Low-Income Housing Challenge

Last November, master’s degree students from the University of Washington chose Imagine Housing as one of their educational sponsors for the annual Bank of America Merrill Lynch Low-Income Housing Challenge student competition. The Challenge required the students to analyze a property site for low-income housing, research the market, plan for entitlements (legal and city approvals), design a complete site concept and building architecture, create a complete and viable finance structure and plan, set the work within a development timeline of 48 months, conduct community outreach, think about resident services, and create a three minute video.

The master’s degree students included Imagine Housing’s very own Housing Development Associate, Megan Adams, studying real estate and urban planning; Vicky Clarke Masters of Art in Public Administration; Emma Ramoy and Emily Darling studying architecture; Hang Yin and Youyang Wang studying real estate, and Fan Fan Masters of Science in Real Estate. Al Levine and Sarah Lewontin were the students’ academic advisors and teach the affordable housing graduate course through the Runstad Center for Real Estate Studies at UW. Sibyl Glasby, Imagine Housing’s Director of Housing Development, served as the students’ professional advisor and Chris Jowell, Imagine Housing’s Executive Director, was supportive and encouraged the students to be innovative in tackling the challenges of the project.

The students had to create an initial proposal to be accepted into the regional competition. They passed both the initial and regional competition phases and went to San Francisco to present in the finals which occurred in May. Vitus Group and the Runstad Center funded the students’ travels to San Francisco for the final presentation judging.

Imagine Housing plans to continue supporting the students’ efforts around this project.  More to come in the next year.

~Megan Adams, Housing Development Associate

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The student team left to right: Fan Fan, Vicky Clarke, Emily Darling, Youyang Wang, Emma Ramoy, Megan Adams, Hang Yin

Socially just practices

Last week, Imagine Housing staff had the privilege of welcoming Dr. Robin DiAngelo to our office to engage us in a training on socially just practices. This was a powerful training that helped us examine our racial socialization and the racial dynamics at play in our country and relationships. We learned how easy it is for white people (myself included) to take for granted our position of power—and how doing so only reinforces the institution of racism in America.

We learned that every person—without exception—holds some form of racial prejudice. That racism is not reserved for those who actively dislike people of color, or fight to institute or uphold discriminatory policies. Racism “is when your prejudice is backed by the weight of history.” That we, as passive observers, are participants in an overtly racist system. Being unaware of one’s participation does not make one innocent—it is an outcome of our white privilege, of growing up in “white communities,” a symptom of continued racial segregation that is as severe today as it was in the 1970s, and according to Dr. DiAngelo, before Brown v. Board of Education.

This is relevant to our work in so many ways. As members of the nonprofit sector, we have accepted a responsibility to make our communities better, more just, and more equitable. Understanding our own biases and the extent to which racism has been ingrained in our systems, policies and zoning ordinances is the first step towards dismantling them. As housing and service providers, many of the people we serve are people of color, and understanding how to engage with an anti-racist framework can help us be most effective in our roles and best serve our residents. We are advocates for affordable housing and we must be intimately familiar with how our policies led to such segregation in the first place. We must engage sensitively and effectively with the communities we serve, and make sure that the policies to follow do not inadvertently have the very same outcomes.

One of the ways that Imagine Housing is engaging is through the Resident Action Project, a program of the Washington Housing Alliance Action Fund that organizes and trains residents of affordable housing (and those who need it, but don’t have access) to engage in advocacy. We welcome and value our residents’ voices, and we believe that civic engagement of those who have been historically disenfranchised will be a critical step in changing our policies to be equitable, inclusive, and just.

Being outraged by our history of oppression and racism isn’t enough. We must recognize how it still exists, and take an active role in changing it. I look forward to continuing my education on social justice and racial equity and learning how to be a true ally.

For more about Dr. DiAngelo’s work, check out her media and publications pages and read this article that she wrote for Salon on how white people deflect responsibility and preserve the status quo.

~Kathryn Jacoby, Operations Coordinator

Affordable housing, yesterday and today

I have an embarrassing confession: Despite having spent two years studying public administration, last week I attended and spoke at my very first City Council meeting. There were a lot of emotions involved for me: guilt that I had not done this before; exhilaration at standing in front of the room and addressing the council; fear that protestors in the audience were there to protest me; pride in the mission of my organization; and a little starstruck when I stood next to the Mayor to accept the Affordable Housing Week proclamation and shook his hand.

