The Seattle Mariners organization announced its involvement with the Home Base partnership on December 14, 2018. The Mariners have pledged to contribute $3 million to be used for eviction prevention services and to provide legal advice and counsel to renters facing eviction.
This isn’t breaking news anymore and Microsoft’s announcement of its own $500 million dollar donation to a multifaceted plan for solving homelessness in King County has overshadowed the Mariners’ contribution, but this piece is meant to be a deeper dive on how the Mariners’ contribution and plan will work and why it’s important. Since Lookout Landing prides itself on covering the team comprehensively on and off the field—and we’ve still got a ways to go before we see any practice baseball even—this seemed like a good time to do a little research. Also, my day job is with a transitional housing nonprofit on the Eastside that provides eviction prevention services, so fair housing advocacy is a field I am both knowledgeable and passionate about.
I was able to talk with a couple Mariners front office folks, including Senior Director of Public Information Rebecca Hale and Executive Vice President and General Counsel Fred Rivera. Rivera is also a trustee of the King County Bar Foundation and the Chair Elect of United Way of King County.
I wanted to know why the Mariners chose to go all in on eviction prevention services at this point in time. Hale was quick to point out that “all in” isn’t quite the right phrase, as the organization is continuing its existing community programs and giving that are focused on youth causes, totaling around $1 million a year.
“We all know that homelessness is a crisis in our city, and the Mariners have been active in funding solutions,” Hale said. “Over the summer we partnered with Pearl Jam on the band’s Home Shows effort, which raised $11 million to fight homelessness. But, the Mariners want to do more and help find innovative solutions.”
Hale went on to say that the idea to get involved with eviction prevention started with a study done by the King County Bar Association and the Seattle Women’s Commission called “Losing Home: The Human Cost of Eviction in Seattle.” Fred Rivera brought the study to the attention of the owners, including majority owner John Stanton.
“This is an issue that John has been concerned about and involved in since he chaired the United Way of King County campaign in 2007,” Hale said. “It’s something he thinks about every time he drives to the ballpark and sees people living in tents along the freeway and on the streets of SODO.”
Eviction and Homelessness
Why does eviction often cause homelessness? A single eviction can set off a cascade of negative consequences in a person’s life. According to the “Losing Home” report, having an eviction in your rental history can potentially bar you from being accepted into public/low-income housing and can tarnish your credit rating, which leads to evicted families and individuals having to accept substandard housing in disadvantaged areas. In many cases, people run out of options and end up living in cars, shelters, tents, or on the streets. Becoming homeless has a rapid detrimental effect on physical and mental health, which leads to eviction being considered a public health concern.
“I think eviction prevention is part of a long term solution,” Rivera said. “When the ‘Losing Home’ report came out, it caused me to look at these programs as a long term solution to keeping families out of the streets. Families will going along fine, but then one big medical issue might come up and it causes them to miss a month’s rent and then they end up getting evicted by their landlord.”
Eviction prevention services address one of the several primary causes of homelessness, but don’t address other bigger systemic and cultural issues that continually cause people to be pushed to the brink of homelessness, such as substance abuse, domestic violence, and mental health issues. While calling eviction prevention a band-aid solution is bit cynical, by itself it’s not a comprehensive solution. That’s where the other facet of the Home Base partnership comes into play, including legal services for renters facing eviction and eviction education clinics for both renters and landlords.
“I hope this program will start to change the culture of how landlords interact with tenants,” Rivera said. “Instead of running to the courthouse to issue eviction notices when tenants are late, hopefully more landlords will see the benefits of working with tenants to find solutions, such as using relief programs like this one. Getting landlords to have some trust in this program will be an important step.”
This recent Seattle Times article details an example of the kind of eviction case Rivera is referring to. Ballard Realty issued an eviction notice to Keilani Luxmore, a mother of three, giving her three days to pay $2 in missing rent. Luxmore said she never saw the notice because it was posted on a neighbor’s door and three days later, she was put through the beginning of the eviction legal process. Fortunately for Luxmore, the parties were able to come to a compromise before the case went to trial, but this is just another example of where better communication between tenants and landlords could have prevented an unnecessary legal proceeding and tons of stress for the tenant. Most stories like Luxmore’s do not have a happy ending.
Rivera also hopes the program will help dispel some common myths about homelessness.
“I know I shouldn’t read comments on news articles, but I do anyways, and this program isn’t about deadbeat families getting free rent,” Rivera said. “Preventing families from becoming homeless through these eviction prevention programs is not expensive. It stops people from hitting the streets before it happens.”
Hale is also passionate about the prevention aspect of the partnership.
“By focusing on prevention, the partnership is looking to do something that isn’t happening a lot in our community’s response to the homelessness crisis,” Hale said. “Keeping someone in their home is a better and usually cheaper solution than trying to meet their needs once they’ve become homeless. But we know that prevention isn’t the only way to tackle this complicated issue. That’s why we’re partnering with United Way of King County. In addition to the flexible pool of money this program will provide, UWKC will provide Home Base clients with case management and access to other services to help them stay housed long-term.”
Beyond Home Base
Solving the homelessness crisis in King County will require a community-wide solution and the Home Base partnership is just one part of that. The aforementioned Microsoft $500 million plan is largely focused on keeping existing affordable housing available and in working order and then building a lot more affordable housing, particularly on the Eastside. According to the Seattle Times, those two aspects will take up all but $25 million of Microsoft’s contribution. That last chunk will be donated to a handful of the larger service providers that currently help out the region’s low-income and homeless residents, such as Hopelink and Mary’s Place.
The key bit of info from that Times article is that Microsoft stated they will pitch in an additional $5 million to the Home Base partnership, bringing the total estimated budget to $8 million. I would be very curious to know how much the planning of the two efforts by the Mariners and Microsoft overlapped and which plan influenced the other, or if the timing was just a happy coincidence. Regardless, this development will allow the Home Base partnership to have a much larger impact in its eviction prevention and education efforts.
Eviction prevention services are very effective in keeping people from becoming homeless, but these services alone won’t solve the homelessness crisis in King County. But, due to the unprecedented homelessness rates and increasing lack of affordability in our region, having robust eviction prevention services is a solid strategy to create breathing room for addressing bigger systemic issues.
One could cynically speculate that the Mariners organization saw an opportunity for a badly-needed and easy PR win and the Home Base partnership is the result. I doubt it’s as black and white as that, but is there anything inherently wrong with a PR win that will directly prevent thousands of King County residents from becoming homeless? Absolutely not.
Donating money to eviction prevention is instantaneous in creating a positive effect in people’s lives. The money goes to the people who need the most right away. People who receive these services stay in their housing and don’t become a more expensive drain on the county’s resources by entering the cycle of homelessness. I believe this is an undeniably good thing even if the results are more focused on the short term. Sometimes the short term is all there is for people in crisis, whether it be a medical situation, domestic violence, or just plain bad fortune. It can seem easy from the outside to scoff at short-term fixes that don’t address bigger systemic issues, but this is just one approach of many needed to ultimately address homelessness in King County. There is no onus on the Mariners to do this at all, but I think it’s wonderful that the organization is taking an active role to help those in the community who need it most.