What a Happy New Year it is at Bellwether! 2015 marks the start of the Resident Services’ 4th year, and the Resident Services team is working hard to serve residents living in Bellwether’s HUD funded buildings. Through a federal grant, Bellwether has been able to staff three positions at Meridian Manor, Security House, and First & Vine. These three individuals strive to provide referrals and connect senior residents and individuals with disabilities to supportive services that allow them to age in place. In addition to resource referrals, the Resident Services Coordinators hold monthly activities, both fun and educational; to enrich the communities residents live in. Through community engagement and having offices open to residents in their apartment complexes, the Resident Services Coordinators are able to assess individual and community needs and provide the necessary supportive services. 

Demographically speaking, most of the residents are between the ages of 70 and 80. As the residents age, their physical and mental health diminishes. The Services Coordinators address affiliating issues to this aging process by bringing services closer to home. This has included providing health screenings, dental clinics, diabetes foot care, and much more at the apartment complexes. Resident Services Coordinators also assist with the numerous, and often times complicated, entitlement programs related to aging including Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and other DSHS services. The help that is provided ranges from explanation of benefits, assistance with forms, and referrals to agencies that focus specifically on the entitlement program in question. As the program grows, Service Coordinators develop rapport and relationships of trust with residents, often assisting them with matters of sensitive nature involving personal issues and information while maintaining confidentiality.

It is a goal of the Resident Services program to reach out to all residents and reduce isolation. The Services Coordinators plan for community events that enrich resident-to-resident networking. These activities include bingo, potlucks, birthday celebrations, piano concerts, and social hours. At both Meridian Manor and Security House, English is not the first language for many of the residents. Reducing the isolation created by a lack of communication has been a focus of the Resident Services Coordinator program. Through partnerships with outside agencies, classes and support groups have been established at the buildings. These have included English classes, Citizenship classes, culture events, and a weekly Chinese support group. As the residents participate in these classes, they integrate with each other, and are able to communicate more with English speaking residents; further strengthening the community.

The Resident Services Coordinators have a busy year ahead of them as they continue to grow their programming and reach out to more residents living in Bellwether’s properties. Providing in-house supportive services to residents has allowed residents to age in place and continue to call Bellwether their home.




Security House Coffee

Nonprofit benefits from 2nd Annual Charity Golf Invitational.

HomeStreet Bank (HomeStreet) and Davis Wright Tremaine LLP (DWT) presented Bellwether Housing (Bellwether) with a $25,000 check at its 2nd Annual Charity Golf Invitational. The event, at The Golf Club in Newcastle, Wash., took place on July 9th and was established last year to support the missions of two local nonprofits. Bellwether shared the $50,000 total raised with YWCA Seattle King-Snohomish.

DWT’s Executive Committee Chairman, Mark Berry, presented the check to Bellwether’s Executive Director Sarah Lewontin at the end of the event. “Bellwether has a long history with HomeStreet and DWT and we’re honored to have been chosen to receive such a generous donation,” said Ms. Lewontin. “This contribution will support our work to provide great affordable places to live for those who need it. And this need is growing throughout our region.”


HomeStreet's CEO Gives Check to Sarah

By Heather Song, Bellwether’s Executive Assistant

This is a big deal. Seattle City Council just approved a gradual increase of the minimum wage to $15.00 per hour. Seattle is indeed the bellwether when it comes to the national debate over the minimum wage.

This debate is an interesting one for me personally because if you were to ask me before, if the minimum wage should be increased, I would not have to think about it. Yes! Of course! Seattle already has one of the highest minimum wages in the country but also a high cost of living and the people who work minimum wage jobs still struggle to afford basic necessities. Especially if they have a family to support.

This article from March discusses the results of a UW study that looked at how a $15 minimum wage increase would affect Seattle’s population. Overall, it’s pretty clear that the increase will help at least a quarter of Seattle’s working population. It’s also clear that the hospitality and restaurant industries will be most affected.

As with any debate, there are two sides. $15NOW is on the extreme side in favor of the increase. They wanted it across-the-board and they wanted it immediately. Nick Hanauer, a multimillionaire and staunch supporter of the $15 minimum wage, was on Seattle Mayor Ed Murray’s advisory committee and he gives some great insight in this Politico piece into why this minimum wage increase is important, for individuals and for the economy. Based on this article, I think the Mayor’s group did a good job working together to make a plan.

On the other side of the coin are those who think that raising the minimum wage will kill small businesses and make everything more expensive for the consumer. This Forbes article states that it will actually hurt low wage workers because businesses will have to reduce their staff in order to afford the new wage. There are even some minimum wage earners who are against raising the minimum wage. In this letter, Tom Douglas gives a very clear indication of how an across-the-board minimum wage increase could affect the restaurant industry. And he does a good job convincing me that a very studied and careful approach is needed.

