Seattle-based Homestead Community Land Trust has become the managing member of Benson East, a resident governed Section 8 housing development in Kent, following a multi-year collaboration toward the transition.
Tenants of Benson East, 10945 SE 223rd St., faced displacement in 2002 when their 32-unit duplex development was put up for sale by its original developer, according to a Dec. 8 Homestead press release. With the assistance of the Tenants Union, and in a partnership with the Low Income Housing Institute (LIHI) and Channel Foundation LLC, the development was purchased for $2.7 million. Tenants have maintained an active role in governance since then.
In a move to perpetuate the affordability of homes and enhance tenant governance, stakeholders agreed that Homestead would replace A Place to Live, the previous managing member entity in Benson East LLC, and assume the $2 million membership interest from Channel Foundation. Channel was established by Elaine Nonneman, a Seattle-area activist and philanthropist.
Homestead’s assumption of member interest of the property was conditioned by a commitment to continue the Section 8 status of the homes indefinitely, according to the press release. The U. S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) renewed Benson East’s contract in November 2023.
Kent community members Rickie Robinson, Sara Franklin and Violet Lavatai, provided supportive leadership in the previous governance structure, and continue as board members of the newly established Benson East Neighborhood Association, an equity member of Benson East LLC.
Elena Perian, an apartment resident, and president of the neighborhood association, is also an officer of Benson East LLC.
“I have been very fortunate to live in a community that I have called home for many years,” Perian said. “Many of us wonder where we would be if Benson East was not our home. We have built a community within a community, and take pride in taking care of each other as neighbors, we love our home and taking ownership of it has been such a blessing.”
Lavatai, whose engagement with Benson East began in 2015 through her leadership at the Tenants Union, said:
“Benson East is such a special and unique place; tenant governance is a successful formula for tenants to make decisions on where they call home,” Lavatai said. “It has been a joy of mine to be committed to a community that takes pride in where they reside.”
Robinson came to Benson East’s governance through Kent Youth and Family Services in 2016.
“I’m fortunate to be part of an organization whose main focus is to make sure that there is affordable housing in Kent,” Robinson said.
Homestead’s relationship to Benson East will be unique for the organization.
“Stewarding a Section 8 rental development is new to us,” said Kathleen Hosfeld, CEO of the affordable homeownership organization. “But resident self-governance and centering the voice of residents and owners is not new. It’s the essence of what it means to be a community land trust. We look forward to supporting residents in perpetuating affordability at the development for years to come.”
Section 8 is a program developed by HUD where the government pays a portion of the rent every month directly to the landlord and the applicant pays the remaining portion, according to the press release. Tenants are eligible for Section 8 if their income is 30% of area median income or below. As a project-based development, all the homes at Benson East benefit from subsidized rents.
The resident governance model at Benson East makes it an example of community wealth-building and community ownership. Although the homes at Benson East will never be converted to for-sale housing, Homestead hopes that their partnership in Kent will lead to opportunities to build for-sale homes for income qualified families like residents at Benson East.