After approximately one month of organizing against Evergreen Vista management and its operator, Mercy Housing, Olympia Solidarity Network (OlySol) has forced a partial meeting of demands for improved living conditions for tenants at the Evergreen Vista apartments. Repair requests to individual units, previously neglected by management, are increasingly being executed. Progress has also been made on repairs to common infrastructures, such as stairways and outdoor lighting, though the latter remains far from resolved. However, OlySol’s other demand, for the installation of accessible garbage disposal at each building in the complex, has not been met. As Evergreen Vista and Mercy Housing have offered no indication that they intend to meet this demand, the campaign will continue.
The campaign was launched on March 22nd, when 25 OlySol members and supporters delivered a demand letter to Evergreen Vista’s property manager in her office. The demand letter outlined tenant grievances and demands for the fulfillment of all current work orders, the repair of common spaces and infrastructure, and the installation of garbage bins accessible to disabled tenants located at each building in the complex.
About two weeks following the demand letter delivery, OlySol distributed fliers to the doors of every tenant at the complex. The fliers included information about the campaign, OlySol’s contact info and legal resources regarding refused or delayed repairs. Around this time tenants began to report that work-orders slowly began to be met. Management also installed one accessible garbage bin adjacent to the centralized and inaccessible bin, and suggested that disabled tenants who are still burdened by the garbage disposal system complete a Reasonable Accommodation Request. While clearly taken in response to the campaign, these steps were seen as inadequate by tenants and OlySol organizers; one accessible bin is far from meeting the demand and requiring tenants obtain medical verification to access something as basic as garbage disposal is degrading and a near insurmountable barrier for tenants who lack health care coverage.
OlySol then escalated the pressure, hoping to speed up repairs and force management to fully meet demands regarding garbage and repairs to common infrastructure. OlySol members visited the Evergreen Vista’s manager’s neighborhood in Lacey, WA with anti-slumlord posters, while members of Seattle Solidarity Network (SeaSol) postered the offices of Mercy Housing Northwest’s offices and the home neighborhood of Mercy Housing Northwest’s president. Following these efforts, repairs began to also be made to common infrastructures, like stairways and outdoor lighting, though as of this writing, these repairs are incomplete. As further progress hasn’t been made on the installation of accessible garbage disposal, OlySol, with the support of SeaSol, is calling for a picket of Mercy Housing Northwest’s offices on May 10th, at 1PM.
Prior to launching the campaign, OlySol had been engaged in concerted outreach at Evergreen Vista for approximately two months. During this time about 15 different tenants had come forward with similar problems regarding management. These tenants frequently experienced refused and delayed repairs to the most basic appliances and structural components of their apartments. This included, but was not limited to, refrigerators, heaters, dishwashers, bathroom plumbing, doors, sinks, ovens and mold infestations. Moreover, almost every tenant OlySol has been in contact with has reported that the current garbage disposal system is inaccessible to disabled tenants and needlessly inconvenient. The complex used to have accessible bins outside each building at the complex, but has now opted for one large dumpster that is physically out of reach for children and people with mobility issues. Most egregiously, when tenants who can’t access the dumpster inevitably occasionally leave garbage bags adjacent to the dumpster, management has been known to identify the tenants who left the garbage and subsequently fine them. Finally, most tenants have reported general mistreatment from management. Not only has management blown off repair requests, they allegedly threaten to evict tenants over minor issues. For this reason, all tenants involved in the campaign have chosen to remain anonymous to shield them from any potential retaliation from management. As the campaign has proceeded even more tenants have come forward and shared experiences and offered input in the campaign.
Evergreen Vista is a low-income housing complex and is home to a high concentration of tenants who rely on forms of social assistance. Evergreen Vista is operated by Mercy Housing, a national non-profit and “affordable” housing provider. Mercy Housing and many similar non-profits, operate a kind of privatized public housing, reminiscent of government-subsidized housing programs these days. We speculate that these non-profits usually require tenants to be low-income, house a disproportionately high number of Section 8 tenants and often receive various subsidies and tax credits from the government, while still charging relatively high rents. Effectively, this model of affordable housing channels government subsidies into a booming non-profit housing industry that is generally notorious for poor living conditions.
In Olympia, the most urgent housing issue for most people is gentrification and rapidly rising rents. Thus, taking on slumlords and pressing for repairs and better conditions can seem like a distraction from the bigger issue of imminent displacement. But, there exists an important relationship between gentrification and slumlordism. As rents rise generally, working-class and marginalized tenants are increasingly forced to rent at already over-crowded complexes operated by slumlords. An increasing pool of tenants with nowhereelse to go further disincentivizes slumlords from maintaining units and allows them to monopolize rent prices in the “affordable” housing market. Thus, from this understanding, the fight at Evergreen Vista can indeed be seen as linked to broader fights around gentrification.