13-2 Housing Is Built With Ballots: Renter Perspective with Samatha Anderson

Renters’ stories can show the important intersections between housing justice and voter engagement. Advocacy informed by renters’ lived experiences points directly to the needs of community members and can mobilize people to participate in the push for equity and affordable homes across the country.

Samantha AndersonSamatha, a renter in Washington State, demonstrates this commitment in her neighborhood. A graduate of Washington State Low Income Housing Alliance’s (WLIHA) Emerging Advocates program, Samatha is active in voter education on voting rights in her community. Samatha speaks passionately about her desire to see more residents register to vote and participate in the upcoming election. Samatha is also a district lead for WLIHA and the Washington State Domestic Violence Coalition, as well as a member of King County Housing Authority’s Residents Committee, a lived experience expert for Residents Action Project (RAP), a supporter of the National Network for Youth, and a survivor of intimate partner violence.

In your experience, what are the most prominent barriers to tenant and resident engagement in housing justice and voter engagement initiatives?

“I think just general perception and lack of education. When you talk about housing these days, people assume it’s all paid for. But I think there’s a lack of understanding about [how voting impacts your] housing.” Samatha also spoke about people having fears of participating caused by voter apathy. “Education on how voting impacts their everyday lives is important...it affects your housing.”

What would be helpful actionable next steps?

“If housing providers could include voter registration with their move-in paperwork, it would make it easier. [It also would help] people vote [because] they would have a place of residence to receive mail and send in their ballots.”

How accessible do you feel voting is in your state?

“I think it’s very accessible. But it’s a matter of getting housing providers up to par with what’s available. I think incorporating the process of registering to vote into housing systems should be built in and a given.”

How did you become passionate about and active in this conversation around voter engagement?

“I was a product of multiple different systems personally, including the juvenile justice system. Someone sent me a flyer about the Emerging Advocates program, which got me involved...Two years ago, I moved into subsidized housing…I’ve spent a lot of time supporting folks [in return].”

What do you think renters would need to become more engaged in voting? And what would you say to folks who want to get involved in voting?

“You can get on vote.gov and register to vote. I think, fundamentally, having the paperwork available when tenants move-in would be the biggest step. I think getting residents registered is the biggest hurdle.”

What do you think advocates can do to encourage renters to vote?

“Striking up conversations, listening and paying attention to where local events are being held or taking place. You have to really think outside of the box and the standard. In order for those connections to be more sincere, you have to build relationships first.”

Is there anything else we haven’t spoken about that you feel is important to capture in this conversation?

“I think, as a tenant, I have tried to reach out as much as I can. But I think it’s important for people to know there are so many great organizations and coalitions and non-profits who can help with voter engagement.”