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Housing Alliance statement of support for Seattle’s proposed Fair Chance Housing Ordinance

Washington Low Income Housing Alliance

Legislation pending before the Seattle City Council aims to eliminate a significant barrier to housing by prohibiting landlords from denying housing based on an applicant’s involvement with the criminal justice system. The Fair Chance Housing Ordinance, introduced by Mayor Murray and sponsored by Councilmember Herbold, could be a game-changer that would address a central factor causing disproportionate experiences of homelessness among communities of color, especially among African Americans. The Housing Alliance supports the proposed ordinance, and urges the council to eliminate the two-year look-back period and to eliminate the exemption of four-plexes.

Here is what the legislation does:

Council Bill (CB) 119015, referred to as Fair Chance Housing, would prevent a landlord from using an applicant’s criminal history to deny tenancy, except in limited situations and only if the landlord provides a legitimate business reason for doing so. The bill makes it illegal for a landlord to deny housing based on a tenant’s criminal record. There are several exemptions in the current bill. Landlords would be able to deny tenancy to adults who are registered sex offenders if the landlord provides a legitimate business reason for the denial. The current bill also allows a landlord to consider conviction records within two years of the date of application. Finally, the bill exempts shared occupancy units (including mother-in-laws) if the landlord lives on site, and also buildings with four or fewer living units if the owner lives in one of the units. There is an amendment to remove the two year look-back period and the exemption for four-plexes. The bill does not change federal laws that require federally funded housing to deny tenancy to tenants convicted of certain crimes.

Why does the Housing Alliance support Fair Chance Housing?

The Housing Alliance and our members have worked for many years to eliminate the unfair barriers to housing that are created by the increased use of tenant screening reports. We have changed state law to regulate tenant screening reports to protect survivors of domestic violence, require that tenants be given a copy of the report, require an adverse action notice when tenants are denied housing, and we have limited the reporting of eviction records. However, significant barriers remain, including the use of criminal records to deny housing. Four in five landlords[1] have blanket policies that deny housing to applicants with a criminal record. This practice has significant and disproportionate impacts on communities of color, especially African American communities.

The Seattle Office for Civil Rights explained the nexus between the proposed ordinance and racial equity in a May 2017 briefing to council, “Racial equity is central to the issue of fair chance housing. People of color face compounding effects of criminal records due to racial bias in tenant selection as well as racial disparities in the criminal justice system. In 2014, 64% of OCR’s fair housing tests found incidents of different treatment based on race. In some cases, African Americans were told they would have to undergo a criminal record check when similarly situated white counterparts were not.”[2]

The Office for Civil Rights further explained, “In Washington state, African Americans are 3.4% of the overall population, but account for nearly 18.4% of the state's prison population; Latinos are 11.2% of Washington's population, but account for 13.2% of the state’s prison population; and Native Americans are 1.3% of the state population, but account for 4.7% of the state's prison population.”

An analysis by the Washington State Department of Social and Health Service’s, Rehabilitation Administration explains the impact on youth of color, “Because youth of color disproportionately enter and move through the juvenile justice system in Washington state, youth of color are disproportionately affected by the collateral consequences of the involvement with the system. Youth who transition out of secure confinement encounter substantial challenges in gaining employment, finding housing; getting an education and accessing medical and mental health care.”[3]

Racial equity is a key reason that the Housing Alliance supports the proposed ordinance. The ordinance also creates an opportunity to expand by legislation a central premise of the successful, yet too rarely utilized, housing first approach to tenant selection. Housing first is an access-to-housing model that approaches housing as a fundamental necessity, not as an award for “good behavior”. It recognizes housing to be a foundation that creates a pathway to successful outcomes on health, employment, family unification, and overall success. A central premise of housing first is to not deny housing based on previous involvement with the criminal justice system. But this model has only been adopted by some stellar nonprofit housing providers, while the private market regularly denies housing to applicants with a criminal record. The proposed will ordinance will change this.

Additionally, eliminating this barrier to housing is key to ending homelessness and to addressing the disproportionate experiences of homelessness faced by communities of color. Currently in Washington, 44% of people released from State Department of Corrections Facilities will become homeless within the first year of release.[4] Nationally, approximately 15% of jail inmates had been homeless in the year prior to their incarceration, and 54% of homeless individuals report spending time in a correctional facility at some point in their lives[5].

Fair Chance Housing is model legislation that will address a root cause of homelessness and a key factor causing the disproportionate experiences of homelessness by communities of color. The Housing Alliance fully supports this legislation and urges our members and advocates join us.

Want to learn more about this ordinance and this issue? Here's some great sources

Seattle City Council Public Hearing and Overview of CB 119015

SOCR memo to Seattle City Council’s Civil Rights, Utilities, Economic Development, and Arts Committee on Fair Chance Housing stake-holder process.

Washington State Department of Social and Health Service’s, Rehabilitation Administration on racial and ethnic disparities in the Washington State juvenile justice system.

U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Office of General Counsel Guidance on Application of Fair Housing Act Standards to the Use of Criminal Records by Providers of Housing and Real Estate-Related Transactions

The Sentencing Project, Criminal Justice Facts

Tenant Screening in an Era of Mass Incarceration. New York University Journal of Legislation & Public Policy Quorum: 1-109

Housing Alliance toolkit to combat the criminalization of homelessness
 

 


[1] David Thacher, The Rise of Criminal Background Screening in Rental Housing, Law & Social Inquiry 33 (1) (2008): 5, 12. (Single-family rental firms also commonly screen tenants based on criminal history, and, in some cases, applicants can be turned away based on a criminal conviction). See, for example, Invitation Homes Rentals, “Resident Selection Criteria,” available at http:// invitationhomesrentals.com/ Chicagorentalcriteria11.2012.pdf/ (last accessed Nov. 2014).

[2] https://seattle.legistar.com/View.ashx?M=F&ID=5178580&GUID=A4707322-6B9B...

[3] https://www.dshs.wa.gov/ra/office-juvenile-justice/red-racial-ethnic-dis...

[4] The Housing Status of Individuals Leaving Institutions and Out-of-Home Care: A Summary of Findings from Washington State Melissa Ford Shah, MPP • Barbara Felver, MPA, MES. Washington State Department of Social and Health Services Research and Data Analysis Division, Report Number 11.200
https://www.dshs.wa.gov/sites/default/files/SESA/rda/documents/research-...

[5] National Health Care for the Homeless Council Criminal Justice, Homelessness & Health. 2012 Policy Statement
http://www.nhchc.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/Criminal-Justice-2012.pdf

An Extremely Disappointing Legislative Session

Michele Thomas, Director of Policy and Advocacy

There’s no way to sugar coat this, so I’m not going to. We are extremely disappointed in the lack of progress on solutions to the affordable housing and homelessness crisis.

Virtually everyone in Washington agrees that homelessness is a crisis and more needs to be done. And the Washington State Legislature had very real opportunities this year to take action. They could have implemented reasonable policy solutions and made modest budget investments that would bring an end to family homelessness, ensure that no youth leaves state care into homelessness, and reduce long-term homelessness experienced by people with disabilities by 50-percent. Unfortunately, the session is ending without that policy, without source of income discrimination protections for low-income tenants, and without the investments needed to move our state forward. 

