Tenants Union in danger of closing

The calls come constantly to the organization, housed in an unassuming trailer in South Seattle.

On the other end of the line: worried tenants with stories of heat not working in their homes, of landlords entering their apartments illegally and, increasingly these days, of landlords facing foreclosure. They want to know what they can do.

But soon, no one may answer the calls coming in to the hot line of the Tenants Union of Washington.

King County, facing its own budget troubles, will end funding for the organization next Tuesday. Bills are piling up. So the organization may decide to close July 16 if it doesn’t raise $25,000 to keep going through the end of the year, said Lisa Herbold, one of the organization’s board members.

They’ll keep trying to raise the money until then, she said.

But it’s not looking good.

Volunteers and staff sent out a fundraising letter. They stayed after work making fundraising phone calls, according to a resolution passed by the board setting the July 16 deadline. But the effort raised only about $3,000.

“The problem is that most of our members are struggling,” said Betty Reed, one of the volunteers. “So they can only give $5 or $10.”

Reed has been a volunteer for a couple of years, after her landlord wanted to double her rent.

She has answered the hot line (206-723-0500) for the Tenants Union, tried to answer the questions.

There will be a loss if the organization dies after 32 years, she said.

She remembers one case: an elderly couple who spoke only Swahili and lived in a Seattle Housing Authority apartment.


“The husband was in the hospital, and his wife didn’t speak English,” Reed recalled. One day a notice came from the authority. The woman recognized a date and figured that was when the managers wanted to come look at the apartment.

The day came. The woman waited at home. And when nobody came, she figured they’d come some other time.

Another notice came. A different date. She waited and no one came again.

Her husband was home from the hospital by then, Reed said, so the couple took the notice to their doctor, because he could translate for them.

“The doctor took one look and said, ‘Uh-oh, you better get in touch with them,’ ” Reed said. The notices had told them to go to the management office on those days.

Eventually, Reed said, the couple were evicted for missing the meetings.

There were similar problems with residents facing evictions, she said. So the Tenants Union asked for changes. The Housing Authority – to its credit, she said – created a system that keeps track of tenants who don’t speak English. More is done now to try to resolve problems before tenants face evictions, she said.

Emily Paddison, a former Tenants Union worker, said the issue now is one of trying to pass state legislation preventing landlords outside Seattle from rejecting tenants who have Section 8 vouchers.

She remembers the calls she’d take on the hot line from people whose plumbing didn’t work. Though landlords are required to keep essential appliances working and the homes livable, there were calls from people whose heat didn’t work. The Tenants Union tried to help, she said.

She works now for another housing advocacy group, Solid Ground, which also runs a hot line.

Her group won’t be able to completely pick up the slack, she said.

To donate , go to the Tenant Union’s Web site.

One Response to Tenants Union in danger of closing

  • Patrick Burns:

    I was unhappy to discover the financial dilemnas of the Tenants’ Union. I saw Lisa’s e-mail to friends. I got a copy from my daughter, Emily Burns. You can count on me for at least $70 and I will reach out to my friends for donations. Last, my local union, Carpenters’ Local 131, used to be a generous donor to many charitable needs throughout the community, but now has to be more restrained on what it can financially offer do to serious budget constraints it has suffered in the past two years. Tonight, I plan to attend the monthly meeting and ask for a $500 pledge for the Tenants’ union as well as appeal to those attending to pledge something. I will get contact information from them, so they can directly send donations to you folks. I don’t want to handle any donations myself. I will do the best I can to help. I hope I can be part of a successful effort to keep your doors open.

    Patrick Burns/206-322-2398