Students assemble to address housing affordability in Seattle

The Communication Leadership Partner Program provides a unique opportunity to both local organizations and students; organizations gain from the expertise of our learning community, and students get to apply the skills they develop in classes to real-world situations, building their professional portfolios.

As the key initiative of our Partner Program in the 2018-2019 academic year, we worked with mission-driven nonprofit organizations dedicated to housing affordability in the greater Seattle area.

“The soaring cost of housing is probably the biggest socio-political issue in the Puget Sound area right now. It impacts everyone from the wealthy to poor, and newcomers to longtime residents,” said Comm Lead Head of Creative Strategy Alex Stonehill, who oversaw the initiative. “After talking to leaders in the sector last summer, it became clear that two specialties of our program — communication and community — were at the center of the solution.”

Read on for a sample of the broad and impactful communications solutions our students delivered to partners this year.

Fall Quarter 2018

At the beginning of the school year, we worked with the Downtown Emergency Service Center (DESC) and Byrd Barr Place, among others.

Downtown Emergency Service Center (DESC)

The DESC provides emergency shelter and survival services for people living in a state of chronic homelessness, particularly for those with severe and persistent mental illnesses and substance use disorders. Their mission is grounded in the Housing First philosophy, which embraces the notion that vulnerable clients respond better to their services when they are not dealing with the chaos of living on the street. Comm Lead student Will Oberst supported their effort by devising a strategy for effectively using their ad spend to improve public opinion of service providers like DESC, and attract more donors.

Byrd Barr Place

Byrd Barr Place provides essential human services to Seattle residents who are struggling to make ends meet. Their programs help Seattle residents with basic human services — food, shelter, and immediate financial relief — so they can break the cycle of poverty and build self-sufficiency. Cauvery Bailamada helped the client develop a strategic approach for their online fundraising campaigns by crafting compelling messages and shareable content to use across digital channels.

Winter Quarter 2019

In the winter, Comm Lead students collaborated with organizations like Catholic Community Services of Western Washington (CCSWW)Tenants Union of Washington StateCity of Bellevue, and Real Change News.

Catholic Community Services of Western Washington (CCSWW)

With programs ranging from shelters and day centers for people experiencing homelessness to transitional recovery housing and legal aid for tenants, CCS covers a wide variety of needs of people living across the housing insecurity spectrum. In an effort to effectively communicate the impact of their program, they wanted to make a donor-facing video that could also be shared with the general public. Michael Sharon and Charissa Soriano made the video below, telling the story of Laurence, a man living on the streets with Parkinson’s disease, whose life was transformed by CCSWW programs.

Tenants Union of Washington State

The Tenants Union seeks to create housing justice through empowerment-based education, outreach, leadership development, organizing, and advocacy for renters. In order to influence policy makers and voters to advocate on behalf of their organization’s goals, they wanted a communications strategy, including a flagship video telling the story of the organization’s work. Having recently moved to Seattle from India, student Ekta Dokania embraced the opportunity to develop a deeper understanding of the housing affordability issue here by working on the video.

“[Housing] is a complex problem, and gave an opportunity to explore different storytelling approaches to create awareness about the systemic aspects while keeping it relatable for the audience,” she said.

Collaboration is a big part of the learning experience here at Comm Lead. Ekta drew on the experience of faculty, as well as fellow cohort members Falak Sood and Keith Imper (who worked on the strategy part) to learn more about the organization and understand issues like Just Cause evictions and Rent Control. Comm Lead students from the Advanced Video Storytelling class Ekta took during winter quarter helped film a rally in Olympia and conduct interviews.

“The Tenants Union staff and members (tenants) were really helpful and sporting to put up with multiple days of the shoot.” Ekta said. “Overall, it was a memorable experience to work with so many different people to bring this project together.”

The video will be the centerpiece of a newly redesigned Tenant’s Union website launching soon.

City of Bellevue

Our work with the City of Bellevue is part of a broader University of Washington initiative called Livable City Year. Each year, the UW partners with one city and completes a series of interdisciplinary projects on their behalf. The objective of the Comm Lead project was to encourage Bellevue churches and other places of worship to host “Safe Parking Lots” — places where people can stay overnight in their cars.

