First message from our new Executive Director, Chris Jowell

DSC_3323adjI am honored to introduce myself as your new Executive Director of Imagine Housing. I look forward to working with you to deliver Imagine Housing’s mission of developing affordable housing, building welcoming communities and fostering vibrant futures. Imagine Housing offers me the opportunity to continue my work in affordable housing for my neighbors on the Eastside.

The housing affordability gap on the Eastside has widened to an affordability gulf. According to Zumper’s National Rent Report, Bellevue has the highest median rent for a one bedroom apartment in the region at $1,790, with Kirkland ($1,700) and Redmond ($1,450) closely following. This seemingly ever expanding affordability gulf not only disproportionately impacts the poorest households in our community, but is now beginning to price out working families, including essential workers like teachers and service workers that keep the Eastside vibrant.

The good news, and what I find so exciting, is that Imagine Housing is poised to respond to this critical need. As the leading non-profit affordable housing developer on the Eastside, Imagine Housing’s communities serve as a model for the Eastside. Our most recently completed development, Velocity, exemplifies this. Developed in partnership with Polygon Northwest, Velocity delivered 58 affordable apartments as part of a larger mixed-use Transit Oriented Development community located at the South Kirkland Park and Ride.

Imagine Housing’s Strategic Plan calls on us to double the number of units in our portfolio by 2020 – another 500 units! To accomplish this we will need to reach out to the community to develop support and partnerships. This will be no simple task. Only together can we accomplish this task and create an interconnected Eastside, with welcoming communities where all people can live, learn, work and play.

~ Chris Jowell, Executive Director

Internship reflections

The rain clouds are rolling back in, ice cream sales are dropping, children are resigned to staying in a classroom for the next ten months — all these signs point to the unofficial end of summer. And, as for me, this period of time also marks the end of my internship with Imagine Housing.

When I first arrived to Imagine Housing I came as a clean slate. I had no idea what was needed to make a nonprofit run or even what types of affordable housing were available in the Eastside. I must admit that I was more than a little nervous before my internship; however, when I met Sarah — the former Resident Support Supervisor — during the Bank of America dinner, I soon realized that I would be able to find my place within the organization.

Thanks to the Imagine Housing team, my gaps in knowledge were quickly filled. From sitting in on job interviews to participating in a Housing Alliance Action Fund advocacy meeting, I have learned so much. So many memorable memories were made during the summer camps at Highland Gardens, Rose Crest, and Johnson Hill! I made six batches of pizza dough from scratch, attended the grand reopening of the Issaquah Pool, and stretched myself into various yoga poses. And if you told me two months ago that an Imagine Housing Intern would be able to take a break and watch the Blue Angels on a rooftop with coworkers I would have told you, “Where can I sign up for this position?”

Of course, this internship is much more than just having fun. I never knew the importance of affordable housing and how it impacts my community. The people who benefit from having these homes are no longer a number on a page: an impersonal statistic. They have faces, names, personalities, and, most of all, hopes and dreams. Having the opportunity to meet with various affordable housing organizations around the state introduced me to idea that the lack of sufficient low-cost apartments is not a problem that can be solved by a single person. Instead, it is vital that nonprofits, businesses, and various levels of government work together to ensure that everyone has a safe, healthy, and affordable place to live.

Now, at the end of my internship, I would like to give a shout-out to Imagine Housing staff, Fred, Molly, Rachel V, and Sarah for making my internship so special. I really do not think I could have learned so much without your support, nor had as much fun without each of your specific humor. The Bank of America internship itself also earns a large chunk of my gratitude, for enabling me to receive an internship with Imagine Housing as well as for giving me an all-expense paid trip to the Washington D.C Bank of America Student Leaders Summit! I will never forget my fellow student leaders (who have all done such amazing things!), my wonderful coworkers and the residents who have accepted me with open arms.

~Pearl Woo, Bank of America Intern

 

Help our residents stay healthy

Help us get the word out about our new Health Programs Coordinator AmeriCorps Member job opening!

We are excited to introduce a new Health Programs Coordinator through the AmeriCorps program. This person will help create and implement programming designed to improve the physical and mental well-being of residents through health education trainings, cooking and nutrition classes, health related activities for seniors and community dinners. By gaining health related knowledge and access to more nutritious food, our residents will be able to live healthier lives, therefore decreasing the health risks associated with poverty.

