LIHI is rooted in a commitment to advocacy for low-income and homeless people. LIHI’s early emphases were providing advocacy and technical assistance to promote the interests of low-income and homeless people. LIHI worked to support the efforts of homeless individuals who established an emergency shelter in a “bus barn” at the Seattle Center in 1990. The result of this effort was the development of the 57-unit Aloha Inn, the first self-managed transitional housing program in the country for homeless people. This was followed shortly after by the renovation of Arion Court, which provides 37 units of permanent self-managed housing for homeless people.
The Aloha Inn and Arion Court were, at their inception, revolutionary concepts for implementing democratic decision-making and self-governance among traditionally disenfranchised populations. Principles of mutual housing, or self-management, now guide many of LIHI’s properties—equipping residents with opportunities for meaningful decision-making and shared responsibility for the management of their housing.
The incorporation of LIHI as an organization in 1991 resulted from the leadership of three founding board members: Frank Chopp of the Fremont Public Association, Michael Reichert of Catholic Community Services, and Scott Morrow of SHARE. LIHI filled a void in the community for creating self-management and developing innovative housing solutions.
The Fremont Public Association (FPA) merged its Housing Development Department with LIHI in 1994 to create a dedicated housing development and management organization. LIHI became an affiliated program of FPA, and Sharon Lee was named the Executive Director.
In 1994, LIHI received the One Heart grant for the restoration of the Glen Hotel, the opening of the Boom Town Café and the creation of the Urban Rest Stop, a downtown hygiene center. In 1995, neighbors of the Glen Hotel filed a lawsuit in an effort to stop the construction of the hygiene center. After a lengthy dispute, characterized by tremendous advocacy efforts by LIHI’s management, and an outpouring of community support, the Urban Rest Stop was finally opened in March 2000 at a different downtown location (1924 9th Ave). In 2013 LIHI opened a second Urban Rest Stop in the U District and in 2015 a third in Ballard as part of the Cheryl Chow Court development.
In 2001, LIHI celebrated its 10th year anniversary and reflected on its record of accomplishment. The Board, management and key stakeholders/funders also embarked on developing LIHI’s infrastructure to ensure our growth over the next 10 years. These partners lent their expertise and worked with LIHI to increase our capacity. Significant emphasis was placed on examining and improving property management operations, systems and practices, and in strengthening fiscal management.
Our commitment to residential stability and quality of life led to the creation of LIHI’s Supportive Services department in 2002. The Supportive Services department provides residents with case management, life skills training, technology access and training, financial literacy training and savings programs, and activities for some of the more than 850 children in LIHI housing.
LIHI’s second decade was remarkably productive, developing on average of over 2 projects a year. During the economic downturn of 2008 LIHI had the opportunity to acquire properties in the U District, Bellevue, and Ballard at bargain prices that allowed us to build affordable housing in locations where it would be very difficult to do just a few years later.
In 2013, LIHI began a partnership with Nickelsville to host and operate a homeless encampment on our then vacant property at 2020 South Jackson Street. Since then, recognizing that tent encampments and tiny house villages are an effective crisis response to homelessness, our work with encampments has expanded and we now manage several Seattle sites in partnership with Nickelsville, SHARE/Wheel, the City of Seattle, Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd, and Compass Housing Alliance. Hosting encampments on our vacant properties that are awaiting development has proven a very effective way to maximize the housing and shelter we can provide.
Perhaps LIHI’s greatest strength is our sense of mission and our commitment to social justice through our housing development, management and advocacy work. While LIHI has grown to be a more mature organization, our sense of spirit and determination to do the right thing and serve as a catalyst for change remains!