Special interests, including for-profit builder, realtor, and landlord lobbyists played politics with homelessness, gambling with the life or death services that keep a roof over a family’s head. We are thankful that House budget negotiators drew a strong line against cuts to life-saving services like the Housing and Essential Needs, and Aged, Blind, and Disabled programs. Neither the Senate’s proposed cut of 80% to rental assistance for people with disabilities nor the lifetime cap on cash assistance for extremely poor and disabled adults are in the final budget agreement, and for that we are pleased and relieved. Further, many bad policy bills were defeated that would have eliminated tenant protections, criminalized homelessness, prevented the implementation of the Medicaid Transformation Demonstration and more. It would have been devastating to go backwards at a time when homelessness is increasing across the state. Both the Governor and the House Democrats introduced budgets with new investments to the safety-net that would have significantly helped people move out of homelessness or helped them stay in their homes. But with the final budget lacking these proposals, many of the 21,845 people experiencing homelessness tonight will be left to struggle for survival into the foreseeable future

I do want to take a moment to acknowledge the great work that was done by our housing champions, specifically Representative Nicole Macri, (43rd district, Seattle). Who is in elected office matters, and Representative Macri really proved that this yearHouse Bill 1570 survived every single cutoff through the regular session and three special sessions, and it wasn’t until closed door, middle of the night negotiations that it actually died. House Bill 1570 made it so far in the process because of tremendous advocacy by people like you, and because it was championed by a lawmaker who knows and understands what it takes to solve homelessness in our state. The advocacy around House Bill 1570 successfully created pressure for lawmakers to prioritize the prevention of the 2019 sunset of homelessness assistance for thousands of people. And, it has built momentum for lawmakers to return to Olympia next year to fund the services that are needed to adequately address homelessness in our state. Many lawmakers spoke on the House floor of the inadequacy of the four-year extension and are already gearing up for a renewed push next year.

Another area of disappointment is the lack of progress on progressive revenue needed to move our state forward. To read more on the current proposal for a revenue compromise, see the Budget & Policy Center’s blog post. The Operating Budget isn’t final until it’s final, and the Housing Alliance will have more to say about it next week when all the details are known. Further, we are still advocating for a Capital Budget to be passed. This is a fluid situation with many working to find resolution, but calls are still needed to the Senate Republican Caucus to urge them to pass a Capital Budget. You can find a roster of all members, including email and phone numbers, here

For now, I’d like to take a point of personal privilege and ask that you check that your voter registration is up to date. Please stay tuned for next steps. We are not done fighting. 

Thank you so much for all your advocacy this year!

Michele

Housing Advocacy in Action! Week of April 24, Last of the regular session

Michele Thomas, Director of Policy and Advocacy

Monday, April 24 marked day one of the 30-day special session called by Governor Inslee. If lawmakers are unable to reach agreement on the State’s Operating Budget by May 23, then they will have to come back for second special session. Although advocates can leverage this opportunity for valuable in-district advocacy with lawmakers, it is frustrating how this has played out. Senate Republicans are literally refusing to negotiate. They are making demands on the House to pass the other bills related to the budget first. But the Senate Republicans are also refusing to even give the main bill in question, HB 2186, a chance. Instead they are making inaccurate statements about it and are even saying that their budget proposal “has no new taxes”. If “new” means relying on the same old regressive tax system, maybe they aren’t lying. But their budget relies heavily on changes to the property tax system. Their new proposal would increase property taxes for the Democratic-leaning Puget Sound, while decreasing them for Republican-leaning rural areas in the state. It is a regressive, retaliatory, massive tax increase.

Across the rotunda, the House Democrats introduced a package that would bring in significant revenue while also making fixes to our state’s regressive tax structure. This smart and progressive tax package allows the House Operating Budget to fully fund K-12 education while also investing deeper in the safety net. The House Operating Budget is in stark contrast to the Senate’s. Key differences include that the Senate budget cuts the Housing and Essential Needs (HEN) program to the bone, while the House fully funds it and also creates a new transportation stipend for HEN recipients. The Senate budget makes $96 million in cuts to the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program, while the House increases the cash grant - bringing it back to pre-recession levels. For more details on the differences between the two Operating Budgets, please see the April 3rd Advocacy in Action blog post.

Do you want to learn more about the revenue options on the table?

Here are great resources from the Washington State Budget & Policy Center: An informative “Schmudget" post on the house revenue package and this page containing a lot of resources on the capital gains component of the package, including why it is not an income tax. This page also has a very helpful Q and A that is perfect to share with friends, family and colleagues! If you aren’t familiar with the Budget & Policy Center, we encourage you to check them out. They are an excellent resource on all things budget and revenue, and you can sign up for valuable email updates.


Rep. Noel Frame
D-36th LD

Andy Nicholas
Budget & Policy Center

And in case you missed our special advocate’s call last week on the House tax package, which featured Representative Noel Frame/36th LD and Andy Nicholas of the Budget & Policy Center, here are some key takeaways:

Question: What is the best way to engage with lawmakers? Email, letters, phone calls, or in person?

Answer: All of the above. Also add social media. Even if your lawmakers are supportive, still contact them and let them know that you have their back. We [House Democrats] are getting attacked by the other side on this.

Question: What are the most effective ways to advocate for this bill [HB 2186]? To whom should we be targeting our advocacy?

Answer: Share your personal story and explain the real world impact. Target your own lawmaker, but also target your community. We need our friends and families around the state speaking up. A lot of people don’t understand state government, and anything you can do to help people understand how it works is extremely helpful.

Qustion: Why is there so much discrepancy in the way the R’s and D’s talk about the capital gains tax... one says it really is an income tax and the other says it's not... it's an excise tax?

Answer: The discrepancy is philosophical. “Camels nose under the tent”, but it doesn’t address what the tax is at all. We have a solid case that this is an excise tax and not an income tax. This really isn’t an income tax by any ordinary sense of the term. This will almost exclusively impact the very rich, but even their annual tax rate wouldn’t be raised very high.

Have you weighed in?

One of the most important things we can do as voters is to push our lawmakers to do the right thing. And when our lawmakers are already poised to do the right thing, we need to cheer them on and let them know what we’ve got their back. This is particularly important for lawmakers in “swing” districts where their voters may fluctuate preferences between the two main parties. But it is also important for lawmakers in “safe” districts where they are unlikely to face a serious challenge from the other party. These lawmakers can act as a moral compass in their party, pushing for the body as whole to do the right thing. They need to be able to tell their leadership that their constituents are aware, watching, and expecting the right vote. So no matter who your lawmaker is, they need to hear from you. Please tell your lawmakers that you support the House revenue package and that you want them to pass the House Operating Budget. And please also encourage your friends and family to take action with you.

Messaging to Conservative Lawmakers

Are you a housing and homelessness advocate who feels like your conservative lawmakers don’t listen to you? Or perhaps you have a hard time understanding what they value? If so, you are invited to join a special call on Tuesday, May 2 at 11:00am. Sign up here. The call will feature advocates across the state who have long worked with their conservative lawmakers.

What does Special Session mean for our legislative priorities?

The answer to this question is largely in our hands. Not solely, but largely. If we advocates fully utilize the extra time to educate and push our lawmakers, we will significantly help to ensure that SHB 1570/Macri is passed and that the Housing Trust Fund is funded at the House’s high watermark of $106.37 million. We can also influence the final Operating Budget, ensuring that the House’s proposals regarding homelessness and safety-net programs are fully adopted. This is especially critical for the thousands relying on Housing and Essential Needs rental support as the Senate’s budget cuts it to the bone, while the House enhances it with a new $10/month transportation stipend. It is also critical for thousands relying the Aged, Blind, and Disabled cash assistance who would be cut off the program on July 1st by the Senate’s budget. The House budget fully funds the program and increases the cash grant from $197 to $227 per month.

