Katie Hayes

Katie Hayes

An intense, challenging, fun year: Goodbye from the housing reporter

Katie Hayes wrote about the “absurd and creatively cruel issues that struggling renters face.” But she has hope, too.

I’m a sentimental person and goodbyes are always difficult. It’s been an intense, challenging and incredibly fun year reporting on working class issues at The Daily Herald.

Unfortunately, Friday was my last day. I’m moving to St. Louis, my hometown, to be closer to my family. I miss them and the small moments that are only possible when you live close to people, like sipping a cup of coffee in my Mom’s kitchen.

I wrote a few drafts of this column, because I wasn’t sure what I wanted to say. My job at the Herald was to write about “working class issues” in Snohomish County, but it didn’t take long to realize that some of the most pressing are child care and housing costs.

I thought about writing about my own relationship with these issues and how it influenced the stories I wrote. I thought about listing all the minimum wage jobs I’ve had and how frustrating it is to feel like you can’t get ahead. I also thought about listing how much my rent was in cities across Western Washington. Or the number of roommates I’ve had while attempting to avoid astronomical housing prices.

My goal at the Herald was to write stories that humanize poverty. I wanted to show people’s agency and the incredible amount of determination it takes to survive. The people in my stories aren’t helpless. They’re navigating a broken system.

Some of my most memorable stories were the ones that illustrated some of the absurd and creatively cruel issues that struggling renters face, like tenants at the Grand Apartments in Everett who said their corporate landlord bullied them out of the building.

Or the public agency that displaced Lynnwood tenants, then gave some $2,000 in exchange for signing nondisclosure agreements. The tenants signed legally binding documents that they wouldn’t sue or speak about the government agency. Ironically, I found those agreements through a public records request.

The people in my stories showed incredible courage. They informed and educated their community by sharing some of the most traumatic events in their life. In some cases, it led to change.

Melinda Parke spoke about the lack of emergency housing, while Snohomish County’s homeless families wait in line for a permanent solution. Parke is still on the wait list for permanent housing, but she received more than $4,000 in community donations and a nonprofit paid for six days at a motel after the Herald’s story.

Alexandra Nyfors spoke about her medical bills, after the state attorney general alleged Providence wasn’t providing financial assistance to low-income patients. Nyfors should have qualified, but received a bill anyway. After the Herald’s story, Nyfors received an email from Providence. They canceled her medical debt and said they would refund what she already paid.

Steve Teixeira, a tenant at the Grand Apartments, is starting an Everett Tenants Union to advocate for more aggressive code enforcement and harsher penalties.

George and Pam Hurst helped displaced Lynnwood tenants find housing. In some cases, they spent their own money to help people move.

The stories we tell ourselves matter. The stories we tell our community matter, too. I think it’s important to show how resilient people are and write about the courageous things they do.

I find it encouraging to see that the Snohomish County Council, the City of Everett and the housing authorities are taking steps to address the affordable housing crisis.

The County Council recently eased zoning restrictions, opening the door for more townhomes and duplexes. The Everett Housing Authority recently acquired 381 apartments, preventing another buyer from drastically raising rent prices.

Good things are happening in Snohomish County, but we can do more, as citizens, to push for policies that protect people in the community.

The decisions local politicians make directly affect the people in my stories. The politicians we elect decide if a city gets more housing. They also decide how and where to spend our money. If you want to protect people in your community, speak up — ask questions, email your councilmembers and read statements at public meetings.

You are taxpayers in this community and you have a right to know how governments are spending your money. You also have a right to voice your opinion on those decisions. On the local level, it only takes a handful of really loud people to influence policy.

Frankly, I would take this job with me if I could, but local journalism requires local reporters. I look forward to reading about what happens next in Snohomish County, though, and will continue subscribing to the Herald. If you can afford to subscribe to the Herald, or support the next Report for America corps member’s work, you should, too.

Katie Hayes: katie.hayes@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @misskatiehayes.

Katie Hayes is a Report for America corps member and writes about issues that affect the working class for The Daily Herald.

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