Edited by Shan Yonamine, Project Assistant, Project on Family Homelessness
Note: For the second year in a row, our student assistants planned a campus event in support of Affordable Housing Week in King County, May 15-22. This year’s team — Khadija Diallo, Mandy Rusch and Shan Yonamine — decided to focus on “Renters’ Rights 101.” Afterward, they reflected on what worked well, what could be improved, what surprised them and what they learned.
The purpose of Renters’ Rights 101 was to give attendees a “crash course” in rental laws and best practices so that they would feel more prepared to navigate the Seattle rental market. Our target audience was students, new renters and soon-to-be renters in the greater Seattle area.
Our project had participated last year in the first AHW by hosting a film screening of the “American Refugees” animated short films, and we wanted to participate this year by hosting another event that would be relevant to students.
So we brainstormed together. We chose the topic of renters’ rights after Mandy shared an experience she had with her landlord not making repairs to her unit. We all realized that many of our peers are experiencing the same kind of uncertainty when it comes to how to navigate certain rental situations and decided to ask our partners if they could help us facilitate an educational workshop.
After the event, my fellow project assistants and I reflected on our experiences through a series of questions that our supervisor, Catherine, posed to us.
What was your role? What did you produce/accomplish for the campaign and the workshop?
Khadija: “Shan and I created a communications plan for Renters’ Rights 101. I wrote the research and situation analysis, the goals, the objectives, audiences and the strategy. Mandy and I hung posters around campus. I also wrote a press release to send to local media in hopes of promoting the event city-wide. Finally, I created the surveys (pre- and post-event) to hand out to attendees as they came in and left our workshop event. I manually entered and helped analyze the data from the surveys as well.”
Mandy: “I was the graphic designer for this event. While I was working with the team to brainstorm what this event should be about, I was thinking about what kinds of visuals could help communicate this message. I wanted to create a clear visual presence for our event on campus to help raise awareness and hopefully draw more attendees. This consisted of a “Renters’ Rights 101” logo along with a color palette and set of imagery to be used across all our event materials. Materials I designed included event posters, social media promotional images/video, and a renters’ rights quick guide pamphlet that was distributed at the event.”
Shan: “My role was to coordinate the logistics of the event and to communicate with our partner organizations. To get an idea of which organizations we should partner with, we met with Ashwin Warrior, communications manager at Capitol Hill Housing and a former project assistant on our project. He connected us with the Tenants Union of Washington State, Be:Seattle, and the Capitol Hill Renter Initiative (Caitlin Walther). It was my responsibility to communicate with the organizations (via email) to plan the event. I worked with the speakers to identify what kind of information should be covered in the workshop, create a format and write a run-of-show document. Additionally, I co-wrote the strategic plan for the event with Khadija and was responsible for managing our event timeline by identifying tasks, delegating them and following up to see if they were completed. I also managed our room reservation, catering order and technology needs.”
What do you think worked well about the campaign and the workshop?
Khadija: “I think we did a good job in terms of logistics. Everything was well planned. We contacted representatives from the organizations we wanted to collaborate with early on. I also enjoyed how our audience — though small — was very engaged and participated plenty during the Q&A portion.”
Mandy: “I think that one thing that worked well about the campaign was our ability to draw attention from the Seattle community outside of just our campus. Even though we expected most of our attendees to be Seattle U students, it was valuable to engage with all the non-students who attended. During the workshop, I also thought the audience question portion was effective because it allowed for discussion about real issues that renters face in our community and helped connect people to ways to push for change.”
Shan: “In my opinion, the partnership between Hana Alicic (from the TU) and Devin Silvernail (from Be: Seattle) worked well. When coordinating with them initially, I was concerned that there wouldn’t be room for both to facilitate separate workshops on behalf of each of their organizations. After I connected them during the planning process, they initiated an in-person meeting with each other and decided to host a joint-education workshop and even brought a volunteer attorney, Maureen Roat from the Legal Action Center. I really liked the structure of their presentation – they started with “moving in” and ended with “moving out” – and talked about laws and best practices at every stage of the rental process. They did a good job of keeping the audience engaged and covered a wide variety of topics.”
What do you wish you/we had done differently?
Khadija: “Somehow I didn’t expect such a low turnout. Though I feel we covered all the bases, I wish we could have promoted more aggressively for the event. We had about 23 Seattle U community members/non-Seattle U community members attend the event. I also wish we could have had more of a workshop rather than a sort of lecture and question-and-answer at the end. If we had prepared questions and encouraged our attendees to get into groups and talk about renters’ rights issues I think that would have made the event even more successful.”
