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A Hero Hidden only in Leschi

This month’s hero is a fairly new resident to Leschi and you may have not realized she was here, but she is highly visible in the world of Seattle and Housing as the Director of the Low Income Housing Institute.

Sharon Lee came to Seattle in the 80’s from Philadelphia where she had become active as a teenager when Chinatown housing was threatened there with the expansion of downtown, a freeway and a convention center. One of the victories back then was that landlords could not raise the rent if they had housing violations (sound familiar?)

Sharon went on to college to focus on Urban Studies and for a Masters in Architecture and Urban Planning. When she arrived in Seattle, she went to work for “Uncle Bob” (Bob Santos) at Seattle Housing and later for the City Council. She ended up working for Frank Chopp at the Fremont Public Association. The group was not interested in managing housing despite recognizing the need and so the Low Income Housing Institute (LIHI) was formed in 1991 with Frank as a co-founder. Sharon was named Executive Director in 1994.

So, in just 25 years and numerous grants, this busy woman has guided LIHI to create 63 buildings with 1900 units of housing. We have two near us: the Ernestine Anderson Place and the new Abbey Lincoln Court, which is devoted to workforce housing. Lower rents allow lower paid city workers to both live and work in Seattle. The first family to move in was a young couple with an infant who had been living in one of the tiny houses. The names chosen for these two facilities are those of figures in the jazz world, recognizing the Jackson Street jazz history and a history of civil rights activism.

LIHI also owns and operates three Urban Rest Stops, where folks can shower and do their laundry. It is estimated that 60% of homeless persons work either full or part-time and the Rest Stops allow them to maintain basic personal cleanliness and clean outfits for work.

LIHI has also spearheaded the movement to build Tiny House Villages. Each structure costs about $2200 in lumber and supplies and they are indeed tiny, but they provide shelter off the ground and have that all-important door that locks, protecting personal belongings. We have an example on 22nd just north of Union, behind the Good Shepherd Lutheran Church.

A creative fundraising effort was developed between LIHI and Uncle Ike’s: 5 pre-rolled joints in a package designed to look like a Tiny House; a percentage of the profit goes directly to the Tiny House project. Designed to be a gift, it sells for $25. One bud-tender reports that sales are good and even better; many of the staff have enthusiastically decided to help build a tiny house! (Will send photo)

LIHI is working on projects in Olympia, Renton and next to Fire Station 39 on Lake City Way. Permits are being sought to build workforce housing in the Little Saigon area in the International District. Sharon is a woman with a critical mission; we can help by identifying possible building sites in the area and urging our churches to provide space for Tiny Houses or supplying temporary housing inside until more permanent housing can be found.

~Diane Snell

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