So what can we do? Many lawmakers will be home for most of the special session(s). Only key budget writers will be in Olympia full time. There will be periodic days when lawmakers will be called back, but mostly lawmakers will be home. While each lawmaker gets to decide their own schedule and how many meetings they will take, it is very likely that most will be scheduling meetings. Some will keep their legislative assistants in Olympia, while others will work out of a district office. This usually hinges on where their staff member lives (if they are Olympia-based year round they’ll keep the Olympia office) and whether or not their district is far enough from Olympia to make an in-district office important for constituent access. Regardless, you can easily figure this out by first calling the Olympia office. Their voicemail will usually tell you if you need to call a different office to schedule an in-district meeting. This roster of members is the best resource for finding your lawmaker’s contact information. It is one of the only resources that also provides us with the name and email address of each lawmaker’s legislative assist. Bookmark this page!

The Housing Alliance will be hosting a webinar on Special Session Advocacy on Thursday, May 4 at 12:00pm. We will go through each policy and budget issue still on the table, review how to most effectively take a lawmaker on a tour (for example, of affordable housing built with Housing Trust Fund dollars), and review the resources that the Housing Alliance can offer to make your in-district advocacy as easy as possible. Please sign-up here. You can also pre-submit questions by emailing dimitrig@wliha.org.

Has your organization signed the SHB 1570/Macri letter of support?

Join the 268 community and faith organizations, cities and counties, business, and real estate interests around the state who have already signed the letter of support! This letter is an important and strategic way to make sure lawmakers know how important SHB 1570 is. The letter is a central part of the push to make sure that the bill is passed during the Special Session. Click here for a link to the letter and to the current signers. If you’d like to add an organization, you simply need to fill out this quick survey. Thank you! And did you see the great editorial in the Stranger last week by Representative Macri? She calls on her fellow lawmakers to prioritize the bill during Special Session. If you are looking for more background or talking points, or for materials to share with your lawmakers, this is a great resource!

Advocacy in Action and Ask a Lobbyist blog posts during Special Session

During the Special Session, we will periodically update this blog when there is news to share! Things can move slowly during special sessions, so there likely won’t be news each week. However, when there is something to report we will update this page and will likely send a corresponding email. We will also send action alerts, although probably not each week. In the meantime, let us know if you need any assistance with in-district advocacy and don’t hesitate to submit a question to the Ask a Lobbyist column by emailing reinyc@wliha.org.

The Session in Numbers

# of testifiers we supported: 89
# of bills we weighed in on: 44
# committees we presented work sessions in: 4
# of advocates who attended Housing & Homelessness Advocacy Day: 637
# of actions taken: 2971
# of lawmakers who heard from advocates: 147
# of emails sent and phone calls made: 8382
# of advocate calls and webinars we held: 11
# of organizations, local governments, faith organizations who have signed the SHB 1570 letter of support: 268

As always, thanks for all of the advocacy you have done this session. The whole Housing Alliance team looks forward to working with you during the Special Session and into the interim. And we hope to see you at the Conference on Ending Homelessness! There will be many workshops on advocacy at the conference. Check it all out here.

Best,

Michele

Housing Advocacy in Action! Week of April 17

Michele Thomas, Director of Policy and Advocacy

Last week brought the final cutoff of the regular legislative session. By April 12, all bills had to clear the floor of the opposite house from which they originated. As often discussed in these blog posts, bills that are “NTIB”, necessary to implement the budget, are not subject to these cutoffs. House Bill 1570/Macri, the Bringing Washington Home Act, is considered NTIB and is still alive despite not moving off of the House floor yet.

The last week of the session will largely be consumed by floor action in the House and Senate mostly dealing with bills on their “concurrence” calendars. Concurrence is needed when a bill has been amended in the opposite house, after it already passed the floor of the chamber in which it originated. Since the bill is now different, the chamber that first passed it has to decide if they agree with the changes. If they do not, they send it back with a request to “recede from amendments.” Good bills die in this process, even after making it this far. There are about 50 bills left for the House to consider and about 40 in the Senate, with about 8 bills currently in dispute.

What’s next?

Just about everyone is wondering the same thing: When will the special session start and how much time it will take to reach agreement on the budget? The plan for how special session will be rolled out will likely be made public by the end of the week. The options include starting immediately on April 24, waiting some set period of time to allow for a break, or not starting at all until agreement has been reached. Regardless, special session will most likely mean that the bulk of lawmakers will return home, with only budget negotiators staying in Olympia.

The Silver Lining

The good news about special session is that it offers real, in-district opportunities for advocacy to move lawmakers on key issues that are unfinished. In addition to the budgets, there is House Bill 1570/Macri and the House revenue proposal (House Bill 2186/Lytton) will also be on the table. This means that we all have been given more time to educate our lawmakers on the importance of these bills. Lawmakers have been hearing about 1570 all session, but now that they will be home, we can ensure that they see first-hand the good that the Homeless Housing and Assistance Surcharge does in their community! The Housing Alliance will be securing a date soon for a webinar on in-district special session advocacy. Watch for an announcement soon!

You are invited to a special call on House Bill 2186 - the House revenue package!

Want to learn more about what is in the House revenue package and how you can support it? Join the Housing Alliance for a special call on Wednesday, April 19 from 8:30 AM - 9:30 AM. We will be joined by Representative Noel Frame/36 LD who is the vice chair of the House Finance Committee. And Andy Nicholas from the Washington State Budget & Policy Center will also join us. Both will help us understand the tax proposal and how it both brings in much-needed new revenue while also fixing our regressive tax system. We will also discuss what affordable housing and homelessness advocates can do to help ensure that the bill passes. Register here for the phone number and to pre-submit any questions for Andy and Representative Frame.

Thanks for the many actions you’ve taken this session. Please help us wrap up this session with a bang and take action today! We will post one last blog next week to wrap up the regular session, but will provide updates during the special session when things are happening.

Lastly, don’t forget about the April 25 early bird registration deadline for the Conference on Ending Homelessness. The Conference is scheduled for May 10th and 11th in Tacoma. Click here for all the information. Note that Washington State Supreme Court Justice Mary Yu is one of our keynotes! She is incredible and you won’t want to miss her!

- Michele

My Day in Olympia

Kirk McClain, Emerging Advocates Program

It’s always been difficult for me to understand why my experience of homelessness had any value to lawmakers, but after this most recent trip to Olympia, I now I realize that my five years living without shelter actually makes me an expert in that area. I can do all the research I want about the history of bills, and the technical aspects of programs and services, and how laws are passed, but at the end of the day, I was the one who received the services currently being debated in Olympia, and I know exactly how they are being administered out in the field.

That’s why I know how important Rep. Macri’s bill, House Bill 1570 is for people experiencing homelessness, (if you don’t’ know about the bill, check out this blog post). So, I traveled to Olympia to talk to my district representatives about how HB 1570 was crucial to helping people experiencing homelessness, and that the services funded by this bill often mean the difference between life and death for some people living on the street. Because I had studied the bill and had first-hand knowledge of the issues the bill addressed, I felt like my viewpoint had credibility and I could speak with confidence to my legislators.

My day began with me and other advocates giving testimony about how HB 1570 should be funded at least to the same level as last year, and how the Housing Trust Fund was important to low-income renters because it actually provides housing for so many who can’t afford market rate apartments. Then I met both of my district representatives and asked them to vote yes on HB 1570.

The most amazing part of my day was meeting with two Republican representatives who, until they heard my story, were probably going to vote NO on HB 1570. Because I had previously developed a relationship with both of those representatives I got the opportunity to tell them my story.

