How It All Started
There are moments in life that bring the right people to the most opportune settings and allow them to work miracles. The origin of Homes First was such a moment. In late 1989, a confluence of talented people with a deep sense of dedication created Homes First, a Washington State non-profit corporation with a mission to provide affordable, decent housing opportunities for low-income people in Thurston County. It was founded on a net worth of good ideas alone and has since matured to the present day portfolio of 42 units valued at approximately three million dollars – assets that make possible many more homes for families in need.
The Decline of Affordable Housing
As in many other parts of the country, the majority of Olympia’s affordable housing has traditionally been located in the downtown core. This affordable housing was available in a variety of units – second floor apartments located above bustling streets of the city’s retail core, in apartment buildings, and in older single family homes that had been broken up into smaller rental units. The low cost of the actual rents was complemented by the access to retail, services, and public transportation,creating the highest concentration of affordable housing.
Many of the community’s lowest income residents have historically made their homes within this downtown core of low-cost housing. However, from the 1950’s through the 1980’s, a series of events set in motion a trend that caused the erosion of low-cost housing in the area.
An Idea Starts to Grow
The idea for Homes First was first germinated at a forum sponsored by the 1987 Associated Ministries’ Day of Awareness entitled “Housing the Homeless: Community Action Day.” Many local activists, housing and shelter providers, and government officials in attendance heard speakers, participated in workshops, and emerged with new perspectives on what to do about the severe lack of affordable housing in our community.
This informal network of people sympathetic to the housing crisis continued to ruminate on possible solutions beyond the scope of their official involvement in the issues. Many of these people found themselves a part of the Thurston County Housing Task Force.
The First Meeting
A number of action-oriented folks began talking informally after the meetings about what realistic steps could be taken to stem the loss of low-cost housing. A number of ideas were traded back and forth, until they coalesced into the concept of developing a legal entity that could acquire property which could then be renovated and offered as low-cost housing.
The first meeting of this emerging group was held in December of 1989, with the stated goal to establish a non-profit housing corporation as a longer term solution to the Thurston County housing crisis. The underlying assumption was that the existing safely net was completely inadequate and that a new entity beyond the pale of the existing organizations had to be created.
From Dream to Reality
The participants began to construct a dream organization that would bring together activist integrity, legal know-how, government grant-smithing, and the right amount of business acumen to make this non-profit a viable corporation.
Early in 1990, Keturah Brown filed an application to the Secretary of State for the formation of a non-profit corporation with the first slate of officers:
By April 16, 1990, Homes First was designated a 501 (c )(3).