Community

Forum focuses on fair housing in Snohomish County

During a May 2 fair housing forum, local realtor Marvetta Toler suggests dispute resolution mediators for those who feel discriminated against and fear reprisals - Kirk Boxleitner
During a May 2 fair housing forum, local realtor Marvetta Toler suggests dispute resolution mediators for those who feel discriminated against and fear reprisals
— image credit: Kirk Boxleitner

SMOKEY POINT — Residents of and visitors to the Stillaguamish Senior Center received some insights and offered their input on the state of fair housing within Snohomish County on Wednesday, May 2.

The Stillaguamish Senior Center served as the site for one of three forums conducted by the Snohomish County Human Services Department, presented on site by Heidi Aggeler and Jen Garner of BBC Research & Consulting to an audience consisting largely of seniors and staff members of regional senior centers, with a couple of area realtors in attendance as well.

Debi Lewis, housing supervisor for the Stillaguamish Senior Center, echoed the concerns of the realtors in the room, who called for more housing access for adults with disabilities.

“Of those who feel discriminated against in terms of housing in Snohomish County, the disabled were by far the largest category,” Garner said. “Right behind that is race, ethnicity and immigration status.”

While the Stillaguamish Senior Center’s apartments house seniors older than 62 and adults with disabilities older than 18, Lewis reported having to turn away large numbers of younger families who call her simply because they find themselves without other options.

“We need more low-income federally funded housing,” said Lewis, who noted that even residents of existing senior centers such as hers are feeling the squeeze from reductions in public transportation that make their access to hospitals and shopping more difficult.

Sandy Kitchens, apartment manager for the Lincoln School Senior Apartments in Stanwood, acknowledged the concerns voiced by some senior residents who were curious about the parameters of housing discrimination, with those seniors wondering whether housing staff might dismiss their concerns because they’re older. Garner and local realtor Marvetta Toler pointed to the dispute resolution mediators of HUD and Volunteers of America as neutral parties with whom residents can work without fear of reprisals.

When one of Toler’s fellow realtors relayed accounts of renters receiving “shotgun” evictions, Lewis advised those renters to contact the Volunteers of America and those landlords to join the Snohomish County Apartment Operators Association, to ensure that they’re following the legally required process for evictions.

“A lot of landlords think it’s just their right to do what they want,” Lewis said.

Aggeler acknowledged that one finding of the study so far has been that more people than the statistical norm are willing to take action against unfair housing in Snohomish County, but fewer than that average know who to contact. For the seniors in the audience, this difficulty is compounded by the fact that few felt willing or able to navigate the Internet to find that information.

“In spite of the number of organizations that exist to serve them, there’s a barrier there,” Aggeler said.

“It could also be fear of losing their housing, if it’s subsidized or depending on their immigration status,” Garner said. “It creates a hidden problem.”

 

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