A Year of Hope

The following post appeared in our December edition of our monthly e-newsletter, Building Blocks. Sign up on our mailing list if you’d like to receive updates on our work!

As we begin the new year, it’s typical for a message like this to offer a preview of the year ahead.

I’d rather write about hope.

Though we face uncertainty at the federal level, the crisis of affordability in our city continues. Families struggling to find an affordable place to live or communities holding fast against displacement cannot suffer any diminishing of our ambition or weakening of our resolve.

Let 2017 be our year for hope, the year for our most ambitious goals. As we refuse to back away from bold action, let 2017 also be a year grounded in growth and service. If hope is the seed for our highest aspirations, then it must be nurtured with hard work and humility.

It’s a lesson we have learned through our work on the Liberty Bank Building. Expected to break ground later this spring, the project will provide 115 affordable homes, small business opportunities for African American owned enterprises, locally designed art and a thoughtful remembrance of the bank that once was there.

And yet, our vision of a completely inclusive community project has not always been flawlessly executed. We are accustomed to doing things a particular way. We work closely with community, but never before to the extent we are pursuing with the Liberty Bank Building. We don’t always get it exactly right. But that’s when we redouble our commitment to listening to and learning from our partners. I have watched that commitment rise organically from the bed of our culture and take root across our organization.

That gives me hope. It gives me hope that we can learn as an organization and grow in service to community. And it gives me hope that we can partner with communities overcoming disinvestment and institutional racism in ways that allow them to flourish under their own stewardship and dominion.

As we look forward to 2017, I encourage you to take one last look at 2016 through our annual community report. Thank you to our donors, supporters and partners who made our efforts possible. 

Chris Persons, CEO

We Still Have Work to Do

The following post appeared in our December edition of our monthly e-newsletter, Building Blocks. Sign up on our mailing list if you’d like to receive updates on our work!

 

I imagine the results of last month’s presidential election remain on many of your minds, even today. For some, this is a time of celebration, but for others these events bring fear about what the future holds.

I am reminded of the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., which ring true today: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” It is love and light that will carry us through these times.  As much as you may feel like giving up right now, we still have work to do.  We have housing to build.  We have community to support and nurture.  We have opportunity to create and hope to engender.

At Capitol Hill Housing we welcome all. The refugee fleeing war-ravaged despair, the reformed convict hoping to embark on a new path, the young family who wants to raise kids in a vibrant, diverse neighborhood.  We welcome gay and queer and lesbian and trans people.  We welcome people who have physical and emotional disability.  We welcome people of all races and beliefs.

I don’t feel particularly authorized to quote Dr. King, but his words, to my mind, represent the only path forward.  We won’t back away from our values or stop fighting for what’s right, but we also won’t assume that others - whatever their politics – don’t share our values.

Though these are uncertain times, we have work to do. As builders of community, we play an important role in creating space for dialogue that doesn’t alienate or exclude.  We also promote legislation that supports our work.  One example of this is a bipartisan bill cosponsored by Senators Maria Cantwell and Orrin Hatch.  If passed into law, this bill will double the revenue generated by low income housing tax credits.

We recently spoke to Senator Cantwell’s office and I will be heading to Washington DC in the spring as a member of the Housing Partnership Network policy committee to advocate on behalf of all policy that impacts our work.

Chris Persons, CEO

My Last Time on the Soapbox

The following post appeared in our November edition of our monthly e-newsletter, Building Blocks. Sign up on our mailing list if you’d like to receive updates on our work!

Imagine you were hit with an unexpected medical bill for $400. Would you pay it off in cash? Put it on your credit card? When the Federal Reserve asked American consumers this question, a shocking 47% of respondents said they would not be able to cover an expense of that size.

The survey points to a troubling reality: many people across the country are living paycheck to paycheck. In Seattle, there are over 40,000 low-income households spending more than half of their income on housing, squeezed more and more as rents rise.

 

When most of your earnings go to keeping a roof over your head, the line between being stably housed and on the street can be very fine. Back in July of 2015, the Committee to End Homelessness in King County presented a study showing that an increase of only $100 in median rent corresponded to a 15% increase in the homeless population.

 

I am often asked what role CHH has in addressing the homelessness crisis. The answer? A large one. We don’t run homeless shelters, or tent cities, or conduct outreach. But we do own or manage over 1,400 affordable units across the city, and for many of our residents, an affordable place to rent is the difference that keeps them off the street.

 

We also know that getting people into housing is often only the first step on their journey home. Our resident services staff works tirelessly to connect tenants to resources and opportunities in the community. And when folks fall on times of financial hardship, we provide emergency one-time rental assistance to those who complete a financial education class, to try and keep as many people in their homes as possible.

