Summer 2017: Listening Sessions
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.
Fall 2017: Statewide Summit for Homes
On Saturday, October 7th, the Resident Action Project held its first Statewide Summit for Homes. More than eighty people packed the Southside Commons and filled the space with conversations about the primary solutions that RAP should fight for to address the housing and homelessness crisis.
At the beginning of the meeting, we welcomed everyone into the space. We introduced folks to RAP and told the story of how we arrived at the Summit. We did an initial presentation about the information that we collected in the listening sessions and provided people with handouts to look at the data for themselves. Then, we turned to the group to find the solution.
Inspired by the World Café, RAP leaders on the Statewide Steering Committee and others who attended the cross train facilitated small group conversations based on each of the problem areas that we identified. The goal of each of the small group conversations was for the participants to consider the listening session data for that theme area and begin to brainstorm solutions that the group would then vote on at the end of the day. We had three rounds of fifteen minute conversations, and we asked people to rotate to a different theme each time.
Following our World Café conversations, participants had the opportunity to hear from Representative Nicole Macri and Michele Thomas, policy staff from the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance, about the political landscape in Olympia.
After lunch, we gave each of the table facilitators the opportunity to report out on the solutions identified at their tables. From there, we asked the group to vote on the issues that they want to recommend to the Statewide Steering Committee to prioritize in the 2018 legislative session. Each of the participants was given three dots that they could disperse however they liked.
The issues that rose to the top were:
- build more low-income and affordable housing
- change the law that makes urinating in public a sex offense
- ban statewide source of income discrimination
- develop a legal department that handles all housing discrimination issues
- do away with statewide ban on rent control
- establish a “homeless court” based on a model for other states that offers alternatives to fines, jail, and to people to services
Even though it was a long, action-packed day, there was a lot of energy in the room as we closed. Several people lingered – appreciating each other’s company and the work that we’d done together.
Winter 2017-2018: 8 Weeks of Action for Homes
After the Statewide Summit for Homes, we held a day-long meeting with RAP Steering Committee members to decide which policies to focus on, given the response from people at the Summit. Ultimately, we decided to focus on 1) building more low-income and affordable housing, and 2) banning statewide source of income discrimination.
We wanted to get every RAP member in Washington involved before and during the first few weeks of the legislative session to put early pressure on lawmakers and to give RAP members the resources to be effective advocates.
Every Monday, starting Dec. 5, RAP members received an email with all of the actions they could take, resources they could learn from, and different ways to get involved. The first week, we started with a Strategy Call to walk people through the 8 Weeks of Action, and the following weeks, we had a variety of different actions like: Letters to the Editor campaigns to push for more affordable housing, calling lawmakers asking them to pass bills that would help our policy priorities, door belling in districts to take photos of residents who live in affordable housing to post on their lawmakers’ social media pages, and so on.
The 8 weeks culminated in a in-person lobby day in Olympia, where we wore hard-hats and distributed small shovels to every single lawmaker there, to show them how many shovel-ready projects were on the line if lawmakers did not pass the Capital Budget with a strong investment in the Housing Trust Fund.
It was an intense eight-week period, but we were able to have our voices heard and to create the change we wanted to see. A week after our in-person lobby day, lawmakers passed the Capital Budget, which was considered impossible. We also reached 4000 people through our social media actions, made 75 phone calls, and reached 148 lawmakers (including the governor)!
The eight weeks have come to an end, but that doesn’t mean that we’ve stopped work. Instead, we are gearing up for even more events and actions in this fight for housing justice.