Unpacking Census 2020: And Why You Should Care as a Housing Advocate

By Emily Strange, Organizing Fellow

In only a few short weeks, we’ll be ushering in a new year and a new decade. After the ball has dropped, the confetti have settled and the 20/20 vision jokes have been overdone, the work of the Census will begin in earnest. While it might seem to be irrelevant to the work of housing advocates on the surface, the Census is central to the work that we do and its results will go on to impact funding and representation for the next 10 years. 

The countrywide census effort will be between March 2020 and December 2020. It is constitutionally mandated to count every resident of the United States every ten years, happening in years that end in zero. This is the first article in a series we’ll be doing to unpack the census: what it is, how it will be used, its importance to housing work, and how those experiencing homelessness are going to be counted. 

Why is the Census so crucial? For starters, the electoral college votes are allocated among the states based on the Census. That means that the more people from our state are counted, the more electoral votes will be available to our state in deciding future presidential elections. Each state has a number assigned to it based on its population, determined by the Census. For example, the results of the 2010 Census is the reason why Washington currently has 12 electoral votes and Florida has 29. State, local and tribal governments use census information for planning and allocating funds for new school construction, libraries, highway safety and public transportation systems, new roads and bridges, location of police and fire departments and many other projects. Yes, this includes funding for projects around building affordable housing, providing services and ending homelessness. According to the New York Times, the Census determines how congressional seats are apportioned, how state and federal dollars are distributed, where businesses choose to ship products and where they build new stores. The Census is used at the state level to redraw congressional districts and legislative districts, which has powerful implications for elections and representation. For example, the state of Minnesota may potentially lose some electoral college votes, whereas the state of Texas may gain votes

This Census, there are multiple ways to get counted. The primary way to participate is online, which will be made available in March. Door-knockers and Census workers will still be used as a way to get folks counted who haven’t completed a form online. This is because it is constitutionally mandated to get as complete of a count as possible. Even though it’s law to get as accurate as a count as possible, marginalized populations have been historically and often intentionally left out of the count. Some changes coming to the Census in 2020 seek to change that pattern. For those that are unhoused, The U.S. Census Bureau will work with service providers to ensure that people who are unhoused also are counted. Because folks have the option to complete a Census count online, this means thousands of people who were not counted in the past due to their housing status can now be included.  

This decade’s Census count will also be the first to include a count of those who are undocumented. There was an attempt early in the Census planning to include a question about one’s citizenship status. Luckily, this was blocked in the courts. One important thing to note in all of this is that it’s against the law for the Census Bureau and anyone who represents it to share your identity and information with anyone, including ICE. If they do, the perpetrator faces the possibility of five years in prison and/or a fine of up to $250,000. The Census is meant to get an accurate understanding of everyone who’s in the United States, no matter their citizenship status. 

Stay tuned for future RAP Newsletters to dive into the Census more, learn about work happening across the state on it, and how you can help organize for an accurate Census 2020. For more about the Census and its importance in the meantime, listen to Jonathan Van Ness’s podcast (particularly to gain more insight on how unhoused people will be counted) and watch this clip from a Last Week Tonight with John Oliver episode.  

-This article was contributed to by Kiki Serantes.


Threading Together Housing Justice and Equity: Anti-Oppression Work IS Housing Justice

Pictured above: organized preachers and members of the NAACP march for The Civil Rights Act and the Fair Housing Act, passed in 1968 shortly after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

In the fight for housing justice, it’s impossible to isolate housing and homelessness from the oppressive structures that impact our society and our people. In even trying to do so, it negates the experiences of those who have suffered at the hands of institutionalized oppression. That’s why here at the Resident Action Project and Washington Low Income Housing Alliance, we are committed to rooting ourselves firmly in equity and anti-oppression work – because that’s the only way we will truly end homelessness. 