After talking to me one and one and hearing my story, one of legislators actually promised me he would vote for yes on HB 1570, and the other legislator is open to discuss his doubts with me about the bill. Remember, both of these lawmakers are Republicans! I honestly don’t think the legislator that promised to vote yes did it because of my knowledge of the bill itself. I think he did it because he was moved by my personal story with homelessness, and also because of the relationship I am building with him. So the biggest lesson I learned in Olympia that day is that sometimes getting to know your lawmaker – even if they are not from your political party – can be the best way to get them to consider your viewpoint, and possibly get them to vote for your issue.

Housing Advocacy in Action! Week of April 10

Michele Thomas, Director of Policy and Advocacy 

 

The end of the regular legislative session, April 23, is rapidly approaching. It has been a long time coming, but as discussed last week, the Operating Budget in particular is one item that's not likely to be resolved soon. The budget bills and any other bills deemed “NTIB” – necessary to implement the budget, might need a special session or two to reach final agreement.

The last two weeks of this regular session is expected to be a flurry of action to pass the many bills that are subject to the normal cutoff dates. This Wednesday, April 12 is the floor cutoff for bills that have made it all the way over from the opposite chamber and through the opposite house committees. They need to be voted on by the full Senate or House by 5:00 PM on the 12th in order to continue to proceed in the process. The Legislative website offers more detailed information on the legislative process. If you are following a particular bill this session, you might be interested in reading the information about concurrent, dispute, or conference committees. It is surprising, but not uncommon, for bills to die even after being voted off of both floors due to mismatching amendments that cannot be resolved before the last day of session.

Revenue

Last week started with an early Monday morning hearing (April 3) on the House revenue package. The Housing Alliance was proud to sign in pro along with about 30 of our members. Many nonprofits across the state have been doing deep organizing work to move their organizations – including their staff, boards, members, and donors – to a position of full support for a fair, progressive tax system. The many, many nonprofits who took the proactive step to sign in pro on HB 2186/Lytton (D, 40th LD) on Monday signifies this work. This is an important milestone. If this bill was introduced five or so years ago, it would not have been able to garner this depth of support, but due to the work of so many people and organizations across the state, 84 testified pro Monday (vs. 36 con), and another 83 signed in pro (vs. 25 con). Good work! But lawmakers still need to hear more from their constituents about this bill. Some fear political reprisals for a yes vote, so House lawmakers need to hear loud and clear that you support this progressive tax package that shifts the overall cost towards wealthy households, and away from the low- and middle-income households in our state that are currently paying a disproportionate amount of their incomes on taxes compared to the rich.

The Capital Budget(s)

Another big development last week was the release of the House Capital Budget on Wednesday (April 5). It was subsequently heard early on Thursday morning (kudos to the House Capital Budget Committee for being the first in years to give the public more than 3 hours with the budget bill before public testimony). The Housing Alliance and six of our member organizations testified pro because the House Capital Budget invests a bit deeper in affordable housing than the Senate’s budget. Check out the great testimony here and here, and much thanks to everyone who came to Olympia so early to testify!

From left to right: Liz Mills, YWCA Seattle, King & Snohomish Counties; Jessa Lewis, Tenants Union of Washington State; Philippa Nye, Ally Community Development; Mallory Hagel, volunteer with OPAL Community Landtrust and Kirk McClain, with the Housing Alliance’s Emerging Advocate’s Program and Capitol Hill Housing.

The House Capital Budget proposes $106.37 million for affordable housing, while the Senate budget proposes $99 million. The good news is that since the budgets are not too far apart in this area, ending with the $106 million high water mark shouldn’t be unrealistic. But there are two significant factors to consider. One is that the total House budget proposal is significantly bigger than the Senate’s (by over $155 million). This could mean that negotiations with the Senate result in a smaller final budget. The second is that the House’s proposal is very far from the housing community’s biennial ask of $200 million for the Housing Trust Fund. While this is disappointing, there is still an opportunity to make up for some of this gap in the 2018 supplemental budget. But remember, the supplemental budget is always smaller than the original, so the bulk of our $200 million ask needed to be in the 2017 budget. Despite the disappointing House proposal, it is clear that we now have to unify and work hard to ensure that the final budget ends no lower than the House’s $106 million, and then we will work to get the deepest supplemental investment possible in 2018. And we also need to push to hold on to a big bright spot in the House budget, that wasn’t in the Senate’s: the $39 million for a competitive pool for general affordable housing and homelessness investments. We don’t want that lost during the budget negotiations.

Additional points of comparison between the two Capital Budget proposals:

  • Both budgets have similar language that allows the Department of Commerce to use funds allotted to categories for “other low-income and special needs populations” if there are not “adequate suitable projects in a category”. This ensures flexibility and that no money will be left on the table if a specified category doesn’t have enough projects submitted.
  • The House budget has more in project earmarks: $10.09 million vs. $8.4 million in the Senate budget. Each budget has different projects earmarked. The Housing Alliance does not support project earmarks, instead we advocate for a bigger overall competitive appropriation for affordable housing.
  • The Senate budget includes a $6 million set-aside for tiny “homes” projects in Shelton and Orting that is not included in the House budget. Instead the House has a bucket valued at $2.795 M that is for tiny “homes”, but aimed at a chronically homeless population, and without the specific geographic requirement. Click here to access the House and Senate budget bills, as well as summaries of each bill that are prepared by legislative staff. The Leap website also has other helpful information, I encourage you to poke around!

Washington Housing Opportunities Act, HB 1570/Macri!

One of the most important bills of the session might not be resolved before the end of regular session on April 23. HB 1570/Macri is NTIB (as covered in previous posts) and is still in a position to be enacted this year. But the lines between the House and Senate have clearly been drawn. Between the stark differences in the Operating Budget Proposals by each chamber, and the many good housing and homelessness bills that have been killed by Senate leadership this session, it is absolutely clear that housing and homelessness issues will be serious points of contention during special session negotiations. Representative Ormsby (D, 3rd LD) and chair of the House Appropriations Committee discussed the differences in the budgets on last week’s episode of Inside Olympia. The show starts with an interview with the Senate Budget writer, Senator Braun (R, 20th LD). It is a particularly interesting episode of the weekly show, especially regarding the political and philosophical differences between the House and Senate majority parties that the episode highlights.

Lawmakers need to hear from you!

Stay tuned to the Housing Alliance’s social media for breaking news, and we will continue to keep you updated during these last weeks. Most importantly, please help us ensure that lawmakers continue to hear from constituents about affordable housing and homelessness issues. Your advocacy has been great, but we need to push through together because the legislature is not yet responding to affordable housing and homelessness as if it is a crisis. It is, and we need you to help raise the urgency. Even if you called your lawmaker last week, please do it again. If you haven’t called them recently, please do so today. You can leave one message for all of your lawmakers through the state’s toll free legislative hotline: 1-800-562-6000. It is open Monday – Friday from 8:00 AM – 8:00 PM. Click here for talking points and to sign our pledge to make the call!

Ask a Lobbyist!

I recently was asked two related questions that are timely given that the end of session is so near, yet final agreement on the budgets any time soon is unlikely.

Question 1: If the legislature knows that it will not be able to finish their budget within the timeframe of the session, why don’t they just agree to change the timeframe instead of going through the drama of declaring special sessions?

Question 2: It seems like lawmakers in Olympia rarely finish the budget by their deadline and always need to go into overtime. Wouldn’t it be better if we switched to a full time legislature, instead of holding them to unworkable deadlines?

