in the Firs Mobile Home Park in SeaTac. The stress was worsened when their home caught fire and her mother’s health worsened.
The owner of the Firs Mobile Home Park has been trying for the last three years to evict all the tenants and build a hotel on the property. Fortunately, he hasn’t followed city and state regulations and these families are still in their homes, for now. A legal standoff has ensued and continues to this day.
As the affordability crisis that effects Seattle starts to fan out throughout the Puget Sound, it is impacting many traditionally affordable housing options up and down the I-5 corridor.
I’m sure many people in Ballard or Capitol Hill or Wallingford ask themselves where all these homeless people are coming from. From my vantage point in South King County, people are clearly being pushed into homelessness faster than our cities can build housing.
At the same time that 60 families could be kicked out of their homes at the Firs Mobile Home Park, many immigrant businesses were forced to close as the City of SeaTac decided to sell the city-owned building that housed their shops.
This leaves dozens of people without their livelihood as they scramble to find a new business space in an increasingly more expensive market. This fall, families in 36 units of the Fox Cove apartments in Burien were given notice they had to move out immediately because the complex was being sold to a new owner.
When these people go to politicians to ask for help, the politicians say that all the laws are being followed. It is the right of the property owners to do what they want with their property.
While that is true, market forces and laws that tip the scale towards landlords continue to greatly exacerbate the homelessness crisis in Seattle and the Puget Sound. Obviously, we need to build more density and housing as quickly as possible. The non-profit think tank Sightline has a good article about what other places are doing to increase density here.
But, at the same time, we have to slow down displacement and evictions or we are creating the problem faster than we are solving it.
Fortunately, Rep. Nicole Macri (D-43rd) is spearheading 34 bills that address what she calls the need to, “Build more, build up, build better, and build stability.” You can read more about that here.
On the Senate side, Patty Kuderer (D-48th), is pushing SB 5600 which would protect renters by requiring landlords to provide those facing evictions with written notice of legal resources available to them and 60 days written notice before raising the rent.
Non-profits like Washington CAN and the Tenant’s Union are doing the challenging work of organizing tenants around the state to connect and lobby lawmakers with constituents who are facing evictions.
All this is promising and couldn’t be more timely. As for Elisha, she and her friends Wendy Salinas and Crystal Sanchez have documented their struggles to keep their homes with a documentary featured at the Northwest Film Forum.
They pledge to continue to work tirelessly to get lawmakers, property owners, community leaders and the public to understand how easy it is for people to lose their homes and struggle to find or keep affordable housing. Elisha, Wendy and Crystal will continue to work to see action and solutions for thousands of families in similar situations.
All they ask is for the adults in our communities to do the same thing.