In early 2017, RAP’s first statewide steering committee formed and began making plans for 2017. After releasing an extensive Toolkit for Organizing in May, RAP launched its first listening tour. Since the beginning, we had been struggling with question: how do we do democracy well? How do we make sure that we are being inclusive in RAP’s decision-making processes? How do we make sure that RAP’s work actually reflects the needs of the communities that we seek to serve? The answer that we landed on was to start by sitting down with people to listen.
Our goals for the listening tour were to learn more about how the affordable housing and homelessness crisis was impacting communities locally and to invite more people to join our network. We visited twelve communities around the state: Kent, Lynnwood, Federal Way, Centralia, Bellingham, Kirkland, Bellevue, two in Tacoma, and three in Seattle. During each listening session, we gave people a brief introduction to the Resident Action Project, explained our belief in systemic change to impact many people’s lives, and promoted systems thinking. Then, we asked people: what were the biggest challenges that you faced the last time that you tried to find a new home, and what are the challenges that your larger communities face? We gave people individual reflection time and discussed in small and large groups.
Every listening session that we did was unique. It was clear that the housing crisis is impacting each area in different ways, but it was also clear that there were trends between all of the communities that we visited. Because we left the listening sessions open-ended, we gathered a ton of information. The best way that we came up with to present it back to the group was to identify all of the unique problems that were identified and organize them into larger themes or problem areas: finding an affordable place to live, housing discrimination, available housing doesn’t meet diverse needs and is inaccessible, and the criminalization of homelessness and additional barriers that occur after someone becomes homeless.