Project gives voice to people on housing injustice
Duaa-Rahemaah Williams, a statewide organizer for Washington Low Income Housing Alliance (WLIHA), manages its Resident Action Project (RAP).
Started in 2016, RAP is a statewide network led by people who have experienced housing injustice and use their voices to build power to change state policy through storytelling, civic engagement and advocacy.
"People want to use their voices to fight injustice," she said.
For example, at a Sept. 13 WLIHA Listening Session, Eastern Washington participants shared concerns about rents increasing, lack of affordable housing, criminalizing homeless, home flips and other issues impacting housing in the region's cities and rural communities.
WLIHA is planning a virtual state Conference on Ending Homelessness from Wednesday to Friday, Oct. 6 to 8, drawing people who are working to end homelessness to exchange ideas, share advice, be inspired and organize to expand their efforts. It's for service providers, justice advocates, organizers, elected officials and people just learning about homelessness.
"I started in March, and I'm learning as I go. We've been in COVID, so we are just getting back into the swing of things," said Duaa-Rahemaah.
As she meets with organizations and young adults on Zoom, she gains ideas of ways people can help their communities.
"I want people to believe they have a voice, their voices count and voting is a way to use their voice," said Duaa-Rahemaah
Right now, she seeks to build community, reaching out to people she knows, has worked with in the past or has not yet met.
To create community, RAP offers trainings to help people be more effective in lending their personal voices on local and statewide panels and committees.
"We want all voices to be heard, and WLIHA is supporting community change," she said.
To hear diverse voices, WLIHA hopes to build chapters across the state, especially in Eastern Washington, where voices are less often heard and where many think most resources are in the Seattle area. People in rural areas, where there is limited housing, believe it is hard to have their voices heard, she said.
There is a need to help people move into suitable housing and remove barriers to homeownership so more are homeowners and can build generational wealth.
For example, few know that first-time homebuyers may have over $100,000 in assets, yet qualify for down-payment assistance.
Having lived experience in housing injustice, Duaa-Rahemaah became involved with housing issues while working with people experiencing homelessness when she was studying for an associate of arts degree in social services at Highline Community College in Seattle from 2008 to 2010. She completed her bachelor of applied science in behavioral science at Seattle Colleges, finishing in 2012.
While at Highline, she did an off-campus internship at Operation Emergency Operation Center in Skyway in Seattle, which offered a food bank, clothing bank, life skills classes and EBT for the neighborhood and beyond. After leaving that program, she was an AmeriCorps VISTA at Valley's Cities, a Mental Health Agency, which has a housing program
At a South King County Forum on Homelessness meeting, she began to understand housing issues better.
She started working as a program and outreach assistant housing with The Salvation Army-Pike Street in 2008 when the recession and housing crisis hit, and many people were losing housing. She also did an off-campus internship with The Salvation Army-Renton in 2010.
"The housing crisis overlaps with the mortgage crisis, when people were losing their housing and jobs, they couldn't qualify for help because they had assets like boats, cars and funds in bank," Duaa-Rahemaah said. "That opened my eyes that housing is an issue that can impact everybody."
Once she graduated in 2012, she worked at Catholic Community Services in Seattle as an emergency assistance coordinator and later as a case manager for families in transitional housing.
"I realized that without stable housing people cannot have stability," said Duaa-Rahemaah.
Over the years, she has attended housing and homeless advocacy days in Olympia and helped the One Night Count to recruit and train volunteers to count people in Kent.
"My grandparents, who were Catholic, were helpers and foster parents. My uncles and aunties went to Catholic school. In Seattle, my uncle started the Christian Restoration Center Church and co-founded Zion Preparatory Academy, a private Christian school for one- year-olds to eighth graders," she said. "Caring runs in my family.
"Now I'm Muslim and attend the Mosque here," she said. "My faith helps me stay grounded and look at the good in people," said Duaa-Rahemaah. "We want for our brothers and sisters what we want for ourselves.
In 2016, Duaa-Rahemaah came to Spokane and worked with people who were unhoused, supporting services to help veterans families be rehoused.
Since housing became her passion in 2008, she has nurtured that passion and now puts it to work managing the WLIHA Resident Action Project and helping people use their voices to create legislative change.
"Over the years, I have experienced and seen the difference in how BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color), low-income people and poor people are treated by the system," said Duaa-Rahemaah.
"If rents keep increasing, it means people can't stay or work here. That will hit the economy hard. It will have a domino effect. If people can't afford to pay their rent, they are going to leave," she said.
Not only does RAP bring people together to fight for housing justice, but also they are leaders who lend their voices on different committees and boards.
WLIHA worked on the Washington State just-cause eviction bill and advocated for the eviction moratorium to be extended again. The "bridge program" now continues until Oct. 31.
Duaa-Rahemaah is looking for people with lived experience who want to use their voices to create legislative change.
Conference information is at coeh2021.hubilo.com.