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Long-time Olympia residents forced to leave affordable housing units

In July 2019 my partner and I received notification that our home of eight years had been sold to a new owner. The new owner’s property management company told us that we had a “generous” 60 days to vacate. We were not the only tenants to be forced from our homes. All 13 people, who lived in the three duplexes from 1112 to 1122 10th Avenue SE were notified that were expected to vacate. This included two single mother families with a total of five children.

Rent for these units was around $800 which qualified as affordable since us tenants had been living in their units between 8 and 15 years. Assuming an average rent over the years of $500 per month for the tenants who’d lived there 15 years they have contributed almost $100,000 in rental costs which reflects on city tax income. Those who’d been there 8 years had paid something like $60,000 — assuming rent averaging $600 a month over those years.

Mayor Selby and City of Olympia seem to be acting unaware that Olympia is steadily losing affordable housing units.

Soon after the notice, I spoke at a city council meeting, trying to find out what the Council proposes to do about the housing and homeless crisis so many people are currently facing. I was met with a lot of sympathy and little help. They referred us to WA Community Action Network and Northwest Justice project. That provided legal protection from eviction for a month which ended on September 30. In continuing a search for alternatives, I contacted the IWW, the Tenants Union of Washington, and other tenant unions from Oregon and Idaho. That was a call to action made as a cry for help. My partner is unable mentally or physically to move on his own in the time allotted, and even if he were, there is no place to go, with his meager income of $760 from Social Security.

I tried to speak to City Council members again in September. I was prevented because the Council and Mayor Selby delayed public comment for over an hour arguing about the 4th Avenue bridge encampment. During that Council meeting, the Council discussed whether to allow the encampment to remain. Mayor Selby referred to the collective homeless, to those facing homelessness and to advocates for housing rights as the “vocal minority” and said “you do not reward a toddler in a candy aisle for throwing a fit.” The mayor added her opinion that homelessness was related to bad behaviors: “we are conflating a lot of behaviors that aren’t related to homelessness, they are just, bad behaviors.”

Mayor Selby and City of Olympia seem to be acting unaware that Olympia is steadily losing affordable housing units. The duplexes on 10th NE will be remodeled as much more expensive housing. Tenants in affordable downtown apartments — most recently The Angelus — are being evicted as real estate speculators move in to take advantage of City policies promoting market rate housing.

Is homelessness really about “bad behavior?” Data collected by Thurston Regional Planning shows a significant decrease since 2015 in housing affordability. The county’s poverty rate has risen by 4 percent since 2000. In the meantime, the city does not collect data on evictions that would show their frequency, causes and trends – and relation to rising homelessness. The UW studied evictions state-wide earlier this year and found that “given that evictions contributes to homelessness, the steady stream of evictions likely feed people into the homeless population each year while the loss of affordable housing exacerbated the problem.”

Lohen Che` is a multifaceted activist, writer, and local of Olympia.

I am and am not a toddler

I am yet I am not a toddler.
I say to you, Mayor Selby
As a toddler, having rats crawl
over me
in your city, so many decades past
before me I see you
I have nightmares you will never see
A toddler will take the
lollipop because
as a toddler I need nurture,
never harm
and those of us that you call
they, them,
and it—The problem
to depersonalize and
separate yourself
from me as a human being
I say to you
let me be a free toddler
kicking and screaming with
livid fear
and do not punish me

—Lohen Che’

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