The timeframes under which the legislature can be convened are determined by the state constitution, which caps the length of the regular session during an odd-numbered year to 105, and to 60 days on even-numbered years. The same section of the constitution (article 2, section 12) outlines the rules for calling a special session. Here is the language:

(1) Regular Sessions. A regular session of the legislature shall be convened each year. Regular sessions shall convene on such day and at such time as the legislature shall determine by statute. During each odd-numbered year, the regular session shall not be more than one hundred five consecutive days. During each even-numbered year, the regular session shall not be more than sixty consecutive days.

(2) Special Legislative Sessions. Special legislative sessions may be convened for a period of not more than thirty consecutive days by proclamation of the governor pursuant to Article III, section 7 of this Constitution. Special legislative sessions may also be convened for a period of not more than thirty consecutive days by resolution of the legislature upon the affirmative vote in each house of two-thirds of the members elected or appointed thereto, which vote may be taken and resolution executed either while the legislature is in session or during any interim between sessions in accordance with such procedures as the legislature may provide by law or resolution. The resolution convening the legislature shall specify a purpose or purposes for the convening of a special session, and any special session convened by the resolution shall consider only measures germane to the purpose or purposes expressed in the resolution, unless by resolution adopted during the session upon the affirmative vote in each house of two-thirds of the members elected or appointed thereto, an additional purpose or purposes are expressed. The specification of purpose by the governor pursuant to Article III, section 7 of this Constitution shall be considered by the legislature but shall not be mandatory.

(3) Committees of the Legislature. Standing and special committees of the legislature shall meet and conduct official business pursuant to such rules as the legislature may adopt.

Regarding the question about whether it would be better to have the legislature convened full-time… it wouldn’t address the problem of when the legislature is able to reach agreement on a final budget. The state budgets are biennial and expire after two years. Regardless of how long the legislature is allowed to convene, lawmakers still need to get the Operating Budget done before the current one expires. In this case, agreement must be met by June 30 2017.

Feel free to submit your questions about the legislative process by emailing reinyc@wliha.org.

Lastly, the annual Conference on Ending Homelessness is almost here! Join us May 10 and 11 in Tacoma for two action-packed days of learning, networking, self-care, and movement building. The early bird registration rates expire on April 25 – sign up soon, and also be sure to reserve your hotel room before they fill up. Learn more about the conference here.

Thanks for your partnership in advocacy,

Best,

Michele

Housing Advocacy in Action! Week of April 3

Michele Thomas, Director of Policy and Advocacy

Last week was very busy in Olympia with the release of two new budget bills and another cutoff. With Sine Die (the last day of the regular session) rapidly approaching on April 23, the pace in Olympia won’t slow down any time soon. The budgets introduced last week included much better news for affordable housing and homelessness than the Senate’s Operating Budget (which was released the prior week and was detailed in last week’s blog post). The House Operating Budget was a net positive for affordable housing and homelessness, and the Senate’s Capital Budget proposal came in much higher than normal for the Housing Trust Fund ($96.572 million). Once the House releases their Capital Budget bill on Wednesday, all budget proposals will be out.

It is unclear if budget negotiations are already underway between the House and the Senate, but regardless it is not expected that compromise will be reached before April 23rd. The Housing Alliance is pushing for the adoption of the House Operating Budget and for both chambers to get much closer to our Housing Trust Fund ask of $200 million for this biennium.

Here is a comparison of the House and Senate Operating Budgets on key affordable housing and homelessness issues:

Housing and Essential Needs (HEN)
What is it? HEN provides rental assistance and access to basic sanitary items for extremely low-income, temporarily disabled adults.
Senate Budget: The original budget proposal completely eliminated all funding for HEN, but it was amended to include $10 million for the program. This amounts to a cut of over 80%.
House Budget: Fully funds the program, plus creates a new transportation stipend. Beginning in July 2018, $10 per month is provided to cover the cost of travel expenses for Housing and Essential Needs recipients.

Aged, Blind, and Disabled (ABD) cash assistance
What is it? ABD provides cash assistance (currently $197) for extremely low-income, permanently disabled adults, and SSI facilitation services to assist in obtaining federal benefits.
Senate Budget: Per SB 5898/Braun, the Senate’s budget assumes savings from a new 35-month time limit for receiving the ABD cash grant, which would terminate the benefit for approximately 2,400 individuals.
House Budget: The House budget fully funds the program and also increases the monthly cash grant beginning in July 2018, from $197 per month to $227 per month.

Medicaid Transformation Demonstration
What is it? Washington has finalized an agreement with the federal government for a five-year demonstration that allows innovative uses of Medicaid dollars to improve health, provide better care, and lower costs. Under the demonstration, the state will receive up to $1.5 billion in federal investments. The demonstration includes investments in Permanent Supportive Housing Services impacting the health and well being of people with disabilities experiencing long-term homelessness.
Senate Budget: Suspends the state’s ability to move forward with the demonstration and rejects $1.5 billion federal dollars to serve the health needs of low-income Medicaid recipients.
House Budget: Provides budget authority for the state to move forward with the demonstration and accept the federal funds.

Young Adult Housing and Shelter
What is it? The Young Adult Shelter program provides Emergency, temporary shelter, assessment, referrals, and permanency planning services for young adults ages 18 through 24, and the Young Adult Housing Program provides rental assistance.
Senate Budget: Eliminates all funding.
House Budget: Fully funds.

Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF)
What is it? TANF provides modest cash assistance to extremely low-income adults with dependent children.
Senate Budget: Eliminates approximately $96 million from the TANF program, plus over $44 million from the Working Connections Childcare Program.
House Budget: Adds over $12 million to increase the cash grant by 8% starting in July 2018 (for example, a grant for a family of 4 is raised from $613 to $662). This budget section also increases the grants for State Family Assistance and Refugee Cash Assistance by 8%.

The House Operating Budget also adds other additional funds:

  • Funds are added to account for HB 1831/Pettigrew, which raises the asset limit caps that applicants to TANF, HEN, and ABD can have in order to qualify for the programs. The bill allows for a higher maximum value of a vehicle, and for a person to have slightly higher amounts of “liquidable cash” including in their kids’ savings accounts, a burial plot, 401Ks, etc.
  • Funds are added from the General Fund to provide new rental assistance resources for homeless families ($1 million) and for funding for permanent supportive housing services ($6 million).
  • Funds are added to assist youth exiting state institutions to find housing ($3 million from the General Fund, plus an additional $1 million from the Home Security Fund).

The House Revenue Package

The House’s budget proposal meets the McCleary mandate to invest new dollars in k-12 education without cutting human services or other important functions of state government. They are able to do this because they have also introduced a revenue package that would generate over $2.8 billion dollars this biennium. HB 2186 by Representative Lytton (D, 40th LD) was heard in the House Appropriations Committee on Monday morning (April 3). Over 120 people signed in to testify on the bill, the majority in support. The Housing Alliance signed in pro and believes that this tax package is fair, smart, and responsible. Interestingly, many people and businesses across the state would actually experience a tax reduction. Here are resources to learn more about the package:

House Democrats overview of the package

House Bill 2186 bill page

Washington Budget and Policy Center (overview of House revenue package and also Senate revenue proposal)
 

What to expect next

The last budget to be released is the House Capital Budget. The House Capital Budget Committee has said that it will release its budget proposal on Wednesday, April 5 and will hold a hearing on it at 8:00 am on Thursday, April 6. The Senate budget set funding for the Housing Trust Fund at $96.572 million, and added an additional earmark for an affordable housing project to bring the overall affordable housing investment to $99 million. We hope that the House will come much closer to our biennial ask of $200 million. We need to get as close as possible in order for the 2018 supplemental Capital Budget appropriation to be able to feasibly close the gap to end the biennium with $200 million. The Housing Alliance testified last week on the Senate’s Capital Budget with thanks for the historically high starting point, but we noted that it was still far from our total ask. You can watch our testimony here. Keep watching for the next panel of three stellar advocates who also testified from Plymouth Housing, the YWCA of Seattle, King and Snohomish, and from the Tacoma Pierce County Affordable Housing Consortium.

