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Q4 2023 Seattle Impact Partner: Mercy Housing

Updated: Jan 23

Parts of this story was originally published on March 13th, 2023 on the Mercy Housing blog

Mercy Othello Plaza—108 family rental homes in Rainier Valley

Mercy Othello Plaza—108 family rental homes in Rainier Valley


Homelessness was one of the most important issues affecting our community, per the results of our annual Community Impact Survey (take the 2023 Survey here). Accordingly, we've chosen Mercy Housing Northwest as our Q4 Impact Partner. Affordable housing is increasingly out of reach in Washington state. According to the National Low Income Housing Institute, someone making $15.74 (minimum wage in Washington) would have to work over 60 hours a week to afford a modest one-bedroom apartment at market rate prices. As a result of this affordability crisis, a growing number of people and communities are facing challenges with unemployment, foreclosure, and homeless.


Mercy Housing Northwest (MHNW), is addressing this crisis head on by developing deeply affordable and stable housing. Across 54 Mercy Housing Northwest communities in Washington, Idaho, and Oregon, they’ve built 2,500+ apartments homes and nearly 7,000 residents call a Mercy Housing Northwest community, “home.”


Gardner House and Allen Family Center

"Gardner House and Allen Family Center prioritize families with a two-pronged approach offering family-sized housing and services to help families avoid or exit homelessness.” — Jody Allen, co-founder and chair, Paul G. Allen Foundation


But home is just the beginning...


Once residents have the foundation of stable housing, they can focus on meeting other needs that can help achieve their dreams. MHNW supports residents by providing services and resources in the following high-impact areas:

  • Health and Wellness: Health navigation services, behavioral health counseling, chronic-disease prevention education, and nutritional cooking classes.

  • Education: Out-of-School time programming for children with a focus on academics, art, and physical activity, adult computer training, GED assistance, and ESL instruction.

  • Financial and Housing Stability: Job readiness training, financial literacy and lease education classes, and life skills coaching.

  • Community Engagement: Community projects and events, safety initiatives, voter registration, and volunteer opportunities.

In 2022, MHNW achieved $275 million in active real estate, 183 new homes under construction, and opened or preserved 545 homes. MHNW also opened Columbia Heights in Vancouver, WA, Cedar Crossing in Seattle, broke ground on their first community in Oregon, and acquired Evergreen Ridge in Bellingham.


This work makes stories like Cam’s possible...


The impact of the pandemic is still reverberating like ripples in an ever-expanding pond. Long after the story has faded from the headlines, its impact is still being felt by Mercy Housing Northwest residents. Stories such as Cam’s are still being told and will be for some time to come.


Cam and her husband were living in Spanaway, WA, at the start of the pandemic. Recently retired from the military, they both were eagerly waiting the next chapter of their lives. Both were facing some health concerns. Cam’s diagnosis is challenging, but they found themselves excited about whatever the future might hold.


Then the world changed overnight. Living on a fixed income, life was already challenging, but when their current landlord sold their home to a new owner, they faced an increase in rent beyond their means. Desperately, they searched for an affordable option. As they called and scrolled through countless websites, a silent clock was ticking in the background. In less than a month, they would have to vacate their home. The only option before them would be an affordable hotel room with weekly rates while they continued their search.

There was consistency to change in the military, but being thrown into homelessness was completely different...

Cam can still vividly remember that first night in the hotel. “The walls were paper thin, we crammed everything we owned into the room, and we sat on the bed in disbelief,” Cam said. “We are homeless. We are actually homeless.”


But Cam has never been one to give up. Years and years as a military spouse ingrained in her a never quit attitude. Cam kept making calls. She kept advocating for her family. She kept fighting, but the challenge before her was taking a toll. With resources stretched, Cam had little access to healthy food options. Doctor’s visits were not a priority. Rationing medication became the new norm. Cam’s lack of stable housing was pushing her closer to an extended hospital stay. If she wasn’t careful, it could have become really dangerous.


“There was consistency to change in the military, but being thrown into homelessness was completely different, said Cam.”


“How can you not be stressed when you are homeless? You are in a constant fight-or-flight mode.” Eventually, it all became too much. Cam had reached an unhealthy weight for her condition.


“A doctor told me if I didn’t get back to a healthy weight, it would force them to hospitalize me.” Cam knew something had to change.


With a week left before the hotel would no longer be an affordable option, Cam called 2-1-1. They referred her to a caseworker. Together, they feverishly worked to find housing for Cam and her husband. That’s when Cam stumbled across Gardner House, a Mercy Housing Northwest community in the Columbia City neighborhood of Seattle. 15 minutes before her call, a tenant had given their notice to vacate the property.


“The clouds opened up for the first time in a long time, Cam said with a smile on her face.” “Soon, we would be home.”


With keys in their hands, they unlocked the door to their new home. With fresh paint on the walls and cleaned from top to bottom, they breathed in new possibilities. Here, her husband could continue his work of creating clothing specifically designed for people with disabilities. In the kitchen, Cam could cook healthy meals and get back to a healthy weight. Outside, they would have easy access to public transportation. They could easily get to doctor’s appointments. This community could be their home.


But Cam’s story doesn’t end there. Since moving in, her neighbors have named Cam the unofficial mayor of Gardner House. They can often find her volunteering during out-of-school time with the grade schoolers, advocating for herself at community meetings, and pulling neighbors together for various events.


“Out of this sea of change, a community has been born. I couldn’t be more grateful,” said Cam.


 

Join YPOSeattle and meet some of the Mercy Housing Northwest team at our October 2023 Happy Hour event:


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