A lot of the debate is focused on the restaurant industry and tipped employees. And they almost convinced me that this large of an increase is not a good idea. However, we can talk about the tipped workers and the cost increase to consumers as much as we want, but I think that’s missing the point. While it’s true that some tipped professionals do really well and are fortunate to work for restaurants like the ones Tom Douglas owns, others are not so lucky. They work a food service job where tips are hard to come by. Or they clean hotels, or work in hospitals, or nursing homes. It’s for those workers that this increase is important. We still live in an expensive city with an incredibly high cost of living. If a $15 minimum wage can alleviate some struggle. I’m all for it.

What about you? How do you feel about the $15 minimum wage ordinance? Will it have a positive or negative impact on your life?

$15 per hour Stranger Aaron Huffman

America’s Service Commissions (ASC) and Innovations in Civic Participation (ICP) have recognized the joint efforts of 501 Commons and Bellwether Housing. During 2013, both organizations worked to create emergency preparedness plans for three of Bellwether Housing’s apartments: Security House, Kingway Apartments, and Tate Mason Apartments. Consultants with Volunteer Generation Fund (VGF) acted as liaison to ensure that the project was completed.

Teams of 501 Commons’ VGF Service Corps members (1) assessed current emergency procedures at each building (2) collaborated with Bellwether staff to create improved guidelines unique to each apartment building, and (3) trained staff and residents about how to implement the plan.

The third edition of the publication Transforming Communities through Service: A Collection of the Most Innovative and Impactful National Service Programs in the United States includes programs that have a lasting impact on the community. In addition, the program must be innovative (for example, cross-program connections, programs that can be nationally replicated). Bellwether’s emergency guidelines project met both qualifications.

“Our property management staff is excited to share this program among all of our properties. And we’re equally pleased that other nonprofit housing organizations across the nation will benefit”, said Sue Selman, Bellwether Housing’s Director of Property Management.

The program will be highlighted in 2014 Innovations in Civic Participation & America’s Service Commissions Innovative & Impactful Programs publication. The expected release date is early 2014. Here is a sample of Bellwether Housing’s Resident Quick Reference Handout.

Emergency Prep pic with caption

By Zemzem Ainan, Bellwether’s Administrative Assistant.

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program commonly referred to as SNAP, is a federal aid program that provides food purchasing assistance for people who are low-income or have no income. SNAP is the largest nutrition assistance program and its caseload has increased substantially as a result of the recent economic crisis, in addition to rising food prices. Both of these challenges make it that much harder when it becomes the main source in obtaining food for some.

This past November across the board cuts were scheduled for the SNAP program. For example a household of four receiving $668 per month would see a decrease of $36 per month to their purchasing power. According to this report,  the previous benefit levels were seen to be quite inadequate. Cutting these benefits now will push more families into deeper hardship. “This includes 22 million children in 2014, 10 million of whom live in ‘deep poverty,” according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities Report on August 2nd, 2013. Many of the households that will be negatively impacted include households with children, elderly people, and folks living with disabilities.

On February 4th the farm bill was finally passed by the House and Senate, and signed by President Obama three days later. According to this New York Times article, the poor did not fare as well. “Anti-hunger advocates said the bill would harm 850,000 American households, about 1.7 million people spread across 15 states, which would lose an average of $90 per month in benefits”, due to cuts to the SNAP program.

With the current climate that very low-income families are facing, it looks to be an uphill battle to stretch their resources even further to cover their basic needs. It’s very likely that some households will have to make a choice between food and paying rent. If households facing this hardship had affordable housing available to them, they might be on a better footing to face such new challenges. When families and households have access to affordable housing near schools, health providers, and employment opportunities, their basic cost of living is brought down. When the cost of transportation and commute time can be cut, along with cost of living, households can then have a better chance of adapting to cuts to their purchasing power. Low-income households may not have any control over cuts on federal and state benefits, which can negatively impact their lives and well-being. Having access to affordable housing, gives low-income households the ability to have some control over their basic needs, and the ability to cover their basic household expenses when such cuts are administered to such programs as SNAP. Affordable housing may not be a cure-all or even available to everyone who needs it, but it can be a life preserver for the working poor in creating stable homes for their families; allowing them to be able to handle and manage situations such as the cuts to the SNAP program.

USDA's My Plate

Merger Announced:

Bellwether Housing Brings on Board the Expertise of Common Ground.

