News more »
In this section
TU Staff & Board
The TU has talented and dedicated staff members and board who work hard to support tenant leadership and grow the movement for housing justice in Washington State.
Meet the staff and board of the Tenants Union.
Amber Abrahamson, AmeriCorps VISTA Community Organizer: A member of the Colville Confederated Tribes, Amber was born in Spokane, WA and raised on the Spokane Indian Reservation. Amber graduated high school in Wellpinit, WA and then went on to further her education in Business Management at the Spokane Falls Community College. Currently, raising her three children as a single mother in Spokane, WA. Amber has previously worked with the Spokane Housing Authority for over four years, where she worked as an assistant manager, providing housing to section 8 low income families. It is there where she found her passion for advocating tenant rights and providing safe, stable, and affordable housing. Amber has currently joined the Tenants Union as an americorp Vista member to fight for housing justice, community sustainability, tenant advocacy and community preservation! She is also a section 8 voucher holder as well. In her spare time she likes to spend it with her children, friends and family doing whatever sounds fun and just going with the flow!
Hana Alicic, Community Organizer & Tenant Counselor After immigrating from Bosnia at the age of two, Hana grew up in Spokane before moving to Seattle to attend the University of Washington (UW). There, she studied Public Health, learned about the social determinants of health, and developed an interest in the factors that lead to inequity in our society. For 5 years, she worked with youth and adults experiencing homelessness in a number of capacities, most recently as the AmeriCorps member for the homeless programs at Neighborcare Health. She also organizes with the Tent City Collective, a group of UW students, alumni, community members, and Tent City 3 residents working to bring the Tent City 3 to UW’s campus. She loves working with disenfranchised people and communities to help them regain their power and realize their own strength. Outside of work, Hana enjoys riding her bike, listening to live music, taking Instagram photos of her cat, and sitting in the sunshine.
Terri Anderson, Spokane STOP Community Organizer: A tireless advocate for issues affecting the underrepresented communities in Spokane, Terri organized affected members of the Spokane community for the unanimous passage of a city ordinance to mandate independent investigations of police misconduct. Terri has organized to address the affects of years of uranium mining on the Spokane Indian Reservation, and has worked for racial equity in higher education. Terri’s life as a first generation American, fourth generation Washingtonian, a person of color living in Spokane, a tenant, and as an advocate as well as her passion and commitment to social, economic and environmental justice drives her work to make Spokane a better place for everyone to live and make a difference.
Helena Benedict, Tenant Education Coordinator: Helena is excited to join the Tenants Union organizing to preserve affordable housing stock in Seattle and surrounding areas. She grew up splitting time between Seattle and Alaska; graduated with a degree in Biology from the New College of Florida in 2013; and promptly returned to the pacific northwest. She’s spent the last year and a half learning and growing in Seattle, including a stint doing intake and outreach at the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project. Helena dreams of cities that take care of their own and value community over developers’ profits, and sees the right to housing as a vital manifestation of struggles for racial, economic, and environmental justice and resistance. In her free time, Helena prioritizes tasty snacks, good friends, long walks, and checking out too many books from the library.
Dinah Braccio, Tenant Education Coordinator: Dinah grew up in the sleepy town* of Carmel Valley, California. She attended college at the University of California, San Diego earning a degree in Environmental Systems. After journeying up the west coast to settle in Seattle she developed her intersectional understanding of poverty and marginalization through her involvement with Gender Justice League. Several months after receiving counseling at the TU’s drop in Walk In Clinic she is excited to join the Tenants Union and help preserve the regions affordable housing, a goal that becomes more pressing with each passing month. In her spare time Dinah enjoys being pedantic, helping her partner in the garden, and spending time with friends. Oh, and eating, she really likes eating. *Despite having a post office and 4,400 residents Carmel Valley remains unincorporated Monterey County land.
Kate Dunphy, Tenant Education Coordinator: Kate began at the Tenants Union in October 2015 as an intern. A current student at the University of Washington’s School of Social Work, Kate witnessed rapid gentrification and displacement during her time in San Francisco, where she previously worked in human resources. As a former organizer with ACORN, Planned Parenthood Action Fund and MoveOn PAC and a current member of UW’s Anti-Racism White Allyship Group and Seattle’s Coalition of Anti-Racist Whites, Kate is passionate about racial justice and eager to use this lens while supporting the Tenants Union’s work advocating for fair housing for all Washingtonians.