Mandy: “I wish that we had connected better with Seattle U students since that is the group we originally wanted to create this event for. Most students are not aware of our project and what we do, and I think this could have been a good opportunity to engage our campus. I also wish that we had made space for a more interactive component during the lecture portion of the workshop to boost the energy in the room.”
Shan: “I wish that we had contacted Conference and Event Services earlier so that we could have reserved a nicer classroom for the event. We tried reserving the room over a month in advance but Bannan Auditorium was the only room available. It worked out fine; however, I heard from attendees that it was difficult to find [even though we put up lots of signs!], there were no windows and the chairs were noisy. There was also not a lot of space for our information table and for us to display things. I think that the Boeing Room in the library or a room in the Student Center would have been a lot better. I also wish that we had someone at the door to check in attendees. Throughout the course of the event, a lot of people came and left, so it’s hard to tell exactly how many people we reached. Also, it was very difficult to read people’s handwriting on the sign-in sheet we provided, so we don’t have an accurate email for everyone to send the presentation to.”
Did anything come up that you didn’t expect?
Khadija: “Again, I didn’t expect such a low turnout. I thought we did a really good job of promoting the event. We created a Facebook page a month in advance, hung up posters two weeks before the event, sent out a press release that got picked up by the Capitol Hill Times and emailed students. I invited over a hundred people via Facebook to the event. We used traditional and social media for promotion and it still didn’t make too much of a difference in attendance. Also, one person came in at the beginning of the event, she signed in and started talking to the guest speakers but as soon as the event began, she left. That was a little unexpected.”
Mandy: “When we were originally planning this event, I thought we would mainly use it to educate new renters who are just entering the rental market. I did not expect to hear so many personal stories from attendees who already have years of rental experience and are facing major problems with their landlords. This made it really clear to me that there is a big need in Seattle for this kind of tenant education for people of all ages to help connect them with resources and information.”
Shan: “Before the event started, there was one attendee who approached me with a specific rental law question that I did not know how to answer. I told her that after the workshop, there would be a lot of time for questions and that she could ask her question during that time. Instead, she approached one of the speakers who answered her question and then she left saying ‘that was all I needed to know.’ I encouraged her to stay for the workshop but she insisted that she had to go and left before the workshop started. She didn’t necessarily do anything wrong, I was just surprised that she didn’t want to stay.”
What is the outcome of which you’re most proud?
Khadija: “The outcome that I’m most proud of is that there may be a new protection for tenants. This would be an outcome that we would not have planned for. Ashwin from CHH followed up on a question from an attendee about relocation assistance. I’m happy to learn that he’s already gotten Councilmember Johnson and Councilmember Sawant interested in fixing this issue. I’m glad our small event made a big difference and could influence local policy. ”
Mandy: “During the discussion at the end of the workshop, an issue came up concerning laws about relocation assistance- one of our attendees asked why his landlord was able to evaluate him and his roommates as a single income unit to deny relocation assistance. Our speakers had run into this issue before, and after the discussion, Ashwin from CHH approached city council members about ways to change this and are now working on ways to make law amendments. I am proud that our event could be used as a platform to make community voices heard and open an opportunity for positive solutions.”
Shan: “During the Q&A portion of the event, one of the attendees brought up that he shared his house with four of his friends and that they recently got notification that their house is going to be demolished. When he tried to apply for renter relocation assistance, he was denied because he and his friends were all on one lease and therefore treated as one household. As a household, they made too much money to receive assistance. This question turned out to be a catalyst for change. After the event, Ashwin followed up with this attendee through email and has brought the issue to the attention of Councilmember Johnson and Councilmember Sawant who are both interested in fixing this issue. TU and Be:Seattle are meeting with the councilmembers’ staff soon about this.”
What did you learn about renters’ rights?
- “Seattle landlords are required to charge no more than one month’s rent for security deposit and nonrefundable fees.
- Additionally, tenants are allowed up to a six-month payment plan for the security deposit, any nonrefundable fees and last month’s rent.
- Under the Seattle Housing & Building & Maintenance codes, Seattle landlords are prohibited from preventing or discriminating against tenants who are organizing in their buildings.
- Finally after you move out, your landlord has 21 days to send you all of your deposit or a letter telling you why they are not giving some or all of it back.
