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Maureen's Musings: Generations pass and affordable housing is still an issue

Updated: Jan 8, 2022

By Maureen Howard

Dignity City Columnist

My Irish Catholic family roots run deep into Swift County, Minnesota and the railroad land they purchased from Bishop John Ireland; part of his 1870’s experiment to prove the Irish could farm. Planned Irish Catholic farming communities designed to extend and support the railroad’s expansion all the way to Puget Sound where I now live.

Some of my immigrant ancestors turned out to be really great farmers; one great-grandfather, not so much. He preferred to sit in his rocking chair and read and think. This great-grandfather had ridden with the 7th Cavalry Regiment and he believed that the U.S. government’s treatment of the Native Americans was no different than the English treatment of the Irish. He and my great-grandmother were married on Oct. 1,1879 at Standing Rock in Dakota Territory and spent the first years of their marriage volunteering with the Native Americans.

I wonder what he would think now as the Puyallup Tribe begins the long journey of buying back their land along Commencement Bay? How can it be that the people who tended, protected, shared the land must either go to court or to the financial markets to reclaim what was always collectively, but never individually, theirs?

How did we come to build our wealth on our housing? Why even now do we not adopt the universal right to housing and ensure security of tenure and any number of community-owned models?

Advocates gained key tenant protections in Washington state’s 2021 legislative session: a right to counsel and “just cause” eviction law. Important as these protections are, if you can’t afford the rent, their value is limited. Washington state statute prohibits rent control. Even as COVID-19 continues to disrupt our lives and our economy, we watch rents rise $500-$900/month. Do we have the courage to take this on in the 2022 legislative session? Isn’t it in everyone’s best interest to have housing people can afford? Everyone?

When people exhaust all immediate and community resources, they build their homes of tents and tarps and vehicles and even scrap lumber. Housed members of the community rise up and demand these newest of our planned communities go away. But where can they go?

Once you have lost all ordinary housing, it is almost impossible to re-house yourself by yourself.

The City of Tacoma has issued a request for proposals (RFP) to develop “affordable housing” on parcels of city-owned land. There is an encampment of people experiencing homelessness on that land. The city assures me there is no plan to sweep, or remove, the encampment. I’ve asked for a “right of return” for the people living there — so that when the housing is completed, those who want to do so can be among the tenants. There is no legal requirement for such a “right of return” and I don’t know of any precedent. The city is open to a developer including this in their proposal.

When people experiencing homelessness began sharing their stories with me in 1982, you could rent a room for a week at one of the remaining downtown hotels for one day’s pay.

My three grandchildren and their partners do not together earn enough money to qualify for a mortgage on the Tacoma house I bought on a handshake more than 40 years ago. Though the house has had new roofs, three coats of paint, upgraded bathrooms, a new deck, and decent maintenance, it did not increase in value by $500,000 over the realtors' offer; not in any year’s real dollars.

The realtors’ calls and offers to purchase come almost daily. But where would we go that we could see The Mountain from the dining room? Where else are there neighbors who would come at any hour to help us? Who would plant sunflowers along their fence simply for my husband to enjoy? On our modest fixed retirement income, we would not even qualify to rent.

We’ll talk more about housing models and choices. But first: Who has the right to live in our cities and towns and our countrysides? What kind of housing will they have? What will they have to live on after they pay for housing?

What are your answers? Please let me know at

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