I have to admit, it was a great first experience. I made it through my whole statement, despite my heart pounding because of my inexplicable but life-long fear of public speaking. There was polite applause after my comments, and nobody spoke in opposition to affordable housing in their community. I received the signed proclamation, as anticipated. It all went very smoothly.

I couldn’t help but think about how advocating for affordable housing was not always like this. Even just a couple of years ago, I would have been faced with adamant opposition to building affordable housing in some communities (for a dramatic example, go watch Show me a Hero on HBO).

Not now. As King County grows rapidly up and out, and as inequality and homelessness reach crisis levels, attitudes are changing. People even applauded after I thanked the Council for their part in bringing affordable housing to their community. Suddenly, more cities genuinely want to be a part of a solution, and are ready to work with organizations and welcome affordable housing into their jurisdictions. Not everyone is there yet—there is still hesitation amongst some community members, but I can feel the change happening around us. I can sense that people are beginning to understand how important it is to support the most vulnerable in our communities, and that investing in preventing homelessness is infinitely better than trying to address it after the fact. While I’m somewhat disappointed that it has taken us until 2016 to get to this place, I am grateful that we are on our way to sound public policy around housing and acceptance of our neighbors with lower-incomes.

I am full of gratitude and optimism today. And as we celebrate Affordable Housing Week, I look forward to participating in more productive conversations on this topic.

~Kathryn Jacoby, Operations Coordinator

Celebrating my coworkers

Last week, offices around the country celebrated a very special day – Administrative Professionals Day! Started in 1952 as National Secretaries Week, this day (or sometimes weeklong celebration) has evolved throughout the last 64 years, incorporating more roles as workplaces grow and change.

Instead of singling out anyone in my office, I want to take this opportunity to celebrate all of my amazing coworkers. One of the things I love about working at Imagine Housing is the camaraderie and enthusiasm to pitch in when someone, or an entire department, needs help. In the Fund Development department we tend to need the most help from our caring and giving coworkers. For instance, in the two weeks leading up to our annual auction, the office takes an all-hands-on-deck attitude with everyone lending a helping hand.

Some of these Fund Development projects have become an annual tradition that people look forward to. Every December we invite staff to help stuff holiday cards that are sent to more than a thousand of our closest friends and supporters. These cards are hand stuffed, sealed, and stamped. This task has evolved into a party, with snacks of course, that staff members anticipate every year. Beyond wanting to send a token of our appreciation to our supporters and friends, this “stuffing party” gives us all a chance to chat and hear about all the great things each department is working on. It’s a wonderful opportunity to connect and build community within our office.

So thank you Megan, Fred, Sue, Soren, Marsha, Sibyl, Sido, Shayla, Kathryn, Chris, Bob, Suzanne, Rachel, Cindy, Beth, Whitney, Amanda, Hester and Agazi for your dedication and commitment to our mission and to your work. You are amazing people and I’m thankful to work alongside you serving our community.

~Monique Vague, Philanthropy Administrator

Farewell to Cindy

With my last day at Imagine Housing quickly approaching, I am both excited to move on to new, unknown adventures and sad that I’m leaving a great organization. When I came to work at Imagine Housing three and a half years ago, I was looking for an organization with a mission in which I could connect. My prior employer left me very disenchanted with my work and I thought a mission-based job might be a good fit. What a breath of fresh air it was to encounter the caring and respectful people at Imagine Housing who are so passionate about their work! I have to admit, I was a bit guarded at first because I’d never seen such a thing in the workplace, which told me I’d been in the wrong place for quite a while.

My time here has allowed me to learn so many new things, experience staff act in such kind ways and show compassion to our residents as I’d never seen. My co-workers have taught me to be more patient, tolerant and kind to others, and I’ve grown so much as a person. I am grateful that I was given the opportunity to work with wonderful people and a wonderful organization and that I felt so encouraged to continue working here because of all the great things we do for our neighbors on the Eastside.

It’s not easy to say goodbye, so I won’t. I’ll be following Imagine Housing to see what great things are done and you’ll likely see me back at the auction volunteering next year. Keep up the good work and always remember to be kind to one another.

~Cindy McKee, Accounting Associate