Tuesday the 4th marks the next cutoff – all bills must clear the opposite chamber’s fiscal committee in order to keep moving (unless of course it has that special “NTIB – Necessary to Implement the Budget” status which exempts it from cutoffs). And then next week, April 12, brings the big floor cutoff. All bills must clear the opposite floor by that date in order to keep on moving towards the governor’s signature.

Keep connected to the Housing Alliance emails and social media for breaking news over the next couple of weeks. As things heat up and move more quickly in these final weeks, big decisions will likely be made. We will continue to keep you informed. The next advocate’s call is scheduled for Friday, April 14 at 11:00am. We provide detailed updates in this hour-long call for all affordable housing and homelessness advocates. Just email Reiny for the call in number and code: reinyc@wliha.org.

Lastly, we had no new submissions for our “Ask a Lobbyist” column this week. But if you have a question you’d like to ask about the legislative process, about lobbying in Olympia or about the politics impacting affordable housing and homelessness… ask away! We’d love to answer your questions. Just submit your question (and note we will keep your identity anonymous) to Reiny at reinyc@wliha.org.

Best,

Michele

Housing Advocacy in Action! Week of March 27

Michele Thomas, Director of Policy and Advocacy

 

Senate Budget

The Senate introduced their Operating Budget last Tuesday (March 21st) mid morning, and then conducted the committee hearing on it just hours later. The Housing Alliance testified con (you can watch testimony here). The budget proposal from the Senate Republicans completely eliminated the Housing and Essential Needs program, suspended the state from accepting $1.5 billion federal dollars for Medicaid innovation (including approximately $200 million for Permanent Supportive Housing services), it earmarked over $30 million of existing homelessness funds for programs that used to be funded out of the general fund, and assumed savings from a proposed new time limit on the Aged, Blind, and Disabled program. It also eliminated funding for the homeless student stability act, for young adult shelter and for young adult housing programs. Funds were swept from TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) for other programs and new requirements were put on the extremely low-income families who apply for TANF benefits. The budget was an attack on homelessness and anti-poverty programs, which was especially troubling given the recent Trump budget release which also proposed extremely deep cuts to affordable housing, homelessness, and human services.

Despite this grim budget proposal, the good news is that it caused an uproar from advocates and from housing champions in the Senate. The uproar led to an amendment in the Ways & Means Committee by Senator Miloscia (R, 30th LD) which restored $10 million in funding for the Housing and Essential Needs Program. This still amounts to a cut of over 80% to this critical safety net program, which provides rental assistance to temporarily disabled, extremely low-income adults. More than forty additional amendments were offered by Democratic members of the Ways & Means Committee. The amendments offered would have restored funding to the safety net. Almost all were rejected, with the partial restoration of HEN by Senator Miloscia being the shining anomaly. The bill was voted out of committee with all Republicans voting yes, minus Senator Miloscia who voted no with every Democratic member. The bill was then sent to the Senate Floor.

Next, the Senate as a whole considered the bill on Thursday night. After hours of deliberation the bill was voted out of the chamber on a party line vote. Again, Democrats offered many amendments to restore the safety net. One by Senator Nelson (D, 34th LD) to restore funding for the Homeless Student Stability Act was adopted. The amendment restores $2 million in funding from the General Fund to this program, which addresses the needs of homeless public school students and their families. This amendment came at a time when homelessness is rising among public school kids in our state. In the last school year, the state identified over 39,000 students as experiencing homelessness. This recent article by the Kitsap Daily News highlights the importance of the homeless student stability act.

Please thank the following Senators for standing up for affordable housing and homelessness programs:

Senator Darneille (D, 27th LD), author of several committee and floor amendments to restore funding for HEN, ABD, TANF and homeless youth.
Jeannie.Darneille@leg.wa.gov
(360) 786-7652

Senator Nelson (D, 34th LD) for restoring funding for the Homeless Student Stability Act.
Sharon.Nelson@leg.wa.gov
(360) 786-7667

Senator Billig (D, 3rd LD) for introducing amendments to restore funding to Working Connections Childcare for TANF families.
Andy.Billig@leg.wa.gov
(360) 786-7604

Senator Frockt (D, 46th LD) for introducing an amendment to fund higher ed grants from a source other than TANF.
David.Frockt@leg.wa.gov
(360) 786-7690

Senator Miloscia (R, 30th LD) for introducing a successful amendment to partially restore funding for the Housing and Essential Needs program.
Mark.Miloscia@leg.wa.gov
(360) 786-7658


What's next:

The House is set to release their Operating Budget proposal (SHB 1067) on Monday afternoon (March 27th) and hear it a little later the same day. The Housing Alliance will be testifying to weigh in on how key budget priorities are treated, including HEN, ABD (Aged Blind and Disabled) and the Medicaid Innovation Demonstration. Next the Senate will introduce their Capital Budget, most likely on Tuesday (March 28th). The Capital Budget funds the Housing Trust Fund so we are eagerly waiting its release. The House is expected to release their Capital Budget in the week of April 3rd.


More on the safety net programs under attack: Housing & Essential Needs (HEN) and the Aged, Blind, and Disabled Program (ABD).

These programs comprise the heart of what is often referred to as “disability lifeline”, assisting disabled and extremely low-income adults. As Senator Darneille, 27th LD, said on the Senate floor on Thursday night, “every one of us needs a helping hand at some point in our lives.” Housing and Essential Needs provides rental assistance and access to an essential needs bank where people can get basic sanitary items. The Aged, Blind, and Disabled (ABD) program provides a cash grant of up to $197 per month. People cannot be on both programs at the same time and DSHS determines which program they are eligible for. If someone is deemed to have a permanent disability and likely to qualify for federal social security benefits, they are offered ABD. If someone moves from HEN to ABD because their disability status changed, they often face homelessness because of the loss of the housing assistance. This is just one problem with these safety net programs that needs to be fixed, but instead we often find ourselves fighting for the very preservation of the programs themselves because of attacks on them.

The Senate’s budget adds a new time limit on ABD, which would terminate benefits for approximately 2,395 people in the first month the time limit is implemented. On Thursday night, the Senate also passed a corresponding bill, SB 5898, to implement this change in statute and to implement other harmful changes to TANF and to Working Connections Childcare. The Housing Alliance testified con on the bill in committee. To learn more about these safety net programs, check out this excellent work session from Friday. The Housing Alliance’s Kate Baber organized the work session, which was requested by Representative Kagi (D, 32nd LD), chair of the House Early Learning & Human Services Committee. The work session provides an overview of HEN, ABD, and TANF and features Housing Alliance 2015 Advocate of the Year, Kirk McClain. Kirk shares his story of homelessness and how HEN helped him by providing a path into housing (Kirk’s part starts at about 52 minutes in, followed by Kate who discusses the implications of the Senate’s budget proposal).


