One year ago, the Resident Action Project kicked off at Ellsworth House. The project brought together residents of affordable housing, people in need of affordable housing, service providers, and organizers. The goal was to create a movement that amplifies the voices of those who are often ignored, marginalized, and inadequately served by our policies and “social safety net.” RAP seeks to create one unified voice that demands action and change, and to have it come from people experiencing housing instability and financial hardships themselves.
One year in, we are still in our nascent stages. We have questioned how to plan effective meetings without being repetitive but still being welcoming to new members. We’ve had challenges building momentum, one of the greatest being simply access: it’s hard to plan a meeting in a place that everyone can get to, and it’s challenging for people with low-incomes and few resources to get around the Eastside without a car.
But we have still made a great deal of progress. Some of our members have shown up faithfully to every meeting and phone call. Some resident leaders have stepped up to create foundational documents and curriculum plans. Others have been fearless in their willingness to conduct outreach.
But…Imagine Housing is a housing developer. Why are we a part of RAP?
Imagine Housing is a housing developer, yes, but our mission and vision are greater than that. Our mission is to develop affordable housing, and to build welcoming communities and foster vibrant futures. And our vision is an Eastside with interconnected and welcoming communities where all people can live, learn, work and play. Yet 485 units of housing just isn’t enough to fulfill either of those in a rapidly growing and changing region. Nor is it enough to continue building subsidized housing—we must also stop the flow of people entering homelessness, and stop the rapid increase of names on our waitlists. Our waitlist increased 22 percent in seven months from June 1 to December 31, 2015. We now have more than 2,600 people waiting for one of our homes. We can keep supplying housing, but unless we also do more to combat the housing crisis from the demand side, we will never fully solve the problem.
So that is why we advocate. That is why we provide the opportunity to our residents to engage in RAP. That is why we want to encourage them to get involved, learn how to be advocates, and speak out on behalf of others who don’t yet have housing. Because no one should have to wait nine years to access housing they can afford. Even one year is far too long.
Last week, RAP had its forth gathering since its inception. Members received training on outreach and recruitment, and then practiced what we learned by making phone calls to invite more people to join the movement and come to the upcoming community night (interested? Shoot me a message!). Together, we committed to invite 138 new people to come to the next event. Two residents led some of the presentations. RAP has the potential to create leaders and empower residents to speak up and demand change. It also has the potential to help us build more housing and create stronger, connected communities.
I am excited that we have the opportunity to participate in RAP. I am hopeful that we can help bring together people who have long been marginalized and ignored and demand to be heard. I am positive that we can create a better society if everyone has an equal voice, equal access, and equal rights. And I am so inspired by those who have joined already, and have shown such dedication to this cause. It’s a difficult task ahead of us, but I have no doubt that we can make our voices heard and help create the change we want to see in our communities.
~Kathryn Jacoby, Operations Coordinator