Meet the Seattle Renters’ Commission: Laurie Rocello Torres

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.

 

Laurie Rocello Torres

Laurie Rocello TorresLaurie Rocello Torres’ work with social justice began when they moved to Seattle in 2013 for a yearlong service fellowship with Puget Sound Sage, after graduating with a Bachelors in Organizational Communications from Bradley University. They are passionate about equitable, transit-oriented development and anti-displacement work. They have done work around environmental, economic, gender, racial, and transformative justice in the community. In their free time, Laurie loves to sing, dance, and teach a community self-defense and wellness class for queer and trans people of color called Building Autonomy and Safety for Everybody (BASE).  They also currently serves as the Deputy Secretary General of GABRIELA Seattle, a collective of Pin@ys who do cultural and political education work around labor issues impacting Filipino migrant workers. They are also a member of Got Green’s Young Workers in the Green Movement.

 

What inspired you to serve on the Seattle Renters’ Commission?

The work I have done in community to help organize around racial, economic, and environmental justice really framed the issue of housing as a human right for me. I have been renting in Seattle for 4 years and have seen tremendous changes in the city in a radically short amount of time, changes that often negatively impact workers who are renters. I wanted to offer an intersectional analysis that would help us center policies and solutions on the people most marginalized in Seattle: low-income workers of color, immigrant and refugee communities, folks with disabilities, and LGBTQ youth and seniors – all of whom need affordable housing.

 

How has your experience as a renter shaped your perspective of Seattle?

This is an amazing city that is also a cultural hub built on the backs of workers. And I do not mean solely tech workers, even though that’s what Seattle has become synonymous with. I mean the local restaurants owned and operated by immigrant families. I mean the symphony of multiple languages I hear on the 7 and the 36. Seeing beloved restaurants and groceries close their doors and move because rent is high really resonates as someone who lives in the city I work in. I am passionate about my work, and I am super grateful to be able to walk to work, and stop into local businesses on my way there to support them while grabbing a bite to eat. But with rent increasing, I will likely have to move. And when I leave the city, my expenses will likely triple as I am completely transit dependent. I have been able to live and make it in Seattle because of community and the money saved walking to work. Everyone deserves to live where they work, where they learn, and where they play. If my sense of community and my support network dissipates because I have to move as a transplant here, I can only imagine the damage done to communities who have lived here long before I came along. And to see buildings and homes torn down to make expensive high rises with stores that only cater to the affluent? It becomes clear that Seattle is becoming less of a cultural hub celebrating people who make this city special and unique, and more of a town that values profits over people.

 

What do you hope the Seattle Renters’ Commission will bring to the City?

I hope the Seattle Renters’ Commission functions as a platform for meaningful dialogue and creating solutions by and for communities who are most impacted by housing issues as it pertains to renting in the City.

 

What neighborhood do you live in and what do you love most about it?

I currently live in the Central District. What I love most about it is its history and the legacies of resistance and resilience from Black and Filipino communities that lived here long before developers had their eye on it and before it became a target of gentrification. It was a neighborhood that was previously redlined where only African Americans and Filipinos could live. And they turned it into a vibrant hub that became highly desired. It’s also an incredibly transit accessible neighborhood. From my apartment, I can easily access 5 bus lines to go to the U-District, Downtown, the International District, and Mt. Baker Transit Center, plus the street car. I have been able to experience all of Seattle on foot and transit from my neighborhood.