Few things in life are more important—and more crucial—than housing. A house, apartment or dedicated place to call home benefits us in ways we may not fully understand. For those with uncertain housing, it can become a tremendous source of stress and anxiety. Thurston County’s Regional Housing Council (RHC) has a goal of leveraging resources and partnerships through policies and projects which promote equitable access to safe and affordable housing.

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Carolina Mejia is the current vice-chair of the inter-governmental Regional Housing Council. Photo courtesy: Thurston County Board of County Commissioners

According to the RHC website, the Council is made up of elected officials from Thurston County and the cities of Lacey, Olympia, Tumwater, and Yelm (representing South County).

Officially kicked off in February 2021, its work had already been ongoing behind the scenes. Before the Regional Housing Council’s founding, local officials had been working on housing issues for many years. “With a visible increase in people living unsheltered in the region, particularly in Olympia, in 2018-2019, elected and senior leaders from Olympia, Lacey and Tumwater formed an ad hoc committee to discuss how to address this growing challenge,” explains Keylee Marineau, Thurston County Homeless Prevention and Affordable Housing Coordinator.

“The group initially focused its efforts on creating a second managed encampment location similar to the Mitigation Site in Olympia,” said Tom Webster, Thurston County Housing Program Manager. “After inviting Thurston County to join to assist in the effort, the group explored options for implementing a stability site before the 2019-2020 winter months. However, due to high costs and other contributing factors, the group was unable to develop a viable project. This effort did galvanize the jurisdictions to tackle the growing homelessness and affordable housing crisis as a region and a retreat was held in December 2019 to discuss the creation of the Regional Housing Council.”

Jim Cooper is the chair of the Chair of Regional Housing Council which works to provide access to safe and affordable housing. Photo courtesy: Thurston County Board of County Commissioners

This retreat led to the creation of the RHC as it is now. They held meetings as they were able throughout 2020, working around the restrictions of COVID-19. With the formalization of an Interlocal Agreement between governments, these gatherings—whether in-person or remote—became public and accepted outside public comments. Zoom meetings take place on the fourth Wednesday of each month at 4 p.m. Monthly agendas are available online and minutes are posted after sessions conclude.

Marineau and the RHC team hope these efforts “will galvanize a regional response to addressing homelessness and lack of affordable housing issues. The RHC, guided by the RHC Technical Team and subsequent workgroups as well as the Housing Action Team, will make funding and policy recommendations—that are aligned with best practices and strategies as outlined in the Five Year Homeless Crisis Response Plan—that will benefit Thurston county as a whole.”

One of these benefits occurred just a few weeks ago. In June 2021, the Board of County Commissioners approved nearly $8 million in funding at the RHC’s recommendation to local service providers. Awards ranged from $11,355 to Rochester Organization of Families (ROOF) for emergency needs to $1.2 million to Interfaith Works – Homeless Services Program to support their coordinated network of shelters and services. These awards will benefit Thurston County’s houseless residents by supporting affordable housing and service providers that provide basic needs. You can find a full breakdown of award recipients and project details on the county’s website.

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2828 Martin Way Housing project received funding through the Regional Housing Council’s recommendation to the Board of County Commissioners. Photo courtesy: Thurston County Board of County Commissioners

Want to help or learn more? “Concerned residents of Thurston County can participate by joining efforts that are on-going,” says Marineau. “The RHC meetings are public meetings where concerned citizens can attend and provide public comment. There are other public meetings which focus on: rental housing, affordable housing, senior housing and homelessness through the Housing Action Team that Thurston County residents can attend and get involved. And, as always, citizens of Thurston County can volunteer their time and donate items in need with any service agency within the Homeless Crisis Response System.”

In a nationwide poll taken one year ago, “more than a quarter of American households say they are housing insecure…that’s up from 13%” the year before. With so much of daily life shaken up by the long months of pandemic, our homes are even more important. To track the steps our local leaders are taking to combat this issue, follow the RHC, attend their regular meetings and look for ways to help those in our community who are struggling. Everyone deserves a home sweet home.

Sponsored by Thurston County

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