Imagine Housing has nearly 640 households across its various properties. (Google Maps)

Imagine Housing has nearly 640 households across its various properties. (Google Maps)

Tenants demand more relief from Eastside low-income housing provider

During a virtual fundraiser, several tenants protested outside the house of CEO Villette Nolon.

Tenants of the low-income housing provider Imagine Housing on the Eastside are asking management for additional relief during the COVID-19 pandemic.

During a virtual fundraiser for Imagine Housing on May 11, several tenants protested outside the house of the nonprofit’s CEO, Villette Nolon. Clad in protective masks and standing apart from each other, the demonstrators held signs asking for rental relief and assistance through the pandemic.

One of the tenant organizers who has been involved in petitioning Imagine Housing for change for months is Kara Latchinian. She’s also a part of the Imagine Housing Tenants Union. When she moved in two years ago, she said she was paying about 70 percent of her income in rent, and since then, her income has gone down as rent has increased.

Her situation isn’t uncommon, she said, and the pandemic has only exacerbated the stress on many tenants.

“It’s not a sustainable system to be able to keep people housed,” Latchinian said.

Michell Billing is another resident, and fellow member of the tenants union. She said she’s concerned there hasn’t been adequate maintenance, both before and during the pandemic. Billing also said that despite raising about $90,000 and donations of gift cards for gas and food, many tenants haven’t seen assistance from Imagine Housing.

“They are using the coronavirus as a way to get more donations and they’re telling the public that those donations are coming back to us, and they’re not,” Billing said.

Latchinian said she had received a $25 gift certificate, and believes it was because she was persistent in asking. However, while there have been eviction moratoriums enacted through the end of July, and payment plans have been discussed, neither tenant said it would be adequate. Many of their neighbors would be unable to pay rent in addition to back payments, they said.

Many of these issues were presented in an online petition earlier this year. The petition garnered 150 signatures from tenants and community supporters, said Helena Benedict with the Tenants Union of Washington State. When it was given to Imagine Housing, she said the requests were denied.

“It didn’t really feel like they were listening at all,” Benedict said.

CEO Villette Nolon said during a phone interview that Imagine Housing was committed to not evicting people because of back rent. She said they follow and expand upon models proposed by the city of Seattle, which outlines time frames for renters to pay back rent.

“We know people are losing their jobs. We do have to work out a payment plan with each of the households,” she said. “Our objective is to keep people housed. That is the mission.”

Gift cards and other resources have been distributed to residents based on need, she said. The provider houses nearly 640 households across its various properties. The maintenance crews have been entirely reassigned to sanitation duties and emergency repairs, like broken pipes. As such, they haven’t been focusing on other repair requests.

However, Benedict said tenants have told her a lack of repairs has been an ongoing issue. Last year, Imagine Housing was issued a code violation by Bellevue over bats living in an apartment. However, an Imagine Housing spokesperson said the violation was later retracted by the city.

In 2018, some residents marched in protest of several 10-day comply or leave notices which had been delivered. Rent had also increased at the properties.

On rent, Benedict said that even during the pandemic, when many nonprofits are hurting for funding, Imagine Housing should look for ways to provide rent forgiveness internally for those who need it.

“We think they should transparently and honestly think and talk about when they can waive rent for vulnerable families,” she said.

In 2018, Imagine Housing had some $700,000 in reserve. Benedict said Imagine Housing could use some of that to forgive rent for residents in need.

Nolon said the board of directors has required that funding to be spent on operation costs. She said Imagine Housing has been encouraging residents to use community resources, like a United Way housing fund that provided $1.5 million in relief to renters in the region.

Latchinian said she wants the chance to have an open dialogue with Imagine Housing and its board.

“I just feel like our voices are being shut down, and perhaps not everyone has the opportunity to hear what we have to say,” she said.

This story has been updated with additional information from Imagine Housing, including its 2018 general fund reserve and Bellevue’s retraction of a code violation.


In consideration of how we voice our opinions in the modern world, we’ve closed comments on our websites. We value the opinions of our readers and we encourage you to keep the conversation going.

Please feel free to share your story tips by emailing editor@redmond-reporter.com.

To share your opinion for publication, submit a letter through our website https://www.redmond-reporter.com/submit-letter/. Include your name, address and daytime phone number. (We’ll only publish your name and hometown.) We reserve the right to edit letters, but if you keep yours to 300 words or less, we won’t ask you to shorten it.

More in News

Inslee mask graphic
Free mask event for King County residents, Aug. 4 in Bellevue

The drive-thru distribution event will offer two masks per person

Primary election 2020: Who will emerge as Inslee’s challenger?

Voting ends Tuesday in an election without big rallies and fund-raisers and face-to-face debates

Sex ed, local control at heart of race for WA state schools chief

Incumbent Chris Reykdal faces five foes who argue he’s pushing too many state policies on school districts.

The location of the campus expansion, under development, is just 200 feet away. DigiPen Institute of Technology/Courtesy photo
DigiPen expands campus with ‘The Wing’

The new space for students will open Fall 2020 as students are offered hybrid learning plans.

(files)
County Fire Marshal issues burn ban

Dry conditions and high heats are in the forecast this week

Abortions could stop at Virginia Mason if merger is approved, reproductive rights advocates say

Hospital representatives said “certain services” would cease, but wouldn’t give specifics.

Pandemic is spiking in South King County, governor says

Gov. Jay Inslee met with elected officials, health officials and business partners in Federal Way to hear concerns, suggestions about state’s response to COVID-19.

Sound Transit breaks ground on Federal Way Link Extension

The $3.1 billion project includes three new stations near Kent/Des Moines, South 272nd Street and the Federal Way Transit Center.

Extra $600 in federal benefit for unemployed workers set to end July 25

Payment is on top of base weekly state benefit amount

Most Read