A Photo-Finish for Seattle’s Social Housing Initiative

On Wednesday morning, House Our Neighbors! (HON) submitted just under 30,000 signatures supporting its petition to let voters decide on whether to establish a public corporation for social housing. That number may or may not be enough support for a proposal advocates say would create more decommodified housing in a city suffering from a housing affordability crisis.

HON, a political committee that grew out of Real Change to combat the infamous Compassion Seattle initiative, launched Initiative 135 in March. At the time, Real Change Advocacy Director and HON Co-chair Tiffani McCoy told The Stranger that people thought HON was crazy for attempting to collect the requisite number of signatures in just three months. For a moment, it looked like those non-believers might have been right.

paid signature gatherers” with venom when criticizing Compassion Seattle. To be fair, Compassion Seattle paid $25 an hour to anyone who could operate a clipboard, regardless of whether or not they knew what they were hocking. The campaign ended up paying over $30 for each valid signature, which feels distinctly less grassroots. 

McCoy said HON did not have enough money to compensate signature gatherers for their time initially, but when a delayed start and an unusually rainy spring set the campaign back, they asked for more donations to pay for the labor necessary to meet the goal. 

McCoy said HON may try to run a completely volunteer campaign in the future, but other organizers cautioned against “glorifying volunteerism.” 

Nikkita Oliver, a long-time Seattle organizer who worked on the campaign, stressed that under capitalism it is important to compensate for all types of work, including the work to upset the system itself, especially because the system tends to screw over people who gravitate toward that work. 

Suresh Chanmugam, an organizer with Tech 4 Housing, added that campaigns that don’t pay for labor have a hard time keeping it.

“To afford a median one-bedroom in Seattle, if you’re earning minimum wage, you need to work about 80 hours a week,” Chanmugam said. “That does not leave any time to be volunteering with any kind of campaign. It doesn’t leave time for parenting or even cooking a meal for yourself.”


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