Fundamentally, housing is about land. It’s about land use rights and how land is developed. There are a lot of words used to describe housing, but in the end, it breaks down to who gets that right to use land. From the United States’ founding, theft by Europeans from Native Americans has been the root. The city of Seattle currently sits on land that was taken from the Duwamish tribe by the European settlers. The city of Spokane currently sits on land that was taken from the Spokane tribe, also by European settlers. This can be said for every city, town, village, county, state in the entire United States, just with different thieves.

Land has been at the root of many acts of violence committed by those in power, from stealing and displacing Africans from their homes, enslaving them, and forcing them to work the United States’ stolen land, to the inhumane treatment of Mexican citizens during the Bracero program, and then their forced displacement from this land (warning, this link contains information about a government program that was titled a racial slur). 

There’s a whole history of the Doctrine of Discovery, slavery, the Indian Removal Act, the Dawes Act, redlining, and much more that’s important to acknowledge to understand the role that we as housing advocates occupy. The Doctrine of Discovery, Indian Removal Act, Dawes act and more are seen today in the poverty and homelessness on native American reservations, and in the fact that the United States took 137.2 billion dollars of assets from Native lands they were managing, but settled the lawsuits for only $492 million in 2016. The history of slavery and segregation can be seen today in the current inhumane treatment of migrants at the US border and the wealth inequity in African American communities to redlining. It can be seen in the fact that 19% of transgender people are denied apartments due to their gender identity. These histories are still here today.  

Housing justice can’t be isolated from these histories, because these histories are why housing justice is necessary. Racism, sexism, classism, ableism, heterosexism and other forms of oppression were and continue to be central in the development of this country, and in the creation of the housing crisis that we find ourselves in. It took work to develop these unjust systems, and it’s going to take work in order to dismantle them and rebuild new ones. 

The RAP Steering Committee met on Monday and affirmed their commitment to equity and anti-oppression work. We learned about powerful and traumatic moments of US history and discussed the importance of anti-racism work. 

The RAP steering committee team discussed two elements on how racism can show up/cause barriers in our work, colorblindness and this misconception of reverse racism. Color blindness, commonly associated with the phrase “I don’t see color,” often has positive intent, with one meaning to send the message that they see people of color as their equal. The issue with this line of thought is that is negates the real experiences that people have based on their race. By saying that one doesn’t see color, the message they are sending is that they don’t honor the different life experiences that someone else may have had based off their non-dominant culture or heritage, that the beauty of their differences are erased or co-opted, and ignores the privileges that come with whiteness in US society.  

Reverse racism is an idea that has come to the forefront in the modern-day United States. It’s the concept there is a whole system that has formed to oppress white people from those of color. One definition of racism is prejudice plus power. This means that there’s systematic power to back up your prejudices. Ever since the first European settlers arrived on this land, up until now, those who have had the power are white. This can be seen today when looking at the United States congress and even the Washington State legislature. In current US society, it is impossible for reverse racism to exist, for the power structures are firmly in the hands of white people. 

RAP and the Housing Alliance understand that in order to grow and build a strong movement, it needs to not just be inclusive, it must actively work to dismantle these unjust institutions. Because in the end, that’s what we’re doing in housing justice: Working to pull one specific, housing shaped thread in the tapestry of systemic oppression, armed with the knowledge that with our growing community effort it will unravel. 

-Written by Emily Strange, Organizing Fellow with the Housing Alliance


2020 Session Preview: Ending No-Cause Evictions

Washington’s 2020 Legislative Session is just two months away. In that time, we’ll be previewing and unpacking the WA Low Income Housing Alliance agenda and discuss what exactly we’re organizing for the next session. In this issue of the RAP Newsletter, we are exploring SHB 1656: Ending No-Cause Evictions.

Advocating for Stable Homes & Ending No Cause Evictions

In Washington State, landlords do not have to provide or describe a “cause” when kicking someone out of the home. The notice to vacate must be in writing and be served at least 20-days before the last day of the rental period. Although landlords aren’t legally allowed to evict a tenant for a discriminatory or retaliatory reasons, this “hidden” practice still happens all over the state because landlords are not required to describe a legitimate business reason for displacing the tenant.