One of the most exciting features of this new AmeriCorps position will be the expansion of onsite services at Imagine Housing’s two senior properties. As Imagine Housing continues to grow, one of our goals is to be adaptive to the various needs of residents living at all of our properties. The AmeriCorps member will be the first member of the Supportive Services team to have a portion of their time specifically set aside to working at our senior properties, Ellsworth House and Kirkland Plaza. The AmeriCorps member will help establish community partnerships with agencies dedicated to working with seniors as well as develop programming specifically for seniors. The hope is that the foundational work done by the AmeriCorps member during this upcoming year will continue after they leave and will eventually be implemented to benefit the seniors living at Totem Lake Phase II – Senior once it is completed.

In addition to working at the senior properties, the AmeriCorps member will help develop curriculum and implement various health related activities at Francis Village and Velocity. In collaboration with the residents, the AmeriCorps member will have the flexibility to create programming that is both engaging and beneficial to the residents. We hope that the success of this program at these properties can then be implemented at the rest of Imagine Housing’s properties.

If you, or someone you know, qualifies for this position and is an AmeriCorp member, apply online.  If you have further questions, please contact me at whitneym@imaginehousing.org.

~Whitney Morean, Resident Support Specialist

 

How balloons changed my life

A little over two years ago I walked into a bustling ballroom full of fervent supporters for the 2013 Imagine Auction. A friend of mine convinced me to come volunteer and I entered the huge room ready to tie balloons and run bidding packets out to the winners of the live auction. For those in attendance, you might not have noticed me standing to the left of the stage holding a bunch of balloons, but boy did I notice you! I was overwhelmed by the energy and passion that every attendee brought to the event. That night I watched former Executive Director, Ann Levine present one of the most eloquent speeches I have ever witnessed, and it stirred my soul to hear about the issues facing our community members. Having access to affordable, safe and healthy housing should be a basic right for everyone, and I believe it is the first step to creating a better community and world.

I suppose it should not surprise me that the passion felt that night would fuel my career path and lead me to begin working at Imagine Housing as the Operations Coordinator a little over a year later. And it is with deep sorrow that I write this blog post expressing my sadness to leave such an exceptional organization. My fiancé and I will be packing up our life in the next few weeks to move back to my hometown of Buffalo, NY to be closer to my family. It is bittersweet as I will be leaving behind a wonderful family here on the Eastside.

We often say that Imagine Housing is the one of the best kept secrets, and I would have to agree. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Your passion for this organization is contagious. You never know who might be listening in while holding a bunch of balloons at the 2016 Imagine Auction who will step up and join the Imagine Housing family. Thank you for being a part of my journey, and know that I am ever grateful to have been part of such a beautiful community that develops affordable housing, builds welcoming communities, and fosters vibrant futures.

~Rachel Voelkle, Operations Coordinator

Farewell

For the past eight months, I have had the great honor of serving as Imagine Housing’s Interim Executive Director. Without question, I will count this time as one of my most memorable and rewarding experiences. I grew up in Bellevue and went to the University of Washington after graduating from Newport High School. It never occurred to me that our community would grow and develop to the point that families could be excluded due to an excessively high cost of living. Yet here we are!

When I learned about Imagine Housing at a friend’s dinner party, I was intrigued by the organization and moved by the amazing work occurring on the Eastside. In a whirlwind of events, I became the Interim Executive Director almost three weeks later. It quickly became obvious that developing, managing and providing services for residents of affordable housing was a very complicated undertaking! Each of our five departments is managed and staffed by wonderful, dedicated professionals who are driven by a passion to opening doors to everyone living on the Eastside. Our Board of Directors is comprised of 17 incredible community leaders who are committed to expanding our impact and building welcoming communities where more of our neighbors can afford permanent housing right here, where they want to live and work.

I am astounded at our dedicated supporters who are the amazing individuals that provide time and resources to Imagine Housing to help continue it to grow and have been here from Imagine Housing’s very early stages. I have learned so much about how I can make a difference right in my own backyard from them. As I step aside from this staff position, I am excited to join the group of Eastside residents who will passionately support Imagine Housing and advocate for an Eastside that allows everyone the opportunity to live in this beautiful community.

This past week I have spent time transitioning my role to our new Executive Director, Chris Jowell, and it has been an absolute joy. With most of his career spent in the affordable housing business, Chris brings a wealth of knowledge where we need it most. He’s a resident of the Eastside and passionate about our mission. The fact that we have a quality new leader coming into this role makes it much easier to step away. I look forward to seeing what Chris’ leadership will bring to Imagine Housing.

With a very grateful heart, thank you all.

~ Gary Helling