New Bills Introduced

In addition to the budget and the associated budget bills, a couple of other important bills were also introduced last week. SB 5911 by Senator Nelson (D, 34th) would invest $60 million into homelessness services, including HEN rental assistance, $95 million into the Housing Trust Fund for housing for people experiencing homelessness, and $5 million for the Operations and Maintenance of affordable housing. The bill is strategically tied to a strategy in the Senate’s budget that uses “rainy day” funds to cover a specific item in their budget ($700 million needed for a public employee retirement plan). A 60% vote is required to transfer money from the rainy day which means that Democratic votes will be required to pass this central component to the Republican’s budget bill. The bill was referred to Ways and Means.

SB 5903, the “housing for all act” was introduced by Senator Darneille (D, 27th LD). Key elements of the bill include the elimination of the sunset on the Homeless Housing and Assistance surcharge and an increase of $50. It would also make the Housing and Essential Needs program an entitlement and double the ABD cash grant for the biennium. The bill creates a new local sales tax option for chemical dependency, mental health, and housing services for people experiencing homelessness. The bill was referred to the Senate Human Services, Mental Health and Housing Committee.
 

Ask a lobbyist!

This week’s question is “What is the difference between the Washington Housing Trust Fund and the Washington Housing Trust Account?”

This is a timely question given that the legislative budget proposals are now rolling out. The Washington Housing Trust Account is a budget account for the Department of Commerce that is legally set up to accept funds for certain purposes, including for the Housing Trust Fund and for administration of the Housing Trust Fund program. Loans for affordable housing development that are paid off also go into this account. The Housing Trust Fund is a program created in law that is subject to appropriations from the Capital Budget. Each year, the Housing Alliance advocates for new investments into the Housing Trust Fund to expand the state’s supply of affordable housing.

The Department of Commerce has several different accounts under its authority that are used for certain purposes. One of the things that make the Operating Budget bills difficult to read is that there is often a lot of fund transfers from one account to another, making the overall impact on affordable housing and homelessness difficult to discern. The main accounts we watch are the Housing Trust Account, the Home Security Fund and the Affordable Housing for All account. Again, the Housing Trust Account holds funds for purposes related to the Housing Trust Fund program. The Home Security Fund is where the money from the Homeless Housing and Assistance surcharge goes, and the Affordable Housing for All account receives funds from the original $10 document recording fee, often referred to as “2060” reflecting the bill number which created the account and the program back in 2002. These funds generated by the 2060 surcharge can be used to provide housing and shelter and operations and maintenance for affordable housing programs serving extremely low-income people and related programs. Commerce accounts are often raided by the legislature for earmarks for specific programs, which has particularly impeded the ability of Commerce to provide operations and maintenance support over the years.

 

 

Housing Advocacy in Action! Week of March 20

Michele Thomas, Director of Policy and Advocacy

We are now over two-thirds of the way through this 105-day legislative session. Over 2000 bills are already dead for the session. If a bill is dead, since it is the beginning of the two-year budget/bill cycle, it will be able to start the process over in 2018 without being reintroduced. But there is also a saying in Olympia that a bill is never really dead until “sine die”. Sine die, basically meaning “adjournment”, is called to close a legislative session. Even if lawmakers are called back for a special session, they will call Sine Die by (or before) April 23, which is the last day allowed for this session.

Interesting facts

1473 bills have been introduced in the House (an average of 15 per Representative). 566 of those House bills have been passed out of House committees. 376 of them have been passed out of the House, and are now in the Senate. Two House bills have already passed the Senate.

1297 bills have been introduced in the Senate (an average 26 per Senator). 484 Senate bills have been passed out of Senate committees. 283 of them have been passed out of the Senate, and are now in the House. Four Senate bills have already passed the House.

The Legislature is set to release budgets this week: action needed!

The state Senate will be the first to release their budgets this year. The Senate Republicans are holding a press conference on Tuesday, March 21 to discuss their Operating Budget proposal. They are expected to release the Capital Budget a little later in the week. Once the first legislative budget is out, hearings will begin. The Housing Alliance will be weighing in with either concern over cuts to safety net programs or with thanks if our budget priorities are protected. The House is currently expected to release their budgets next week (during the week of March 27). Watch this blog and Housing Alliance social media for updates on the budget proposals and for urgent action requests. In the meantime, now is a critical time to weigh in with lawmakers with a request to fund the Housing Trust Fund at $200 million. This week is the last week to influence the Capital Budget proposals before they are finalized and released. We need a groundswell of voices asking for the Housing Trust Fund to be prioritized. Please take action today and ask your board, your colleagues, and other networks to join you.

Do you want more background on the state budget? Here are some useful resources:


Federal budget proposal is draconian and irresponsible


via Washington Post

Last week, President Trump released a budget blueprint for the 2018 fiscal year (October 1, 2017 – September 30, 2018.)

His priorities are clear. In order to significantly increase military spending, make a down payment on his wall, and fund school vouchers, the President has proposed deep cuts that would devastate communities across the country and take life saving services away from people who rely on them.

His proposal cuts HUD by 13%, or $6.2 billion compared with 2016 levels. Compared to funding levels needed for 2017, the budget is a $7.5 billion, or 15% reduction.

The President’s budget eliminates Community Development Block Grants that provided $51 million for housing and infrastructure in Washington in 2016 and the HOME Investment Partnership program that provided $19 million to our state and local communities to build and preserve affordable homes. It also eliminates Choice Neighborhood grants, the Self-help Homeownership Opportunity Program, and the Section 4 Capacity Building Program.

It also eliminates:

  • Legal Aid – which helps low-income tenants avoid unwarranted evictions and remove barriers to rental housing.
  • US Interagency Council on Homelessness – which coordinates the federal response to homelessness across 19 agencies and reduced homelessness among veterans by half since 2010.
  • LIHEAP – which heats the homes of low-income seniors and families during the winter.

While this budget is just a starting point, and has critics among both Republicans and Democrats in Congress, fighting it is one of the most important things we can do right now. Because the budget is so extreme, there is a risk that restoring some high profile programs and adopting smaller cuts could be seen as a reasonable compromise. Given the enormity of the housing affordability crisis in Washington and across the country, any significant cuts will increase homelessness and cause greater suffering.

One thing we know is clear: advocacy can defeat this budget proposal! Over the coming weeks and months, the Housing Alliance will send out more information and resources on the federal budget, but for now, here are some important resources that will provide more background:

National Low Income Housing Coalition resources:

  • Archive of all NLIHC webinars, including one from Monday, March 20, which provides an overview of the budget proposal and advocacy needed to defeat it.

Center for Budget and Policy Priorities resources:

Additionally, if you are part of an organization, you can sign onto a letter telling Congress to protect affordable housing and transportation funding.

We will continue to update you on progress and opportunities to make your voice heard. 


Ask a Lobbyist: What is a “Special Session”?

We’ve been hearing that the use of the terms “regular session” and “special session” are a bit confusing. Here is some background on what they mean:

The short answer is that a “special session” is an extended session. It is necessary if the legislature is unable to finish the budget during the “regular session”. Here is the longer story:

According to the book Sine Die by Edward D. Seeberger, Washington voters adopted a constitutional amendment in 1979 that provided for the current legislative calendar which sets a 105-day “regular” session during each odd-numbered year and a regular 60-day session in each even-numbered year. Prior to that, sessions were held every odd-numbered year and were limited to just 60 days.

