PSARA and the broader community of housing advocates lost a valiant champion with the death on September 24 of Bette Reed. Bette died of complications following a stroke, at the age of 78. A woman of quiet dignity, modesty and quick wit, she became a crusading dynamo when she sought housing justice for the thousands of low-income families for whom she spoke.
Bette was elected to the PSARA Executive Board in 2006 and was elected Community Vice President (later called Outreach Vice President) in 2009. She was serving as Outreach Vice President at the time of her death.
She also served as president of the Tenants Union of Washington board and was active in its leadership for seven years.
“Bette was a visionary for advancing the cause of housing justice in our community, with a sharp wit and tremendous source of energy, both for herself, and anyone else who had the fortune of working alongside her,” said Jonathan Grant, Executive Director of the Tenants Union of Washington.
“Her leadership was instrumental as a part of a core group of tenants organizing to bring accountability to Seattle Housing Authority and to reform the Section 8 grievance hearing process,” Emil Paddison of the TU board said. “Thanks to her leadership as Board President of the Tenants Union, the organization has reached new heights, and she will be greatly, greatly missed.”
Bette was a visionary for advancing the cause of housing justice in our community, with a sharp wit and tremendous source of energy, both for herself, and anyone else who had the fortune of working alongside her,” said Jonathan Grant, Tenants Union Executive Director. “Thanks to her leadership as Board President of the Tenants Union of Washington State, the organization has reached new heights, and she will be greatly, greatly missed.”
In earlier years, Bette worked as an aide in the Justice Department Civil Rights agency and in a law firm specializing in worker’s compensation cases. She also served as director of a vocational training facility.
She had established a record of exemplary housing activism years before coming to PSARA. John Fox, head of the Seattle Displacement Coalition, told of working closely with Bette on housing issues over 15 years.
“She made an enormous contribution to the efforts of the Seattle Displacement Coalition and to the cause of seniors, low-income residents and tenants,” Fox said. “Whenever there was a meeting or hearing before elected officials to address critical economic justice issues, I could count on Bette to join us, speak out, and carry the word back to fellow senior residents to help get them involved.”
Seattle City Councilmember Tom Rasmussen relied on Bette when he chaired the Council’s Housing Committee.
“She was a tireless and consistent advocate for low income people and for seniors,” Rasmussen said. “You could always count on Bette. You need people like that to get things done.”
Fox identified campaigns in which Bette played a leadership role.
- She led in organizing CASHA, the Coalition for Accountability at the Seattle Housing Authority. This ad hoc coalition of seniors, labor representatives and housing advocates secured the state law that requires representation on the SHA board for SHA tenants and labor representatives.
- Her role was critical in a successful campaign to block rent increases on SHA Senior Housing Bond units above what the low-income residents could afford. “To this day,” Fox said, “rents on those one thousand units remain accessible and affordable to the poor – only because of her work.”
- She organized meetings in her building (Blakely Manor) including city-wide meetings that drew hundreds, to keep rents low and to demand accountability from SHA. She also traveled by bus (she had no car) to all 23 senior housing buildings to meet with resident councils on tenants’ rights issues.
- She worked to organize and keep together the “SSHP Advocates,” a loose-knit but effective group of senior housing activists.
Based on their 15 years of common struggle on behalf of low-income tenants, Fox paid Bette Reed this tribute: “She set an extraordinary example and sent us all a message by virtue of her unwavering commitment to the cause of social and economic justice.”
Hinda Kipnis is a fellow resident at Blakely Manor and one of Bette’s many friends. She considered Bette an “indestructible” woman who “would give you her all.” Kipnis remembers a time when she was planning a midwinter trip to Chicago. Bette knitted her a hat and scarf to protect her against the biting Chicago cold.
Bette is survived by a son, Alexander Sibbald, and two daughters, Christy and Katherine Sibbald.