SEATTLE, Wash. — A Seattle-area nonprofit observed some workers recently asking for reduced hours, as they feared that their higher wages now put them at risk of losing housing subsidies.
Nora Gibson is the executive director of Full Life Care, a nonprofit that serves elderly people in various homes and nursing facilities. She is also on the board of the Seattle Housing Authority.
Gibson told KIRO 7 she saw a sudden reaction from workers when Seattle’s phased minimum-wage ordinance took effect in April, bringing minimum wage to $11 an hour. She said anecdotally, some people feared they would lose their subsidized units but still not be able to afford market-rate rents.
For example, she said last week, five employees at one of her organization’s 24-hour care facilities for Alzheimer’s patients asked to reduce their hours in order to remain eligible for subsidies. They now earn at least $13 an hour, after they increased wages at all levels in April, Gibson said.
"This has nothing to do with people's willingness to work, or how hard people work. It has to do with being caught in a very complex situation where they have to balance everything they can pull together to pull together a stable, successful life," Gibson said.
Gibson said she fully supports a minimum wage increase but was not surprised when her employees asked for fewer hours.
“The jump from subsidized housing to market rate in Seattle is huge,” she said.
Seattle Housing Authority told KIRO 7: "It's important that the continuum of affordable housing options in our city and region allows for progression as people's incomes increase. That needs to be addressed across the housing market so that people don't feel they are in jeopardy of stable housing as they are able to earn enough to pay more of their housing costs."
The amount of public assistance one receives depends on the income and size of the family. The scale is determined by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and the qualifications are based on area median income.
Justine Decker, who is a full-time student at Seattle Central College, said she works part-time so she can still get subsidies for rent and child care.
“A one-bedroom can cost upward of $1,200. And so imagine paying that, and paying child care which can be $900 something dollars,” Decker said.
She said she doesn’t want to work full time, or she wouldn’t be able to afford market-rate rents. Decker said she’s in school to become a teacher and hopes to eventually become a principal, to make well over minimum wage levels to be able to pay for everything on her own.
Mohamed Muktar drives an Uber and also receives public assistance for housing. He said he would love to work more hours.
“If you can get more hours, I think you need to work more hours, so you can take care of your bills,” Muktar said.
Seattle Councilmember Nick Licata said he hadn’t heard of purposeful reduction of hours before.
“We need more information, for one thing. This is anecdotal,” Licata said.
Still, he said people need more options, especially after breaking the threshold that pushes them out of public housing.
“We do not want this to be an improvement on one side of the scale, and then decrease in living conditions on another,” Licata said. “We should not be using this as an excuse not to address the overall problem.”