Plus: Other Queer and Trans BIPOC Housing Projects Taking Root in Seattle
by Mark Van Streefkerk
When it comes to housing resources for their own communities, queer and trans Black, Indigenous, People of Color (QTBIPOC) are doing it for themselves. Three different Seattle-area QTBIPOC organizations have permanently acquired (or are close to acquiring) buildings that will be used for temporary and semi-permanent housing for QTBIPOC facing housing insecurity. These recent or projected acquisitions for Trans Women of Color Solidarity Network (TWOCSN), Lavender Rights Project (LRP), and Queer the Land (QTL) is the culmination of years of work and advocacy, along with a little boost from the racial reckonings of 2020.
These houses are and will be significant new resources for QTBIPOC in Seattle. Although these housing projects are all seemingly coming together within a few years, it doesn’t take away from the widespread effects of gentrification and displacement among these communities.
“I think all of us have always known that the solutions to the issues in our community are often in the hands, minds, resourcefulness, and creativity of our community,” said Mattie Mooney, one of TWOCSN’s founders. “This is community action, these projects reflect a deep commitment to the well-being of our communities, and we know that they will make a huge impact on the ways Seattle and our state looks at and addresses housing for marginalized communities, specifically Trans folks, in the coming years.”
House of Constance
In July, TWOCSN acquired a historic eight-bedroom house on Capitol Hill through a radical act of wealth redistribution by the Seattle Mennonite Church in partnership with the Church Council of Greater Seattle’s Faith Land Initiative. This will be the permanent home for the House of Constance, providing temporary long-term housing and services for 8–10 BIPOC trans women and femmes. The house will also be a community hub offering gender-affirming health care, harm reduction, mental health care, mutual aid pantries, and more.
TWOCSN is the stages of planning and designing future renovations to make the house more accessible, as well as raising capital for the project. Mooney said they hope to have the house open to the community in three years or less.
The motivation behind TWOCSN, founded in 2018, was to be a financial security net, distributing funds to trans Women of Color. The vision for a permanent house had been a part of the plan almost from the start. “Our dream of BIPOC trans housing was only renewed as we remember how much this project meant to Constance. So it only felt right to name this project House of Constance,” said Mooney.
Constance Blakely, one of TWOCSN’s core members, who passed away in 2020, “was a brilliant young Black trans woman with so much life and wisdom to share with the community,” Mooney said. An important organizer for Taking Black Pride, a program of both TWOCSN and QTL, Blakely’s “absence will forever be felt by our team and the community that loved her.”
Last year, TWOCSN wrote an article in honor of Blakely and the legacy of Black trans women and trans Women of Color for the Emerald.
How you can help support the House of Constance:
- Donate to TWOCSN at its website.
Lavender Rights Project House
Lavender Rights Project is a Puget Sound-based organization that elevates the power, autonomy, and leadership of Black intersex and gender-diverse community through intersectional legal and social services. At the time of this article, Ebo Barton, LRP’s director of housing services, says the organization will partner with Chief Seattle Club as its operator to apply for a property. The facility will be a permanent supportive housing building that includes private apartment units with private bathrooms. LRP specializes in serving Black gender-diverse individuals chronically experiencing homelessness. The house will also offer client-consented wraparound services.
It will be a vital resource for people who are at risk of chronic homelessness or who are chronically homeless. At the time of this article, LRP is interested in a potential property in Capitol Hill.
“We believe in the housing first model,” said Barton. “Housing is the root of the issues that a lot of us are experiencing.” The compounding effects of racism and transphobia can deprive Black trans people of vital resources and support. Providing housing is a step toward stability. “Giving folks this opportunity to have housing, to have services … allows folks to be a little more secure and a little more stable. This is not to solve everyone’s problems, either. It’s somewhere to start.”
The momentum to acquire a house started a few years ago when the Washington State Black Trans Task Force and members of LRP started researching what would be the most useful resource for their communities. LRP’s executive director, Jaelynn Scott, made connections with the City and with King County’s Health Through Housing — an initiative that acquires and repurposes facilities like hotels for emergency and permanent supportive housing — and other organizations that advocated for funding to be redirected from jails to communities most impacted by state violence.
“This has been in the works for quite a bit of time,” Barton said. “A lot of different orgs [were] advocating for this. And I think it happened because of the reroutes that a lot of government systems and organizations are taking due to the uprising a couple of years ago,” they added, referring to the local and national protests for racial justice in 2020.
How you can support LRP’s house:
- Buy housing supplies for the house (like towels, cutlery, and more) at LRP’s Target gift registry.
- Follow LRP on Instagram and Facebook for upcoming volunteer opportunities.
Queer the Land House
At the beginning of 2021, Queer the Land, a collaborative project with a vision of resisting displacement and collectively owning land and labor, acquired its house on Beacon Hill. While some necessary repairs and improvements to the home’s plumbing have been completed, pandemic-related delays have stalled some other key projects.
“Because of COVID, contractors are still booking out a year in advance,” said Evana Enabulele, a core organizer at QTL. The home isn’t ready for residents, but it is a hub where QTL is able to host outdoor events. “We’re in the process of getting our designs and our survey completed, and at some point we’ll be working on our permits. Right now, we’re mostly working on our outdoor space and growing food. We have a greenhouse. We have a pantry. We still have an apothecary, and we’ve just been growing a bunch of produce.”
The property has a mix of fruit trees, elderberries, corn, herbs, and other vegetables. Through a partnership with Sovereign Roots, QTL aims to distribute fresh food to queer and trans BIPOC.
When reflecting on the recent acquisitions of housing resources by and for QTBIPOC communities, Enabulele said, “We all bring different strengths to the table.”
Linda Chastine, known by community as LC, a core organizer with QTL, says that although the three organizations are just now acquiring buildings, QTBIPOC communities have always found ways to gather, commune, and create. Years of advocacy, combined with the ripples made by the Black Lives Matter movement, has given these organizations “traction to be able to do things rapid fashion — or what appears to be rapid fashion,” but that doesn’t magically erase the larger issue of housing inequity and displacement faced by QTBIPOC.
Moving into fall, LC says QTL is looking to expand partnerships and volunteer outreach. “Winter is coming, and I know that people will get really excited in the summer, but it’s important to stay engaged, especially during those darker months for the community. Queer the Land is here for that.”
How you can help QTL’s house:
- Volunteer at a Community Garden Day. Follow QTL’s Instagram to know when the next one will happen.
- Volunteer to help with grant writing, social media, or just to help keep up the house and yard.
- Share a skill — emergency preparedness, self defense, carpentry, etc. Sometimes, QTL hosts skill-share classes.
- Reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Before you move on to the next story … The South Seattle Emerald is brought to you by Rainmakers. Rainmakers give recurring gifts at any amount. With over 900 Rainmakers, the Emerald is truly community-driven local media. Help us get to 1,100 Rainmakers by the end of the year and keep BIPOC-led media free and accessible. If just half of our readers signed up to give $6 a month, we wouldn't have to fundraise for the rest of the year. Small amounts make a difference. We cannot do this work without you. Become a Rainmaker today!