Help Us Help More People Stay in Their Homes

By United Way of King County, on September 21, 2023 | In Breaking the Cycle of Poverty, Fighting Homelessness, News, Racial Equity

United Way of King County has made eviction prevention a primary component of helping to solve the area’s homelessness crisis. In an area with limited shelter space for those already out on the streets, keeping people already housed is the only way we will decrease the number of people experiencing homelessness each year, which, according to the Regional Homelessness Authority and the state Department of Commerce, tallied at least 53,500 in 2022.

The current housing market doesn’t make it easy for us to do our work.

And it’s not just our area: According to a recent National Low Income Housing Coalition report, nearly 50% of America’s hourly wage-earning workforce does not make enough to afford a one-bedroom apartment without experiencing the hardship of rent burden.

The National Low Income Housing Coalition report said that in Washington state, the Fair Market Rent (FMR) for a two-bedroom apartment is $1,247. The report said that, in order to keep monthly rent and utilities from exceeding 30% of one’s monthly income, a household would need to work 70.1 hours a week to afford the FMR amount.

In Seattle/King County, the number increases exponentially, which helps illustrate the correlation between cities with large populations experiencing homelessness and those with high rents and scarcity of available housing.

These are the top metropolitan areas with the highest rates of homelessness (as of 2022):

  1. Los Angeles City and County
  2. New York City
  3. Seattle/King County
  4. San Jose/Santa Clara City and County
  5. Oakland, Berkeley/Alameda County
  6. Sacramento City and County
  7. Phoenix, Mesa/Maricopa County
  8. San Diego City and County
  9. San Francisco
  10. Metropolitan Denver

Seven of these ten areas (San Francisco, New York, Oakland, San Jose, Los Angeles, Seattle, and San Diego) have the highest average rents nationwide. In fact, Seattle, New York, San Francisco, and San Diego each had rental vacancy rates of less than 5%, some of the lowest in the country.

Systemic and historic racism has played a role in the homelessness crisis: Communities of color have endured systemic racism in housing by being excluded from housing opportunities as well as being displaced from their neighborhoods. What’s more, low-paying jobs that have not kept up with inflation and rental costs often force people to decide whether to put food on the table or pay rent.

“It’s very challenging. If you fall behind due to a car repair, which for many is how you get to work in order to pay for housing, landlords give you five days to pay your full rent or face eviction and homelessness,” said Cotina Taylor, a Seattle University staff member who volunteers for United Way’s Emerging Leaders 365 giving community. Emerging Leaders comprise more than 10,000 young professionals who are passionate about making a difference in our community and take part in monthly volunteer projects and issue-based networking events.

“We need places like United Way for people who do not know where to turn,” Taylor added.

As rents continue to climb and wages show no sign of keeping up with inflation, we are in a pivotal moment for impacting the homelessness crisis. According to Public Health—Seattle & King County data, nearly 10% of adults in King, Pierce, and Snohomish counties were behind on their housing payments. Among Black and low-income households, it was 25%.

Public Health—Seattle & King County data also shows that housing assistance was the most common request among calls made to the 211 resource line between April 2020 and May 2022, with an average of 573 calls per week.

Seattle ranks in the top ten nationally among cities with the highest rents and the largest number of people experiencing homelessness.

At United Way, we believe that responding to the county’s homelessness problem is a holistic, multifaceted effort that takes many agencies, organizations, and stakeholders working side by side and doing what each does best.

At United Way, we see our most effective contribution as threefold:

  • We believe that in a region where housing is scarce and unaffordable for so many, keeping people in their homes is paramount. We’ve served as the county’s lead agency for rental assistance dollars while providing eviction prevention assistance to those on the brink of homelessness.
  • We sit on the boards of agencies dedicated to addressing and solving homelessness for both people on the streets and those facing eviction.
  • We align with community-based organizations that are closest to the problem to craft solutions to both homelessness and affordable housing scarcity.

The greatest lesson we’ve learned in doing our work is that no crisis we’re facing in our county is insurmountable.

  • United Way took over rental assistance disbursements from the county in May, and since then, we and our partner agencies have disbursed as much as $1 million a week in rental assistance—the equivalent of 12 months of rent to 85 households.
  • United Way is also partnering with the Housing Justice Project, which provides free legal assistance to King County renters facing eviction.
  • We also provide home grocery deliveries, help people access SNAP benefits, assist schools in setting up Breakfast After the Bell programs, distribute free summer meals to kids, and provide free tax preparation to enable workers to access earned income credits. All these efforts help people save money and have more disposable income to pay for rent and expenses.

We invite you to join us in this effort. United Way has years of experience partnering with organizations committed to reducing homelessness, investing in programs that keep people in their homes, and advocating for policies that address the root causes of the problem. To donate, click here.


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