The Mayor and Seattle City Council recently announced the initial appointees selected to serve on the new Seattle Renters’ Commission. Created by Ordinance 125280 in March 2017, the 15-member commission will advise the City on priorities, policies, and strategies related to all issues concerning renters across the City of Seattle. It will also monitor and provide feedback on the enforcement and effectiveness of legislation related to renters and renter protections. All the appointments are subject to City Council confirmation.
ChrisTiana ObeySumner is an Alaskan-Born, Philly-Raised, East-Coast transplant who moved to the area in 2010 to attend Seattle University as a Transfer Scholar. They have a BS in Psychology, a Masters in Nonprofit Leadership, and is currently pursuing their M.Ed. in Clinical Mental Health & Addictions Counseling. Their area of expertise and research is the relationship between marginalized and oppressed intersectionalities and access to basic human needs and rights in American society.
ChrisTiana is the chair of the Housing Committee within the Seattle Commission for People with disAbilities and is also the founding Executive Director of the Eleanor Elizabeth Institute for Black Empowerment.
What inspired you to serve on the Seattle Renters’ Commission?
On a professional level, I was inspired to join the Renters’ Commission after working in housing and homelessness services for nearly five years. Across my career, I have seen the varying sorts of issues, barriers, and pitfalls that happen for our most vulnerable community members. In my current role, I have seen people denied housing for paying off landlord debt too quickly or for a crime they committed as a juvenile. In a county with nearly 12,000 people homeless, and a great portion of those people concentrated in our city, I have become a passionate advocate for social change. This advocacy is also informed by my own lived experience of homelessness from ages 9-25, and across more than five states. I get it. And, I hope both my professional and personal experiences can lend a narrative that will be transformative in this work.
How has your experience as a renter shaped your perspective of Seattle?
As a renter in Seattle, I have been taken aback by the wide fluctuations in rental prices; the marked difference in quality, quantity, and value of the properties; and the implicit class levels between varying property owners and those seeking housing. When I moved to Seattle, I thought my rental home in a quiet South New Jersey suburb–10 minutes outside of Philadelphia–expensive. It was a corner lot, two bedroom, one bathroom, with walk-in pantry, basement and sunroom: $1200. AND that was considered the hot market price! Today, I live in a small two bedroom, one bathroom four-plex off Aurora Ave N: Nearly $1400! A kind landlord offered to give us a deal on a new apartment in the same building with my mom, smaller unit, $1600! What is going on here? While I understand we are experiencing a tech boom, we all aren’t working in the tech industry. I empathize with private home owners who have no choice but to share a portion of the rising housing taxes onto their tenants, but it is unsustainable. While I have been lucky as a renter to remain housed, there is much work to be done to address the rental market in Seattle.
What do you hope the Seattle Renters’ Commission will bring to the City?
I am, and always have been, an advocate for social justice. I applied for the Seattle Renters’ Commission because I am hoping it can create a dialogue around what is truly happening in our city. I feel the issue goes beyond whose fault this is, or even semantics on empathy for which group. Humans, as members of the Animal Kingdom, have always shared the trait of seeking out their basic needs: food, water, warmth, shelter. Shelter. This is something that is in short supply here, and that which is available is inaccessible for an unacceptable number of people. Beyond community, or personhood, or humanity–we have a right as animals to seek shelter. I hope the Commission will unite all people involved in this dynamic to come together and seek solutions to create adequate housing, affordable housing, and accessible housing: from legislators to landlords, and from tenants to transients.
What neighborhood do you live in and what do you love most about it?
I live in North Seattle, around the Bitter Lake area. I love my part of town. It is exciting. There are so many wonderful people who love to help and look out for you. We have the privilege of all the best fast food that you likely won’t find in the city (What’s good, Krispy Kreme?)! And, I love the vibrancy of the neighborhood. A lot of people are afraid of the area because some of our neighbors are a bit unorthodox, to say the least. My partner and I have made friends with a neighbor living in their RV down the road and my family frequently visits with another who lives in one of the Aurora motels. I am not saying that I believe their situation is OK or acceptable–but they are my neighbors, and I love them no matter what state they are in. It is for them that I do this work. It is for my neighborhood that I join this commission. I would rather live beside my neighbors and friends, then to have them struggle in plain sight.