 

For families that are making just enough to scrape by, quality, affordable homes close to jobs and public transit can make a world of difference. Next year we are excited to break ground on the 115-unit Liberty Bank Building project, our largest yet. It represents our commitment to make sure that as Seattle grows and changes, we continue to offer housing for people at all income levels. When growth happens, it should help lift all residents, not push some out.

 

Chris Persons returned from his three-month sabbatical this week, so this will be my last time on the soapbox. We’re all glad he had some time to recharge his batteries, but also excited to welcome him back. May his renewed energy be infectious as we rise to meet new challenges and opportunities in our ongoing fight to keep Seattle affordable for all.

 

Jill Fleming, Acting CEO
Jill Fleming, Acting CEO

A New Standard for Development

The following post appeared in our October edition of our monthly e-newsletter, Building Blocks. Sign up on our mailing list if you’d like to receive updates on our work!

September was an especially busy month for Capitol Hill Housing.

Through the Capitol Hill EcoDistrict, we hosted the first-ever Capitol Hill Renter Summit and brought over 100 renters together to have their voices heard by the Mayor and a number of local officials.

I formally signed the purchase and sale agreement for our project at the Capitol Hill light rail station, continuing to move forward our development of affordable apartments above a new, thriving transit hub.

And we were humbled by the community’s generosity at our annual Omnivorous event. A packed room of guests enjoyed fine food and drinks from 27 of Capitol Hill’s best restaurants and raised over $185,000 for our resident services program, which connects CHH tenants to job training, financial counseling, and other services that increase their stability and improve the lives of their families.

All of these events are an important reminder that our work extends far beyond building affordable housing. We build vibrant and engaged communities, working alongside our neighbors to ensure the opportunities our city offers are available to everyone.

Today, we further that work with our announcement of signed a memorandum of understanding with Africatown-Central District Preservation and Development Association, Black Community Impact Alliance, and Centerstone to help guide the redevelopment of the Liberty Bank Building at 24th and Union.

The memorandum sets out a shared vision for the project and the partnership’s goal to appropriately honor the legacy of Liberty Bank by leveraging the site redevelopment to directly address displacement and empower the African-American community. In addition to creating 115 affordable homes, our partnership hopes to set a new standard in the Central District and beyond, demonstrating how development can, and should, lift up the community.

I encourage you to visit LibertyBankBuilding.org to learn more.

Jill Fleming, Acting CEO

Jill Fleming, Acting CEO

A Sabbatical is a Time for Reflection

As most of you know, our CEO Chris Persons is on a three month sabbatical, returning November 1. I have been Acting CEO for the last month and appreciate all the support that the staff and board have given me in this new role. By way of background, I have worked in the affordable housing world for 29 years – 19 years as a CPA working with affordable housing owners and developers and 10 years here at CHH as CFO and Deputy Director.

A sabbatical is a time for reflection, renewal and growth for the employee. For those employees taking on the duties of the sabbatical taker, it is also a time of growth. (I think the reflection part will come a bit later for me). Of course the organization continues to grow and evolve as well. Every year brings change but 2016 feels like a particularly full year to me. I remind myself that change brings opportunity if you let it and that we at CHH are not shy about seizing opportunities. I welcome your thoughts on change and life at CHH. Just send me an email.

Finally, it is with great sadness that we acknowledge the passing of Robert “Uncle Bob” Santos. An incredible activist, mentor, and leader, he understood better than most the true power of organization to shape the future of a community. His contributions to Seattle, and in particular to the International District, are vast and will remain a shining example for generations to come. Our condolences go out to his wife, Rep. Sharon Tomiko Santos.

Jill Fleming, Acting CEO
Jill Fleming, Acting CEO

Some Rest and Recognition

Sabbatical

“A leave for rest, travel or research.” 

On August 1, I start a three month sabbatical for rest, travel and even a little research.  This is an opportunity of a lifetime, and I am speechless with gratitude toward my board and staff for granting me this chance.  But it’s not just me.  Our sabbatical program is available to anyone on staff, a wonderful benefit to support our great team.

The research says that sabbaticals are good times to give others in the organization the opportunity to lead and grow.   With this in mind, we’ve spent some time preparing Jill Fleming to take the helm in my absence—not that she needed much.  As Acting CEO, Jill will assume all the authority and responsibility that resides in this position.  Michael Seiwerath, Stacey McQuade-Reum and other members of the leadership team will step-up their leadership to support Jill in this role.

If you want to get together for a drink while I’m off, I’d love that, but you can’t talk about work!

Meanwhile, we say farewell to a long-time CHH staffer and community leader, Joe Black, as he reaches retirement on July 31.  His dedication to our values and to building community sets the example for everyone on our staff to follow.   We are so moved by his life work that we have changed the name of his apartment building to The Joe Black Apartments.  A first for CHH.

See you in November (if not sooner),

Christopher Persons, CEO