The Washington Low Income Housing Alliance (WLIHA) is a statewide networked organization of affordable housing and homelessness providers, tenant advocates, and individuals working to ensure that everyone in Washington State has a safe, healthy, and affordable home. WLIHA’s efforts to secure tenant protections and housing resources have become especially significant during the pandemic, when more than 180,000 renters in Washington have reported that they are behind on rent at any given time. To respond to this growing need, WLIHA entered the 2021 legislative session with a bold set of policy priorities. WLIHA’s successful advocacy resulted in the passage of many pieces of important legislation, as well as budget investments that will keep renters stably housed.

“The policies we passed last year created a more just and equitable housing system that will last well beyond the pandemic,” said Rachael Myers, Executive Director of WLIHA. “That progress was possible because of years of organizing led by our incredibly talented staff, RAP [Resident Action Project] members and other impacted people sharing their experiences and organizing their communities, and advocates across the state speaking up over and over.”

WLIHA uses a racial equity lens in its work and strives to dismantle structural racism in the housing system. The organization develops its legislative agenda with input from directly affected communities, including people who have experienced homelessness and housing instability, organizations led by people of color, LGBTQ+ organizations, and youth-focused organizations. WLIHA also hosts the Resident Action Project, which organizes people with lived experience of homelessness and housing instability. For RAP, organizing is not only a pathway to policy change but a transformative act. The project works to elevate those who are most directly affected by the affordable housing crisis to lead the movement for housing justice.

With support from WLIHA, housing advocates achieved a series of significant legislative victories through a combination of strategic lobbying and external community pressure. WLIHA held a virtual advocacy day with over 600 participants, mobilized nearly 3,000 constituents to send more than 20,000 messages to lawmakers, and recruited more than 1,000 organizations and 3,800 individuals to sign letters in support of its priorities. The organization also led social media advocacy and organized hundreds of people to testify or sign-in at hearings in support of its legislative priorities. Thanks to the advocacy of WLIHA and RAP, the state legislature passed a suite of transformative housing measures providing resources and tenant protections during the 2021 session.

WLIHA and RAP advocates build pressure for tenant protections and investments in affordable housing.

With the passage of SB 5160, Washington became the first state to establish a right to counsel for low-income tenants facing eviction, a landmark in the nationwide right-to-counsel movement. Since the passage of right to counsel in Washington, two other states (Maryland and Connecticut) have passed similar measures. Nearly two-thirds of renters in Washington meet the income requirements to qualify for free legal representation in eviction court. SB 5160 also requires landlords to offer repayment plans for rental debt accumulated during the pandemic and offer mediation before initiating an eviction. The bill prevents landlords from refusing to rent to tenants who owed back rent during the pandemic or from imposing late fees on unpaid rental arrears accumulated during the pandemic.

The legislature also passed HB 1236, a Just Cause Eviction bill. This law requires landlords to have a legitimate business reason to terminate a lease and ends the practice of allowing landlords to give tenants 20-day “no cause” eviction notices. In addition, the legislature passed HB 1277, a bill that established a document-recording fee as a permanent fund source for housing resources. The document-recording fee will raise almost $150 million annually for rental assistance, permanent supportive housing, and other housing stability measures targeted towards extremely low-income renters. On top of these measures, Washington also enacted a budget that included $1.7 billion in housing resources.

Beyond these legislative achievements, WLIHA successfully pressured the governor’s office to extend the statewide eviction moratorium through June 30, 2021, and to provide additional protections through October 31, 2021, as rental assistance was distributed. The organization conducted outreach to make sure that emergency rental assistance reached renters who needed it most. WLIHA also ran a successful multilingual ad campaign that drove more than 19,000 clicks to a website with information about emergency rental assistance.

WLIHA’s numerous victories are the product of sustained organizing and relationship-building. The organization has spent years educating state legislators and the governor’s office about housing needs in Washington, cultivating housing champions in the legislature, and laying the groundwork for these transformative victories. Among WLIHA’s notable achievements prior to the 2021 legislative session is the successful campaign for a statewide ban on source-of-income discrimination in 2018. 

WLIHA hosted virtual Housing and Homelessness Advocacy Days during the 2021 legislative session.

For their effective advocacy – driven by the leadership of directly impacted residents – in securing statewide tenant protections and significant housing resources in the 2021 legislative session, NLIHC presents the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance with the 2022 Statewide Organizing Award. The annual NLIHC Organizing Awards recognize outstanding achievements in state, local, or residential organizing that further NLIHC’s mission of achieving racially and socially equitable public policy that ensures people with the lowest incomes have quality homes that are accessible and affordable in communities of their choice. In particular, the awards recognize achievements in tenant- or resident-centered organizing and leadership

To hear directly from WLIHA leaders and celebrate their victories, join us at the virtual NLIHC Policy Forum on March 22 and 23. Organizing award winners will be featured at the session “Best Practices in Organizing,” which will take place on March 23 at 3:30 pm ET.