Merger Sustains 33-Year History in Which the Two Nonprofits Developed Over 11,000 Affordable Homes in Washington State.

Bellwether Housing announced a historic merger with Common Ground, taking effect today, October 1st. The merger allows two of the premier local affordable housing champions to continue to address critical housing needs of low-income people in a sustainable fashion despite challenging economic times. In total, the groups estimate that they have developed more than 11,000 affordable homes over their shared history, in Seattle, King County and diverse communities throughout Washington State.

At Bellwether Housing’s annual fundraising breakfast at Benaroya Hall last week, Bellwether Housing Executive Director Sarah Rick Lewontin explained, “Bellwether Housing is joining forces with Common Ground to form one – stronger – nonprofit development consulting services organization. By expanding our capacity, we can provide better service to area nonprofits and better meet the growing affordable housing needs of the community.” Common Ground Executive Director Scott Schaffer added, “Our two organizations have a shared 33-year history, and we are thrilled by the opportunity to merge forces with Bellwether to provide even stronger service to our region.”

Six Common Ground staff members will join Bellwether Housing, for a combined staff of about 90. Their work will benefit individuals and families who might otherwise face homelessness or make hard choices when all of their paycheck goes to rent, from youth to seniors, mentally ill, domestic violence victims, Indian tribes and others trying to make ends meet with wages that barely cover housing expenses. The combined organization will continue to work with other nonprofits that provide social services but need expert help to provide affordable housing solutions to address their clients’ basic need for shelter.

The organizations’ combined strengths and unique perspectives will offer clients exceptional service in three main categories that result in high-quality, sustainable housing to people in need. Joint project development includes mixed-use projects that combine nonprofit or commercial uses with affordable housing, projects requiring experienced co-ownership during a period of organizational capacity-building, as well as larger mixed-income housing projects. Development services include real estate and land use analysis, financial analysis, project funding identification and applications, identifying and negotiating with project lenders and investors, managing project permitting, design and financing, and overseeing construction. Finally, asset management and optimization services include financial sustainability analysis, capital needs assessments, financial repositioning of assets, tax credit partnership exit strategies and negotiations, energy audits, and financing and implementing “green” retrofits.

BW + Common Ground

Increasing rents and (the lack of) rental affordability have been in the news a lot lately (as have attempts to explain what’s going on). And yet, with all the coverage I’m still perplexed!

The market will take care of itself.  This is a classic phrase that gets mentioned often by proponents of a free market economy.  This concept suggests that an unhindered supply and demand of apartments – with no government regulation or control – will lead to a balance: add apartments throughout the city (increasing the supply) and the rental price goes down (because there’s less demand). But, here’s the thing: it doesn’t seem to be working in Seattle.

If Seattle has more apartments than ever, then what explains the high rents? According to this report from KUOW’s Weekday, Seattle has added close to 2,000 apartments this year. But that doesn’t explain the high rents. This article makes it clear: Seattle’s employment growth is partly to blame. As more people move to Seattle for work (no doubt good  for our city), the demand for housing goes up. And those who can afford the steep rents are snatching up the apartments. This has transformed the rental market. Capitol Hill has experienced the biggest increase in average rents, now $1,395 per month. And the Downtown neighborhood is now the most expensive – more than $1,700 per month on average.

2,000 new apartments sounds like a lot, but it isn’t, really. Seattle’s Comprehensive Plan anticipates 47,000 new households and 84,000 new jobs by 2025. But of course we know that many of these new jobs will not pay enough to afford in-city rents! We also know that the city is currently not keeping up with the need for affordable housing. This report has a goal to add roughly 17,000 new affordable units by 2025. It just isn’t enough – especially given that more people are finding work in lower-paying jobs like the service industry.

So, what’s the solution?  Finding an affordable apartment has become half the battle for residents in Seattle. Current residents struggle with the soaring rent prices once lease renewals roll around. At times these increases can be so high that residents are priced out of their apartments. Affordable housing counters this trend, and allows a more stable rental history for residents. Organizations that offer affordable housing through tax credit and bond programs follow strict guidelines in setting rental prices and maximum rent limits. So one’s rent might go up – but nominally, in comparison to market-rate apartments. And even more importantly, there is a maximum rent cap, allowing residents to have peace of mind, and stable homes they can afford, now and in the long term.

I think the answer is pretty obvious, if not simple. The city must ensure that all new developments include affordable places to live. As an organization focused on rental affordability, we see the challenges that low-income people face every day just trying to afford rent. And qualification is no guarantee of housing: we have long waitlists on many of our buildings for those residents who should be able to move into an affordable home.

More affordability. It will keep our city vibrant, and diverse.