Some Washington cities have already created laws to end no cause evictions, including Seattle, Burien and Federal Way. And there’s precedent for entire states to pass similar laws as well, with both New Jersey and New Hampshire already having variations of a no-cause eviction law on the books. Federal housing programs often provide “good cause” protection, which prohibits arbitrary termination of tenancy or refusal to renew a lease. Programs with good cause protection include: Project-Based Section 8 buildings and Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) properties.

The Problem:

No-cause evictions are a serious problem statewide because they:

  • A) Directly force people out of their community and into housing instability and homelessness;
  • B) Restrict renters’ access to justice, bypassing the court system in which the renter could otherwise make an argument to keep their home;
  • C) Makes tenants more fearful to organize or raise concerns with issues happening on the property; and
  • D) Often hide underlying discrimination or retaliation by the landlord.

Proposed Solution:  

Simple: Ban the practice of displacing people from their homes without cause! The details of the proposed bill will continue to be worked out leading up to and during the session. But at its roots, we’re calling on our elected officials to pass a law that requires a landlord to describe a legitimate business reason before forcing a tenant to vacate their home.

Did this happen to you?

Have you ever received a 20-day “no cause” notice to vacate your home? Do you know someone who has? The Washington Low Income Housing Alliance would love to connect with you and anyone who has experienced this loophole in our renter protections firsthand.

With your help, we can make 2020 the year our decision-makers outlaw no-cause evictions in Washington.

If you have received a no-cause eviction, we are asking for your help to go towww.evictedwithoutcause.com and complete the form on the page. We will follow up with you to learn more and discuss how we can build power to outlaw no-cause evictions! Please share the link widely, and if you have any questions or would like to learn more about our efforts, please contact John Stovall at johns@wliha.org.


Save-the-Date: Housing & Homelessness Advocacy Day 2020

Housing & Homeless Advocacy Day

Join the WA Low Income Housing Alliance, Resident Action Project, and more than 600 advocates from across the state for our annual Housing and Homelessness Advocacy Day! Registration will be open shortly, but it’s not too early to start planning and coordinating with your network. Here’s what you need to know to make that calendar reminder:

  • When: Monday, February 3, 2020
  • Where: Olympia WA (starting location is to be determined)
  • Who: All Washington residents passionate about organizing for housing justice in our state.

Download the HHAD Save-the-Date Flyer Here!. See below:

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Building Skills for Housing Justice at COEH

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The 29th annual Conference on Ending Homelessness (COEH) welcomed more than 500 folks from the housing justice world earlier this month in Spokane. The Resident Action Project was there in full force, joined by direct-service providers, housing developers, funders and elected officials.

Although coming from different aspects of the housing and homelessness world, the COEH purpose was clear: To build skills and share resources to see housing justice become a reality in our state.

More than 37 sessions were offered to participants across the 1.5 day event, with session topics ranging from the need to have an equity approach to coordinated entry to decolonizing systems to landlord mitigation and everything in between. Sessions were hosted by dozens of parts to the Housing Alliance (to see the full Housing Alliance Member List, click here).

RAP hosted a workshop on the second day on building power for statewide change, and RAP Steering Committee leader Mindy Woods co-hosted a session previewing the 2020 legislative agenda for the Housing Alliance. PDF versions of all presentations that used slides will be added to wliha.org in the coming days and we’ll post a link to them in our upcoming newsletters. 


Ren Autrey: Navigating this World While Homeless, and Still Human

The following is a speech by Ren Autrey, Resident Action Project Steering Committee leader, which she presented at the annual Bring Washington Home fundraiser in Seattle on Oct. 15, 2019. She bravely shares her story of resilience and healing, explores how community is essential in the journey of overcoming homelessness.


