14-1 Advancing Tenant Protections: Advocating for Tenant Protections in Washington State

Interview with Mindy Woods, Resident Action Project

Tell us a little bit about yourself and what brought you to housing work.

I am a Desert Storm veteran and single mother. Eleven years ago, our apartment was slowly being taken over by black mold. My son ended up in the hospital with mold growing in his esophagus, and he also has type 1 diabetes, which made things more complicated. A regional HUD attorney told me not to pay rent and sent a mold mediation letter. The manager instead tried to evict me. We instead negotiated so that I wouldn’t have to pay back rent but would have to leave the apartment in five days. Looking back, I now understand that I was being bullied out.

My son and I couch surfed for 10 months and then fully entered homelessness. We finally got into the only shelter for women with children in my area after four months of waiting. Shortly after, an organization let us know about a bill in our state legislature that would have ended 70% of funding for shelters in our state. They asked if anyone wanted to tell their story, and I signed up right away.

Three and a half years later, we became homeless again. We had a discriminatory landlord who wouldn’t renew our lease, and I couldn’t find another building that would take my voucher. I had to make the gut-wrenching decision to place my son with another family so he could have stability his senior year of high school, and I couch surfed for another eight months. This experience made me passionate about advocating for source-of-income protections.

And now Washington State has source-of-income protections, right?

Yes! After four years of testifying on source-of-income protections, I met with a senator that was voting against it. I met with this legislator for two and a half hours to educate them on why this was so important. After that, the legislator flipped their vote and told my story on the Senate floor.

How did you get involved with NLIHC and the Washington State Resident Action Project?

The first time I testified, in January 2012, the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance (WLIHA) policy director approached me and invited me to join their emerging advocates program with other residents who had been testifying and advocating, which I did. Then, in 2015, Community Change and WLIHA together developed the Resident Action Project (RAP) to further advance resident-led advocacy and use our voices collectively to create policy changes. Through this group, we were able to pass source-of-income protections and got funding for Washington’s Housing Trust Fund.

Tell us more about the right-to-counsel advocacy you did with RAP.

WLIHA and RAP focused heavily on right-to-counsel (RTC) advocacy during the COVID-19 pandemic. We relied heavily on our partner organizations and put out many calls to action, emphasizing that this is the time to capitalize on renter protections. It took three years to get RTC through the state legislature, 2022 being the final stretch. The session was virtual, so we called on people from all corners of the state. We had people testify, write in, and share their stories in Twitter storms and town halls, using social media to our advantage! Our housing justice partners engaged in this work with us to demonstrate the importance of keeping people in place and working with landlords before evictions are made and the long-lasting impacts occur. The state’s eviction moratorium allowed a full year of no evictions being filed, giving us time to create and fully fund RTC.

What does the right to counsel mean to you?

It means everything to me! It was the very thing that wasn’t in existence that would have prevented me from falling into homelessness the first time. It was intimidating to not have legal representation walking into court, knowing I and probably thousands of others were being bullied. We estimate that around 60% of evictions in Washington will be prevented with proper representation.

What is one thing you took away from this experience as an advocate?

Those closest to the problem are closest to the solution but often farthest from resources, influences, and power. Our personal stories have the power to impact change. Without our voices, policies are made about us without us. This is why we do what we do, and this is the power of our experiences being uplifted.

To learn more about the Resident Action Project, you can visit the project’s website at: