by Mark Van Streefkerk
Seattle’s housing crisis disproportionately affects BIPOC communities, and of those groups, queer, transgender, and two spirit (2spirit) people are impacted even more. In response, Queer The Land (QTL) was founded in 2016 as a collective of QT2BIPOC resisting displacement and gentrification. One of their long-term goals was the acquisition of a house, and on Jan. 15 the goal was realized when QTL purchased a three-story house in north Beacon Hill. The home will be a hub for transitional housing, coworking, community spaces, gardening, and other opportunities.
“Gentrification and displacement runs rampant in Seattle, and there just weren’t any resources that were by us, for us. As organizers, healers, artists, we knew we had the solutions,” said Denechia Powell-Twagirumukiza, one of QTL’s co-founders. “While it took about a year to close on this house, it’s taken us almost five years to even get to this place.”
The large Beacon Hill house has 12 bedrooms, a basement, and an expansive backyard. Built in 1907, the house “has a lot of character to it,” said Evana Enabulele, a QTL core member and housing coordinator. “Lots of work [needs] to be done.”
Some of the work includes landscaping to clear the overgrown yard and construction to make accessibility improvements. Enabulele estimates the family-friendly collective home will have eight or nine rooms, enough space to house under 15 people. If everything goes as planned, the house could operate at full capacity in a year.
This purchase was made in partnership with the Lavender Rights Project and Paul Drayna, PLLC, the City of Seattle Equitable Development Initiative, and Evergreen Land Trust. The process of buying the house was not easy due to the seemingly endless stipulations and requirements that had to be satisfied because of the structure of QTL and the partnerships that made the purchase possible, Enabulele explained. “White supremacy really complicated a lot of this process. I would say it just overshadowed a lot for me,” they said.
Kalayo Pestaño, a QTL co-founder, said, “There were many times where I feel like we could have given up, and wanted to … but knowing the need, especially right now in our communities, for housing, for space, for something that makes people feel safer — this is really needed.”
At its heart, QTL is a collective working towards long-term solutions and safety on their own terms, building connections through mutual aid and solidarity. Pestaño noted that QTL was formed as an alternative, of sorts, to nonprofits. “Nonprofits [are] not solving the housing crisis in Seattle. They [aren’t] doing that much better than governments,” they said.
Since its beginning in 2016, QTL has grown to 80 members and two paid staff. Because of their foundations in emergency preparedness and helping with basic needs for QT2BIPOC, QTL was able to pivot to COVID-19 aid effectively. Last year, through collaborations with other groups and government agencies, QTL distributed $200,000 in aid through grocery vouchers, economic aid grants, food pantries, and more. Now their new house will be integral to their long-term vision of collectively owning their own land and labor.
In addition to transitional housing and other opportunities, QTL intends to have a community apothecary that sources herbs grown in the garden, as well as a food pantry. Establishing a home in Beacon Hill is also an invitation for solidarity in the neighborhood.
“We want it to be really healing,” Pestaño said. “I want people to know who we are and what we’re trying to do. We want people to be down for us … I want people to think about it in [this] way, that this is something really rare and beautiful and that should be made to last as long as possible — forever.”
Want to help? QTL is in need of contracting services, landscaping, and gift cards to furniture stores, as well as ongoing regular financial supporters. Contact them directly on their website.
Featured Image: With values of self-determination, mutual aid, and solidarity, Queer The Land is a project by and for QT2BIPOC that resists gentrification and displacement. (Photo courtesy of Queer The Land)
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