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Panelists say the greatest need is more affordable housing

Kim McCollim, Maurice Smith, Duaa-Rahemaah Williams and Ben Stuckart


The Eastern Washington Legislative Conference (EWLC) plenary on "Housing Is a Human Right" took its theme from Catholic social teaching, said Scott Cooper, director of parish social ministries with Catholic Charities of Eastern Washington (CCEW), as he introduced the session.

"Being in charge of the front desk at Catholic Charities, I find that the single most common call relates to housing," he said. "There is great need for affordable housing."

Scott introduced the panelists, Ben Stuckart, director of the Spokane Low-Income Housing Consortium (SLIHC); Duaa-Rahemaah Williams, state organizer with the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance (WLIHA); Maurice Smith, executive director of Rising River Media, and producer of "My Road Leads Home" and other video documentaries on homelessness, and Kim McCollim, director of the City of Spokane Neighborhood, Housing and Human Services division.

Each discussed how to move people from homelessness to housing stability.

Ben said people in Spokane spend three years on a waiting list for federal low-income rent subsidy vouchers.

A University of Washington study of 50 cities finds the U.S. poverty levels correlate with rent rates.

"Homelessness is a housing crisis," he said, noting subsidies for building low-income housing have been cut 75 percent since the 1970s.

Despite its success, he said Expo '74 took down 30 percent of Spokane's low-income housing and the city has not replaced it. In the 1980s, Spokane lost Single Room Occupancy housing and has no plans to replace it.

"If we do not meet basic needs, we can't meet higher needs. People need a roof over their heads," said Ben. "Society should guarantee housing."

He added that, despite laws that people should not pay more than 30 percent of their income on housing, some pay 50 percent or more.

Ben supports a change in zoning to allow for building more triplexes in single family home zones. He also recommends a real estate excise tax to fund multiplex homes.

"We need to have mixed-income neighborhoods for everyone to do well," he said.


Duaa-Rahemaah said that WLIHA has advocated more than 40 years for housing justice so people of all races, ethnicities, abilities, genders and identities can have safe, healthy, affordable housing.

"We build a power base to make local, state and national changes," she said, telling of starting the 2015 Community Change Low-Income Housing that has an organizer live in the housing to organize neighbors.

WLIHA also offers a housing justice narrative tool kit.

"Because safe, equal, affordable housing is a basic human need," she said, "we give voice to the voiceless, especially black, indigenous, people of color, LGBTQ, refugees and immigrants and veterans.

"To promote housing stability, we want voices from lived experience, so people tell stories of what happens when rents increase. We can't have those who are housed become homeless," she said.

She supports rent stabilization in HB 1388 to prevent predatory rent practices and HB 1389 to cut the six-months' notice needed to break a lease if rent is raised.


Maurice has learned about homelessness in 18 years of working among homeless people and recently as day manager at Camp Hope.

In 2000, he went bankrupt and was essentially homeless but because of friends and family, his family did not have to sleep in a car.

His experience includes working with West Central Ministries to feed 150 to 300 people, helping build Truth Ministries and working four years with homeless, marginalized people through Homeless Connect.

Maurice began to educate people by filming the documentary series, "My Road Leads Home" with Community-Minded Television. A recent film, "The Truth about Homeless Camps," tells of 623 people who lived in one city block, called Camp Hope. He tells how the camp started and why some homeless people do not want to go to a shelter.

"It is a visual testimony to the failure of policies to address homelessness," he said, describing shrinking the camp to fewer than 120 by offering people stable places to live, giving them bus tickets to family and moving some to the Trent Resource and Assistance Center or the Catholic Charities Catalyst housing.

Maurice is compiling a list of lessons that Camp Hope has taught him about housing.

"With churches, we can move people from chaos to cosmos to shalom to bring order out of disorder, moving the chronically homeless step by step to stability," he said. "We work with them to bring order back to their lives, so they make better choices and decisions."

Maurice hopes that as the people experience caring, they will move from survival in the camp to thrive and live in shalom.

"The Camp is shrinking as we move people to better options. That is how we build shalom and how we serve 'the least of these,'" he said.


While Kim McCollim has worked on housing for 30 years—20 with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) in Seattle and Spokane—she has been with the City of Spokane for only a short time.

She said one reason homelessness is rising is that in 2012, HUD eliminated transitional housing for domestic violence victims and youth, and stopped supporting housing for seniors and people with disabilities.

She sees the need for long-term care as more baby boomers become seniors.

Kim challenges the "Not In My Back Yard" (NIMBY) mindset, be it about homeless camps, race, shelters or multiplex housing. She urges advocacy in neighborhood councils.

Other factors in homelessness are mental illness and substance abuse, because of a lack of mental health or addiction treatment beds, Kim said.

From working with HUD, she advocates for affordable co-housing so older people are not sick and alone.


See EWLC 2023 videos at this link ewlc2023videos.

Copyright@ The Fig Tree, March 2023