LIHI’s 30 Years: Reaching 3,000 Units Milestone!

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Join LIHI’s Virtual Gala Now through Nov. 14!

Dear Friends,
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30 years ago, Frank Chopp and I decided to create LIHI, a new organization that would focus on innovative solutions to the housing and homelessness crisis. We saw an opportunity for a new housing nonprofit that would tackle situations that were too complicated, too cutting edge (or controversial), or not a good fit for traditional housing organizations. In 1994 we “spun off” the housing development department from Fremont Public Association (which later became Solid Ground) to merge with LIHI. I became LIHI’s founding Executive Director.
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From acquiring our very first building in 1991, LIHI has grown to own 3,049 affordable units (70 properties) serving a multiracial and diverse population of families, singles, seniors, BIPOC, immigrant/refugees and formerly homeless people. We are now one of the largest nonprofit housing organizations in Seattle and the region. We work in seven counties.
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Locally, LIHI is the second largest provider of enhanced shelters for homeless people with 630 tiny houses in 16 villages plus 235 shelter beds. If not for LIHI’s permanent supportive housing and enhanced shelters, over 2,000 people would be homeless on the streets.
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The first building LIHI purchased was the Aloha Inn on Queen Anne. We converted a motel into 57 units of self-managed transitional housing in partnership with Catholic Community Services and SHARE, a grassroots organization comprised of homeless people. The Aloha Inn resolved a political problem for former Mayor Norm Rice of where to relocate a large group of homeless people who were sleeping in a Metro bus barn by Seattle Center.
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After a group of housing activists, Operation Homestead, and homeless people occupied and took over a vacant SRO building in downtown Seattle to protest the loss of low-income housing, LIHI worked with Uncle Bob Santos to broker a deal with the building’s owner. We turned the vacant dilapidated building into Arion Court, providing permanent housing for 36 homeless veterans and other homeless people.
Arion Court while occupied by Operation Homestead
These early experiences helped shape a philosophy for me, the Board, and staff to fight for Housing as a Human Right. LIHI’s greatest strength is our commitment to social justice through our housing development, our many partnerships and our advocacy work. We continue to serve as a catalyst for change in preserving low-income housing; fighting against gentrification and displacement; working for racial justice and equitable development; and developing housing for people that are not being served by the market.
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Our innovations—where we push the envelop—include tiny house villages, which have become a national movement. Our Urban Rest Stops, which provide essential hygiene facilities, enriches the lives of thousands of homeless people each year. LIHI’s many award winning buildings, close to transit and amenities, show that low-income housing can be assets in the community and great places for our residents to call home.
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One thing homeless people want is to be clean, so we opened an Urban Rest Stop (URS) downtown in 2001 for restrooms, showers and laundry and other services for people experiencing homelessness like foot care and vaccinations. With clean clothes and a shower you can get and keep a job, you can be successful at an interview for an apartment. Until recently we operated a second URS in the University District, and we opened a third URS in Ballard in 2015.
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LIHI’s model of Tiny House Villages have grown by leaps and bounds. We should have thought of tiny houses sooner! We now pursue more villages with a passion as these are a crisis response to homelessness and the pandemic. We share our knowledge of tiny houses with others, and to our delight, many villages have been set up across the country!
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Tiny houses are great for people currently living in tents, in parks and cars. The villages provide people with a safe and restorative place to live. Tiny houses provide a place to rest, to heal, to take a breath, to think and make a plan. The villages have case managers who help with life’s basics, housing placements, employment, and more complicated things like getting a new ID when you have no documents.  The villages also provide an important sense of community.  We have the highest rate of placement into long term housing compared with other forms of shelter.
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So here we are at 30 years! We are very proud of our history—yet there is so much work still to do to create a future where thousands more have a home.
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We are celebrating LIHI’s 30th Anniversary with a Virtual Gala to raise funds for the future of Urban Rest Stops and Tiny House Villages so we can continue and expand these programs. The Gala is virtual and runs through November 14, so attend at your convenience. There are some fun items to bid on and an opportunity to donate. View the short video on LIHI that includes Rep. Frank Chopp, King County Councilmember Girmay Zahilay, Melinda Nichols of the LIHI Board and villagers.
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Please join us!
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In Solidarity!
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Sharon Lee
Executive Director
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Join the Virtual Gala Now!