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Agency explores new ways to support self-sufficiency, serve more

"Stepping Forward" proposal offered for community discussion

SEATTLE — August 12, 2014 — Seattle Housing Authority has released the details of a proposal that would alter its approach to serving adults who are able to work.

The draft proposal, called "Stepping Forward" would emphasize enhanced education, training and employment supports for adults who are between age 24 and 61and do not have a disability that prevents them from working.

Along with enhanced services, this group of households - about 35 percent of those currently served - would see their rent increase gradually over time according to a set schedule. Elderly and disabled residents would be exempt from the program.

"We are proposing this change for several reasons," notes Executive Director Andrew Lofton. "We believe that, with better support, more people could be successful in improving their circumstances and transitioning out of housing. This could pave the way for new families who are now on our waiting lists to receive assistance."

"The reason for this proposed change is also financial," explains Lofton. "As federal subsidies for housing continue to decline, we are facing dire choices. We have already laid off staff and cut back on maintenance. Without additional revenue we will be forced to cut back on subsidies. That could mean pulling back rental vouchers or shuttering low-income housing." The proposed program would produce additional rental income which could prevent service cuts and potentially serve an additional 600 families.

Many of the households in the work-able category - about 60 percent - are already working. The proposed program would assist them in advancing in their current jobs or attaining higher paying ones. It would also connect participants to programs such as ESL, job training, education and daycare services.

For households in the new program, rent would no longer be based on income. Instead, it would be set according to the size of the rental unit and would rise over time. Research in advance of the proposal indicates that the current rent policy under which all tenants pay 30 percent of their income for rent can sometimes serve as a disincentive for advancement. Some tenants reported leaving their jobs or declining promotions in order not to have to pay more rent.

Lofton stresses that the proposal is designed to open a conversation on how the Housing Authority should be shaping its rent policy. "This suggests a significant change for how we approach our mandate, and we look forward to hearing comments and suggestions." No specific timeline for action on the proposal has been established. Five community meetings are scheduled for the monthy of September, and the agency's Board of Commissioners will consider all comments before taking further action.