These were all facts we included in our handy pamphlet. Before planning this event, I wasn’t familiar with any of this information.”
- “Even if your landlord violates the lease, you should never withhold rent, but should instead communicate, keep careful record of those communications, and use these documents as leverage to take legal action.
- I learned about a lot of good ways to communicate with landlords to keep a clear record of rental agreements and repairs. The next time I rent, I know I will be better prepared to communicate with my landlord to make sure my needs are met.”
- “It is important to read your lease before you sign it and that you should also be familiar with rental laws in your state so you can see if anything in your lease contradicts those laws.
- There is power in constituents. Many of the rental protections that we have in Seattle today are a result of folks organizing and speaking out against unjust situations. If something in your rental situation seems unfair or illegal, talk to a tenants’ right organization in your area or go directly to city council. Change can be made.”
What advice do you have for next year’s students about planning this type of event?
Khadija: “One piece of advice would be to start promotion earlier than we did. Instead of a few weeks, it might be good to start promoting at least a month or so out from the event. The longer there is promotion, I think the more opportunity there is to increase turnout. I would also say to try to think outside the box in terms of finding a cool event to plan. We chose Renters’ Rights because we’re all seniors looking to enter the rental market, but their situations will be different, so capitalizing on whatever current pressing issues there are on campus and tying that to Affordable Housing Week would be my advice.”
Mandy: “My advice for next year’s students is to be open and flexible to letting the event develop organically. The outcome that I mentioned earlier where our event sparked political action was not something we could have planned for. The beauty of hosting an event like this is in stepping back to see what can come out of others’ ideas and opinions, so it is important to be open to how these might come up. I also think it would be great if students next year can plan an event that is more interactive from the beginning to promote even more engagement. I am excited to see what next year’s project team comes up with!”
Shan: “Don’t be afraid to ‘bug’ people. There were many times while planning this event that I had to email people multiple times asking for the same thing. I thought that I was being super annoying but it is important to follow up with people to keep the event on schedule. When I talked with our speakers after the event, I thanked them and apologized to them for being “annoying” and emailing them so often. I was surprised when they said that I wasn’t annoying at all and that they appreciated my reminders! They all agreed that it is important to follow up with people and complimented my organizational abilities.”
What is your favorite image from the whole experience?
Khadija: “I really liked the mini-video that Mandy made of our Renters’ Rights 101 logo. I thought that was so innovative. It got over 40 views on Facebook and I think it helped increase attendance at our event. I wish I could create a nice video like that.”
Mandy: “My favorite design was the “quick guide for renters,” a pamphlet I designed to distribute at the event. Shan and Khadija had read through the rights information on the TU website and created a condensed list of key tenant rights to highlight. I think that presenting them in this pamphlet format helped to make this information more accessible to people who might be intimidated at first to read through all of the information on the Tenants Union website.”
Shan: “This is a picture of our team and most of our speakers before the event. It is my favorite image because I had been emailing our speakers back and forth for over a month and this was the first time I got to meet them in person. I put so much time and effort into coordinating this event with them and I was so proud to see it all come together.”
Anything else you want to add?
Khadija: “I’m really glad I got to experience event planning as part of my job as a project assistant. Event planning takes a lot of hard work and teamwork. It’s really rewarding after months of planning to see your event in motion. I’m glad we got the chance to make Renters’ Rights 101 a successful event overall.”
Mandy: “Looking back on our team’s first brainstorming session for this event, I am so proud of how far we came. A lot of time and care was put into planning and executing this workshop, and it was an amazing experience to be a part of it. Even though the event was small, it was clearly valuable for the attendees who were there. I am happy that our event was able to serve as a platform to bring these people closer to changes that they and the rest of our community needs.”
Shan: “I just want to thank the Tenants Union, Be:Seattle and Capitol Hill Housing again, for participating in this event. A few months ago, I approached them with a simple idea – to host a tenants’ rights workshop for students – and they collaborated with me for months to turn our idea into a full-fledged event. Without their participation and expertise, this workshop would not have been possible. We cannot thank them enough for their help.”
What You Can Do
- Think about joining the Capitol Hill Renter Initiative! Meetings are the second Wednesday of every month.
- Join the coalition to amend the Seattle Renter Relocation Assistance Ordinance — the issue that came up during the workshop — to protect low- and middle-income tenants.
- Read Mandy’s blog post about Affordable Housing Week.
- Check out the Tenants Union website to learn more about rental laws in Washington state and connect with Be:Seattle.
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