Caitlin Honn, Operations Coordinator: Caitlin is excited to be a part of the Tenants Union and their work for housing justice. She grew up and went to school in central Illinois where she obtained a Bachelor’s degree in Graphic Communication and a Master’s degree in Instructional Design and Technology. After graduate school, she lived for a brief stint in Atlanta, GA, before ultimately landing on the Pacific Northwest where she feels most at home. Caitlin is excited to use her skills to further develop the TU’s goals and relates deeply with the housing crisis and those affected by it. In her free time, Caitlin is an avid photographer, cook, weight lifter, belly dancer, and dog fanatic.
Violet Lavatai, Membership & Development Coordinator: Violet grew up in the SE Seattle community for more than 30 years, and today she to calls it her home and her community. In 2010, she volunteered and got involved in a grass-root organization that advocated for better jobs, homes, food, and transportation, for low-income and people of color. She thinks that if everyone got involved in their own community what different world it would be. She went back to school to further her education in Accounting and Administration. In 2011 she was fortunate to go on a trip to Washington D.C “Take back the Capitol” where the Government was cutting unemployment for the many Americans who had lost their jobs during the recession. Standing together with other fellow Americans there was a sense of unity and it changed Violet — she looked at our world a little more differently from that day on. She’s excited to have joined the Tenants Union in advocating for fair housing for all, and she believes that housing should be people before profits. Violet also sings and plays the guitar.
Steven Le, Tenant Education Coordinator: Steven was first introduced to issues surrounding housing through his volunteer work at a local homeless shelter on Maui, where he grew up. A graduate of Wesleyan University in Connecticut, he took part in direct action initiatives (Food not Bombs) that sought to alleviate hunger in the local community. Upon moving to Seattle, Steven’s interest in housing led to his first job as Property Management Coordinator at a large, housing-first organization where he supported a team of property managers. While he gained valuable knowledge regarding Seattle’s housing climate, he was dissatisfied that the bulk of his work was seen through the lens of the landlord. This, coupled with Seattle’s urgent housing crisis, compelled him to redirect his priorities to becoming a tenant advocate. Before coming to Seattle, Steven also taught English for a year in Vietnam. In his free time, Steven enjoys reading, hiking, camping, going to live shows and collecting obscure board games.
Jessa Lewis, Executive Director: Jessa comes to us with first hand experience of housing insecurity having experienced homelessness with a young daughter a decade ago, and an unlawful eviction last year. After being elected as a National Delegate in 2016 for Bernie Sanders and serving as the grassroots communications director at the DNC she left her startup job to join the resistance at Standing Rock in North Dakota. There seeing the power of the grassroots and overwhelming need to help people claim their power she decided to use her education and experience in a setting where she could do the most good.
Since being hired as Executive Director Jessa has tackled the job of plotting the course the TU will take going forward head on. She is building a more resilient funding structure and new organizing models to take the TU truly statewide. In addition to changes in how the TU will run, with volunteers and staff have also taken on remodeling the offices to make room for more people and to better serve the community.
Jessa has an MBA in Sustainable Systems from Presidio Graduate School, and a BA in Resource Management and Policy from The Evergreen State College. She is proud of her working class Eastern Washington roots, and loves taking road trips with her teenage daughter and her Springer Spaniel.
Mónica Mendoza-Castrejón, Community Organizer & Tenant Counselor: Mónica was born and raised in South King County (Renton and Kent) to Mexican, immigrant, farm working parents, later by her single mother under poverty. They went through the Section 8 process, and later the HEN (Housing and Essential Needs) program, up until Mónica graduated from the University of Washington. She earned her BA in Law, Societies and Justice and Comparative History of Ideas. She started organizing through her involvement with various social movements. Later, she became an Executive Assistant with the Commission on Hispanic Affairs, organizer for several Progressive candidates in the Seattle area, a Summer Intern for the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute in DC, and a Regional Field Director for the Washington State Democrats in Eastern Washington. She is ecstatic to join the Tenants Union for housing justice is not just an idea that she wants to fight for; it is a movement that is personal. In addition to working with the TU, she is an artist and writer/poet. In her free time, she enjoys spending time with her family, hiking, cooking, and nerding out.
Amy Tower, AmeriCorps VISTA Community Organizer: Amy graduated from Seattle University in 2013 with a degree in Philosophy and, as a stereotypical millennial and idealist,is still searching for ways to contribute to a socially just revolution. She volunteered with Kshama Sawant’s campaign for City Council and worked as a legal assistant in the King County Prosecutor’s Office before jumping headfirst into the nonprofit industrial complex. Amy loved being the Program Coordinator at the South Park Senior Center, and continues to volunteer at the sales desk at Real Change News. While taking a break from questioning the meaning of life and how to better contribute to the Beloved Community, Amy can be found wearing hats, trying to learn Arabic, and cooking with her family.