Tori Pinheiro conducted extensive research by talking to people from religious organizations that were already running such programs to get an accurate understanding of who utilizes the safe parking, why this is an important thing to do for a community, and how other organizations can go about doing it in accordance with city regulations. She also spent time at community gatherings like a Bellevue town hall meeting to understand the concerns that people have when addressing such charged and sensitive topics.

Tori knew that to create an effective messaging strategy, she had to approach the concerns and fears of the community with empathy and compassion. By telling stories of the people living in their cars, she wanted to help concerned citizens “out of the stigmas that they’ve been harboring, causing them to feel afraid.”

“When empathy is taken out of the equation, it’s impossible to come to an agreement,” Tori reflected. “Fear is real to the person experiencing it, and it must be addressed.”

Tori’s thoughtful and sensitive approach helped her create a meaningful and effective messaging and strategy toolkit for a rather polarizing topic. She says it was so rewarding when, after sharing the packet with people she interviewed during her research, she received enthusiastic responses from them asking if they could start sharing it with others, or present it at workshops for other organizations wanting to run such programs. The feedback helped her realize the importance of her work.

Real Change News

Real Change is an award-winning weekly newspaper that provides immediate employment opportunities for people experiencing housing insecurity, and takes action for economic, social, and racial justice. Real Change News wanted to create a video that would help drive people to their website, increase readership, and alter their existing brand perception. Kanhaiya Maheshwary and Fan Lu produced this video aimed at raising awareness of the quality and depth of coverage of Real Change’s news content.

Our contact at Real Change, Reporter and Communications Specialist Lisa Edge, said they planned to use the video in a fundraising drive to “help educate our donors and others about the news side of the organization.”

Spring Quarter 2019

We wrapped up the year with more clients doing impactful work to confront different dimensions of the housing crisis, including Capitol Hill Housing (CHH)Seattle Housing Authority, and Plymouth Healing Communities.

Capitol Hill Housing

Capitol Hill Housing (CHH) builds vibrant, engaged, and inclusive communities through affordable housing and community development. CHH owns and manages 49 affordable properties throughout the Seattle area. CHH and four partner organizations— Africatown Community Land Trust, Byrd Barr Place, Southwest Youth and Family Services and White Center Community Development Association — recently launched a capital campaign called “Rise Together.” The campaign is raising funds to support seven projects across three Seattle-area neighborhoods. Kanhaiya Maheshwary and Ashley Whitney produced a video with the goal of engaging potential funders, partners, and community members.

Seattle Housing Authority

Seattle Housing Authority is an independent public agency that provides long-term, low income rental housing and rental assistance to approximately 35,000 people, representing more than 17,000 households in the city of Seattle. In an attempt to modernize how SHA communicates information with their tenants, they’re transitioning their primary method of communication from print to online. So, Rory Zaugg worked on a combined online and offline approach to collect email contact information for the missing households, and develop a digital equity strategy for SHA’s tenants who do not currently have the skills, equipment or service to access the internet.

Plymouth Healing Communities

Plymouth Healing Communities (PHC) provides companionship, affordable housing, and advocacy for individuals who live with mental illness and have experienced homelessness. To help them meet their fundraising goals, they wanted a human-centered video to be shown at an upcoming annual fundraiser. Jacqueline Tseng and Tom Chengxi Zou did an excellent job realizing the client’s vision of a video that highlights the mutually beneficial experiences of PHC clients who are healing, and the volunteer companions who support them. “The students were easy to collaborate with, eager to get started, respectful in their interactions with our tenants, and receptive to our feedback,” Executive Director Stephanie Monroney said. “The video they produced is excellent and displays their professional skills. Overall, they provided a significant service for our organization that we deeply appreciate.”

We are grateful that we get to support so many critical causes through our Partner Program. It provides invaluable opportunities for students, while helping us further our relationships within the community. If you are or know an organization that could use the unique talents of our students, please do get in touch.