My name is Ren Autrey, I am a Certified Peer Counselor, a Resident Action Project Statewide Steering committee member and I co-run a grassroots non profit that advocates and works with people experiencing homelessness in Vancouver, WA’s 49th District. Leading up to all of that I had previously spent some time without a home living in my van and couching with friends and family from California to Washington while I was “in-between projects.” Like many folks who find themselves in this position, I was navigating some grief, mental health and money issues that come from the instability of life during times of change. During these challenges, I was able to gain a new perspective of not only myself but also of other people navigating this world while homeless, and still human.

As a single woman alone with my little dog on the road our only safety was inside our vehicle. And while inside that van, the perception of safety and community slowly slipped away. Each new location and city brought new challenges. Police knocked on my window and told me to move on. Well meaning people taped notes on my window threatening me if I kept my dog safe in that vehicle (with windows only slightly rolled down), that while I went to the bathroom or inside somewhere to shop for supplies they would break the windows and leave us even more exposed to unsafe conditions and the elements. Some days it was all I could do to step outside my vehicle. Living without a home is a daily trauma experience  and recovering from that trauma is not a simple thing.

But I have to ask – is it really possible to heal while still enduring daily traumas living on the streets or in unsafe situations?

We attempt to keep ourselves connected to community, while that same community looks at us sleeping with all of our stuff in our vehicles and RV’s and on the streets with fear and judgement of our circumstances. And we know that look in their eyes. It is really the fear of knowing that they too are only one car accident, one work injury, or one or two partial or late paychecks away from instability or homelessness themselves.

And then when we are the recipients of grace and find opportunity to be housed again, we need to realize that there is a healing process that happens when we go from being homeless to being reconnected to community.  We changed, our responses to situations changed and now it will need to change again. We have to work hard to get into new routines and new communication cycles with the people around us. We have to dig in a MAKE a home safe & comfortable. To do that we NEED a stable and resilient place to call home to learn and practice those skills — This is difficult and not easy when the answer before was just to “move on” and not feel worthy of that conversation or place to be.

Part of what we do in Vancouver with our non-profit Outsiders Inn is to engage in conversation with folks and ask key questions and DEEPLY LISTEN to their answers – We respectfully ask and encourage them to share their stories.

We get to see the human side of our unhoused population’s challenges. They get the opportunity to be heard. Through these stories, this is how the healing begins, for myself and for those I go out and meet and listen to.  It’s simple. We share our stories. We need to build more homes and safe spaces to heal and learn how to speak with confidence – Learn HOW to share our stories effectively – so we not only help others change, but WE continue to grow and change internally from our experiences.

Resident Action Project was a continuation of this process for me and I fell in love with the organization and the people in it right away, I had found my “heart community”.

They too were digging deep into helping some of those same folks and myself bring our stories together for a bigger purpose, to a greater number of people, and possibly a more influential audience. Lawmakers, city, county, and state representatives. And here we are – able to use our stories to be a part of changing policy, laws and perceptions in a grand way.   My fellow RAP members taught me that a little practice and confidence goes a long way in this work! I am grateful for their continued love and support.


I would have never imagined a few short years ago that this is a journey I would have taken, yet here I am before all of you. I am a mother, a grandmother, a working member of our society, AND I am a person who has experienced mental health struggles and homelessness. I was a strong person already, but through my experiences and perspectives – I am even stronger now.  — I have experienced healing through being a part of something bigger than myself and learning how to effectively advocate around issues that affect all of us. Through the support of the Housing Alliance and the camaraderie with other Resident Action Project members, I have been able to deepen my skills around community organizing and building movements and I have been a part of creating and expanding something I am proud of.

But my community goes beyond my city, it is also my state and includes most of you in this room.

And — I am proud to be one of many in a community that cares.  I am proud to be a part of a statewide movement that works on showing what a caring and compassionate community can do when we come together. I am proud to help build those safe places we will call home — to share our stories and continue to heal our community – while we continue to collaborate with all of you to find compassionate community responses to homelessness – together.  Thank You.