Laurie Tran – Board Chair/President: Laurie (she/her) graduated from the University of Washington with a double degree in Biology and Medical Anthropology/Global Health in 2015. She has been a TU Board Member for two years, even serving from Mississippi and the other Washington (DC) while she was an Emerson Hunger Fellow with the Congressional Hunger Center. She grew up in a low income background with her single mother, a refugee from Vietnam, and two siblings in south Seattle, moving from one apartment to the next for years until ultimately settling in public housing operated by the Seattle Housing Authority. Her family has been approved for Section 8 twice and both times failed to find housing in Seattle where there is nowhere to move into. When she first moved to Seattle in 2002, she attended school in north Seattle and when her family moved, was forced to attend a south Seattle school. There was a great difference in the quality of her education. It was not the first time she’s moved, and through the many moves, she has learned firsthand how much your place of residence can limit you, including your education, your health, your community, beliefs, and access to resources. She considers herself lucky that despite her moves, she is an alumni of the well-known Garfield High School and was able to graduate from a top research university. By working with the Tenants Union, she hopes to bring her stories and experiences into the housing justice movement to combat displacement and housing instability, so others are given various opportunities as well, regardless of their zip code. Laurie is currently a Community Organizer at OneAmerica.
Clifford “Cliff” Cawthon – Advocacy Director/Vice President: Clifford “Cliff” (to his family, friends and comrades) Cawthon is an politico, organizer, and writer from New York’s second city, Buffalo’ NY. He came to Seattle to find opportunities outside of the limits of Buffalo and the rust belt. In 2014 after travelling across the Atlantic and working for UFCW Local 1 in his hometown. Seattle, has now become his adopted home. He’s a very proud resident of Seattle’s south end. He’s lived in Mt. Baker, South Park and Hillman City. He is currently the Lead Organizer for Standing Against Foreclosures and Evictions, after he fought against slumlords at his former apartment complex in South Park. He holds a MA in Human Rights and Political Science and he continues to fight for everyday people and against gentrification in his new home, South Seattle.
Liz Etta – Finance Director/Treasurer: After spending her childhood in state subsidized housing, Liz developed a keen interest in achieving economic equality and true housing justice. Liz has worked as a fundraiser for student scholarships, foreign policy reform, and political campaigns at the local and national levels. In her time with the TU, Liz has served as a legal intern, Development & Policy Analyst, Operations Director, and Executive Director. She has a B.A. in African American Studies, where Liz’s primary research areas included gentrification, civic participation, linguistic bias, and economic instability affecting low-income communities. Currently, she is a law student at Seattle University School of Law and is the director of the Washington Democracy Hub. Liz is a firm believer that housing is a human right and plans to utilize her experience in development, finance, and policy to increase the TU’s capacity for further successes in tenant’s rights and housing justice.
Nashira Ellis: Nashira is a native of Spokane and a mother of three. She is serving on the TU board as a former Housing Choice Voucher holder, and has been displaced at least 5 times with 2 unlawful evictions, having spent some time homeless in Spokane. Nashira has a wide range of interests and firmly believes that no person in America should go without food or housing. She’s interested addressing housing affordability in Spokane as a means to prevent homelessness.
Myani Guetta-Gilbert: Before she joined the TU board, Myani lead anti-trafficking research at the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence. In addition, Myani served as an AmeriCorps member for two years in south Seattle, doing community outreach, morning and after school programming, partnership management, and team development. Myani organizes with feminist collectives, and facilitates trainings for young people about the strength of women. She is employed by our sister organization Puget Sound Sage where she the Coalition Organizer at Puget Sound Sage where she organizes the Community Leadership Institute, South Communities Organizing for Racial/Regional Equity (South CORE) and anti-displacement program organizing.
Stina Janssen: Stina Janssen is a former Tenants Union organizer. During 3 years with the TU, Stina built a bilingual tenant rights counseling volunteer program and organized tenant-led campaigns for healthy housing, fair tenant screening, and affordability. Stina emphasized Spanish language access during her time at the TU. In addition, Stina is a researcher with Black Mesa Water Coalition, a Navajo Nation environmental justice group working to replace the coal economy with community-owned solar, and she recently worked with MoveOn.Org Political Action’s United Against Hate Campaign in Nevada to elect the first Latina Senator. Stina’s passion as a TU Board member is to build organizing structures that can absorb mass tenant participation and leadership and addressing housing justice issues in poor rural communities in Washington State.
