Section 8 Tenants Organizing Project
Founded in 1996 as a program of the Tenants Union of Washington, STOP is a group of tenants and supporters working to preserve and improve Section 8 housing and give tenants a voice in decisions that affect their housing stability. STOP uses outreach, education and organizing to develop Section 8 tenant leaders to preserve long term affordability for multifamily buildings, affect change in Section 8 policy, and raise community awareness about the Section 8 program.
Contract expirations, owner opt-outs and budget cuts threaten the safety and stability of thousands of low-income tenants in Washington who depend on the Section 8 program to make housing affordable to them. STOP tenants and supporters work together to:
- Educate Section 8 residents and the general public and about Section 8 housing
- Develop tenant leaders in organizing and advocacy
- Advocate for the preservation and promotion of Section 8 housing
- Secure a place for Section 8 tenants at the decision-making table
- Develop allies in the community who can assist tenant leaders in achieving their goals
STOP has organized in over 20 project-based Section 8 buildings, and has won substantial victories in the long-term preservation of many of those properties, including the Royal Hills Apartments, Security House, the Oxford, Eastwood Square, and the Benson East, which became the first tenant-controlled housing in the Northwest. STOP tenants also organized for the successful reform of local Section 8 voucher policy regarding grievance hearings and increased accountability with local decision-makers. STOP works to educate Section 8 tenants about federal and local changes in housing laws and policies. STOP also mobilizes tenants to push Congress and HUD to increase funding for Section 8 programs and increase accountability and transparency in local housing authorities to win just process and safe, healthy, and affordable housing for all.
STOP was instrumental in passing statewide Section 8 tenant protection legislation that requires property owners to provide notice to tenants, state and local jurisdiction one year prior to cancellation of federal subsidies, and to provide tenants with information about their rights. This was the TU’s first statewide legislative victory.
TU Victory! The Section 8 one-year notice law exists because members of the Tenants Union worked together and fought for it. If you have benefited from this law, go to Tenants Union Membership to find out more about becoming a member to support the TU’s work for housing justice.
Seattle, WA – On Tuesday December 16th, 2014, Seattle Housing Authority (SHA) Director Andrew Lofton sent a letter to the Mayor and City Council announcing that Stepping Forward, a policy that would increase tenants’ rents by over 400% has been put on hold. According to the letter, a new policy will not be considered likely until at least 2016.
Tenants living in Seattle Housing Authority buildings, on rent vouchers, and in other SHA programs led a movement to ensure this policy would not pass. Tenants rallied, marched in the streets, flooded City Hall, and made their positions clear through call and response chants during SHA board of commissioners meetings.
Tenants have made their position clear that no policy that decouples rent from income will be acceptable and that tenants need to be included at the outset of any rent policy proposal. Nimco Abdirahman, an eighteen year old who fought against the proposal to ensure that her family of eight can remain in their homes, says, “This is what happens when amazing people get together and fight back for their rights. This victory is only the beginning of change”.
Though this is an important victory, tenants believe they still need to organize for accountability at SHA. Lynn Sereda, board member of the Tenants Union says, “When tenants work together and are determined, it’s possible to achieve a victory that people may have thought would be impossible…We still need to make sure that from now on there is greater city oversight of SHA and more accountability to SHA tenants and that we especially have a credible voice in the next Board of Commissioner appointments”.
Tenants are continuing to organize to ensure that this victory be made permanent by having the Mayor appoint Board Commissioners that share the values of SHA tenants and reject Stepping Forward, as well that the City Council enact a resolution seeking greater accountability to tenants in future SHA policy decisions that may still cause great harm.
The Section 8 Tenants’ Organizing Project is a nationally recognized organizing project formed in 1997 to mobilize tenants of privately owned HUD subsidized housing. STOP has a long history of victories for the preservation of low income housing in Washington State, and has organized in over 20 project based buildings from Royal Hills in 1996 to the Downtowner in 2011.
Take a look at the the Section 8 Tenants Organizing Manual for detailed information on how tenants in HUD multifamily buildings can form tenant councils to work for the preservation of their housing and building improvements
This manual applies to tenants in HUD multifamily (or project based Section 8) buildings. If you are looking for information about your rights as a Section 8 voucher tenant, see Section 8 Vouchers and Section 8 Voucher Organizing.
The purpose of this manual is to help tenants in project based Section 8 buildings learn how to organize with other tenants to defend, assert, and expand their rights. If you organize well, you can help build a movement to not only protect and expand your rights but also win respect and a voice in your future. The most important existing right you have is your right to organize. Section 8 tenants in Minnesota along with tenants from around the country campaigned to win a federal law specifically protecting the right of Section 8 tenants to organize. It is through organizing that all your other rights have come to exist, and it is through organizing that you gain the power to decide which newer, stronger rights you need.
TU Victory! This STOP victory was possible because members of the Tenants Union worked together and fought for it. Go to Tenants Union Membership to find out more about becoming a member to support the TU’s work for housing justice.
Grievance Hearing Reform at Seattle Housing Authority
The STOP grievance hearing reform campaign ran from 2005-2009. Hundreds of Section 8 voucher tenants were being terminated and made homeless by the Seattle Housing Authority (SHA) because of a grievance hearing process that denied tenants due process. Over 90% of hearings went in favor of SHA, and the one hearing officer employed by SHA categorically refused to consider the tenants’ documentation, civil rights laws or domestic violence protections in his decisions. Tenant leaders reviewed 6 years’ worth of hearing decisions, built community support, had a series of meetings with SHA leadership, and secured legal representation from Northwest Justice Project attorney Eric Dunn in an attempt to push SHA to reform these hearings a provide tenants with due process. Ultimately, the lawsuit was settled and the recommendations made by STOP to improve the Section 8 program and protect tenants’ rights in grievance hearings were fully adopted by SHA. SHA agreed to hire a panel of legally trained hearing officers who consider all relevant evidence and legal arguments to ensure that tenants are no longer terminated unfairly or capriciously. Significant improvements were made in SHA policies around domestic violence, language access and disability issues, and several tenants had their vouchers reinstated as a direct result of STOP organizing. STOP serves as a national model for organizing led by Section 8 voucher holders.
The Section 8 Tenants Organizing Project of the Tenants Union has had a series of significant victories for Section 8 tenants over its 16-year history. Many strong tenant leaders and activists have emerged from STOP work, and hundreds of units of low income housing have been preserved as a direct result of STOP organizing. Here are some highlights and significant moments in the history of STOP organizing at the Tenants Union.