Krystal Koop: Krystal is the co-founder and current Director of University District Street Medicine, a medical and social services outreach clinic at University of Washington. Krystal graduated in 2016 with her Master of Social Work degree from University of Washington and holds a Bachelor of Science in Justice Studies from San Jose State University. Krystal has over ten years of experience in direct service social work, program design, higher education and nonprofit management in San Francisco and Seattle. As a formerly homeless youth, Krystal firmly believes that housing is a human right and is committed to the importance of strong and organized advocacy regarding housing, especially for those that are homeless, marginally housed, low-income, immigrants and people of color.
Michael Maddux: Michael Maddux is a community advocate, former Seattle City Council candidate, and current Chair of the King County Young Democrats. Michael participates in various panels regarding homelessness, and is a semi-regular on KUOW’s Week in Review. Along with serving on the Parks Legacy and Parks Levy Oversight Committees, Michael has also been involved in various political campaigns, most recently managing the Seattle Housing Levy campaign. Michael is a renter, and lives in the Eastlake neighborhood of Seattle with his teenage daughter.
Halimo Maie: Halimo is a Somali refugee, immigrant, and woman of color who went to public school in Seattle’s south end. She is currently a job coach with the Seattle Public Schools and speaks Somali, Swahili, and Oromo as well as English. She believes that housing lies at the center of fighting racism, sexism, heteronormativity, xenophobia, bigotry, and gender oppression. She came to the Tenants Union after experiencing deceitful practices with a landlord in her college town, and is interested bringing tenants rights to communities that have difficulty accessing information they need to assert their rights. Halimo brings years of experience volunteering with the Washington State Opportunity Scholarships program, the Rainier Beach Beautiful Safe Place for Youth, OneWorld Now!, NELA Oregon Center for Student Success and as a Student Ambassador for Washington State University where she graduated with a degree in Human Development: Family Studies. She currently works and lives with diverse communities facing unfair rental practices from landlords who target vulnerable communities often allowing them to live in unhealthy conditions.
Katy Sheehan: Katy is currently the director of the Community Building Foundation, which empowers local organizations to help the community experience justice, vibrancy, and sustainability in Spokane, WA. Her passion for housing justice issues developed while working at the Fair Housing Center of Washington and volunteering with the Thurston County’s Housing Justice Project where she assisted tenants with their housing discrimination and eviction issues. She looks forward to being a part of the Tenants Union as it develops into a strong statewide presence and is especially excited about passing a Just Cause Ordinance in Spokane and hopes to see it spread statewide. She loves to eat good food with friends and family and to enjoy the outdoors by
mountain biking, backpacking, skiing and/or gardening depending on the season and weather. Katy and her husband are parents of an active one and a half year old boy and when she has time to herself she enjoys reading, knitting, and playing the piano.
Mara Spitzer: Mara is a Native American resident of Spokane, WA and joins the Tenants Union with a long history of community activism. Originally from Great Falls Montana, she’s an active participant in Spokane Coalition Builders, Spokane Water Protectors and was a lead organizer on the recount campaign against Spokane Mayor Condon.
Ron Toston: Ron is a powerhouse advocate from Spokane where he has resided for many years. The father of a daughter and grandson, he’s also a graduate of the Emerging Advocates program through the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance, and the United Way’s Project Lead. Ron has also sat on the Human Rights Commission and the Ethics Commission, and is dedicated enough to the TU to hop on a Greyhound to get to our annual meeting!
Katie Wilson: Katie is a co-founder and current General Secretary of the Seattle Transit Riders Union. Since 2011, TRU has fought successfully to preserve Metro bus service and was instrumental in winning a reduced fare for low income riders. Katie has lived in Seattle since 2004 and has also worked many low-wage jobs including food service, apartment managing and construction.
Additional Board Members
In Memorium — Bette Reed, President: Bette was the President of the Tenants Union board and was an active part of the Tenants Union for over 7 years. Her leadership was instrumental as a part of a core group of tenants organizing to bring accountability to Seattle Housing Authority and reform the Section 8 grievance hearing process. A resident of the Seattle Senior Housing Program building Blakely Manor, Bette was extremely active in her building. She was also a wonderful cook, an avid knitter, and a longtime activist with Puget Sound Advocates for Retired Action. She had a quick wit, sharp political analysis, and an incredibly loving personality. Bette carried the torch for the Tenants Union through years of advocacy on the Rental Housing Inspection Program, which passed Seattle City Council. We would like to dedicate this tremendous victory in her honor, and in gratitude for her hard work, dedication, and deep passion for social justice. She was fierce advocate and a good, good friend.