We are currently about two-thirds of the way through the regular 2017 105-day session, which must adjourn no later than April 23. And an Operating Budget for the next biennium must be finalized (voted on by both chambers and signed by the Governor) before July 1 – the date that current budget expires. If the legislature is not done with the budget process by April 23, they will need to be called back for an additional session. If they are unable to finalize it within that first special session, they will be called back for another. Each special session can last no more than 30 days and can be called by the Governor (which is most common) or by a two-thirds vote of all members of the legislature. Even though they are called for 30 days at a time, they can adjourn before the 30 days are up. Usually during a special session, only budgets and items that are necessary to implement the budget can be considered. Special sessions have become very common in recent years, with the 2015 session requiring several in order to reach agreement between the House and Senate on the final budget. That year, it took until June 30 to reach final agreement, with the Governor signing it just hours before the deadline. It is assumed that budget deliberations this year will be hard and will require at least one special session. The Housing Alliance will keep advocates updated on all budget deliberations, so if a special session is called, you will know.

Have a question? Ask a Lobbyist here.

 

-Michele

 

 

 

Housing Advocacy in Action! Week of Feb 27

Michele Thomas, Director of Policy and Advocacy

Two major cutoffs have come and gone, and Thursday (March 2) marks the halfway point of this 105-day legislative session. In order to still be viable, bills must have cleared the policy and/or fiscal committees in their chamber of origin, either the House or the Senate, unless they are given the special status of “NTIB”.  NTIB means necessary to implement the budget – see last week’s “Ask a Lobbyist” column for more on NTIB. The good news is that many affordable housing and homelessness bills are still alive, including top priority bills SHB 1570/Macri and HB 1633/Riccelli. Download this comprehensive bill tracker for the status of the many affordable housing and homelessness bills introduced this session. We’ve also included bills that we are opposing, and important bills we are supporting that will improve the safety-net, will prohibit discrimination, and will improve the lives of low-income households, people of color, and immigrants. 

Substitute House Bill (SHB) 1570/Macri, the Washington Housing Opportunities Act

This top priority bill cleared two major hurdles last week when it was given a hearing and then a vote in the House Appropriations Committee. The hearing on Thursday, February 23 featured three stellar testifiers; Realtors Tonya Hennen and Sol Villarreal, and Debbie Trosvig from the Snohomish County Human Services Department. All three passionately shared why it is imperative that Washington lawmakers take action to prevent over 60% of the Homeless Housing and Assistance Surcharge from expiring, and that local communities have the opportunity to increase the surcharge. The two realtors shared that there is a clear nexus between real estate activity and homelessness. They also shared that the surcharge does not discourage home ownership and that many new homeowners are in fact happy that they can help ensure that people in their community have a roof over their heads. This testimony was particularly striking in the face of the Washington Realtors testifying “with concerns”.

After the hearing, the bill was quickly added to the list for “executive session” (when a bill can be voted out of committee) and on Friday evening it was voted out on a party-line vote. If one of your lawmakers sits on the House Appropriations Committee and voted yes (see the list below), please send them a quick email to thank them for their leadership and to encourage them to vote yes again on the House Floor! And if your lawmaker voted no, please email them to let them know that you are disappointed and that you hope that they will reconsider their position and vote yes when it comes up on the House Floor. 

The following lawmakers voted yes on SHB 1570 on Friday, February 24 in the House Appropriations Committee. Please thank them, especially if they are your lawmaker! You can call their office directly or email them.  

Lawmaker

District

City/County

Phone Number

Email

Timm Ormsby (D), Chair

3rd LD

Spokane

(360) 786-7946

timm.ormsby@leg.wa.gov

June Robinson (D), Vice Chair

38th LD

Everett, Marysville

(360) 786-7864

june.robinson@leg.wa.gov

Steve Bergquist (D)

11th LD

Tukwila

(360) 786-7862

steve.bergquist@leg.wa.gov

Eileen Cody (D)

34th LD

Vashon Island, West Seattle

(360) 786-7978

eileen.cody@leg.wa.gov

Joe Fitzgibbon (D)

34th LD

Vashon Island, West Seattle

(360) 786-7952

joe.fitzgibbon@leg.wa.gov

Zack Hudgins (D)

11th LD

Tukwila

(360) 786-7956

zack.hudgins@leg.wa.gov

Laurie Jinkins (D)

27th LD

Tacoma

(360) 786-7930

laurie.jinkins@leg.wa.gov

Ruth Kagi (D)

32nd LD

Shoreline

(360) 786-7810

ruth.kagi@leg.wa.gov

Kristine Lytton (D)

40th LD

Mount Vernon, Burlington

(360) 786-7800

kristine.lytton@leg.wa.gov

Eric Pettigrew (D)

37th LD

South Seattle

(360) 786-7838

eric.pettigrew@leg.wa.gov

Gerry Pollet (D)

46th LD

Lake Forest Park, Kenmore

(360) 786-7886

gerry.pollet@leg.wa.gov

David Sawyer (D)

29th LD

South Tacoma, Spanaway

(360) 786-7906

david.sawyer@leg.wa.gov

Tana Senn (D)

41st LD

Bellevue, Newcastle

(360) 786-7894

tana.senn@leg.wa.gov

Larry Springer (D)

45th LD

Woodinville

(360) 786-7822

larry.springer@leg.wa.gov

Derek Stanford (D)

1st LD

Bothell

(360) 786-7928

derek.stanford@leg.wa.gov

Pat Sullivan (D)

47th LD

Auburn, Covington

(360) 786-7858

pat.sullivan@leg.wa.gov

Steve Tharinger (D)

24th LD

Port Townsend, La Push, Most of Olympics

(360) 786-7904

steve.tharinger@leg.wa.gov

These lawmakers voted no on SHB 1570 on Friday, February 24 in the House Appropriations Committee. If you see your lawmaker on this list, please contact them to ask that they reconsider their position and vote yes when the bill comes up on the House Floor.

Lawmaker

District

City/County

Phone Number

Email

Bruce Chandler (R)

15th LD

Sunnyside, Grandview, E Yakima County

(360) 786-7960

bruce.chandler@leg.wa.gov

Drew MacEwen (R)

35th LD

Mason County

(360) 786-7902

drew.macewen@leg.wa.gov

Drew Stokesbary (R)

31st LD

Bonney Lake, Upper half Pierce County

(360) 786-7846

drew.stokesbary@leg.wa.gov

Vincent Buys (R)

42nd LD

Bellingham

(360) 786-7854

vincent.buys@leg.wa.gov

Michelle Caldier (R)

26th LD

Bremerton, Port Orchard

(360) 786-7802

michelle.caldier@leg.wa.gov

Carry Condotta (R)

12th LD

Chelan and Douglas counties

(360) 786-7954

cary.condotta@leg.wa.gov

Larry Haler (R)

8th LD

Richland

(360) 786-7986

larry.haler@leg.wa.gov

Paul Harris (R)

17th LD

Vancouver

(360) 786-7976

paul.harris@leg.wa.gov

Matt Manweller (R)

13th LD

Ephrata, Grant county

(360) 786-7808

matt.manweller@leg.wa.gov

Terry Nealey (R)

16th LD

Dayton, Walla Walla

(360) 786-7828

terry.nealey@leg.wa.gov

Joe Schmick (R)

9th LD

Pullman, and Adams, Asotin, Franklin, Garfield, and Whitman counties

(360) 786-7844

joe.schmick@leg.wa.gov

David Taylor (R)

2nd LD

South Pierce county

(360) 786-7874

david.taylor@leg.wa.gov

Brandon Vick (R)

18th LD

Battle Ground, Camas

(360) 786-7850

brandon.vick@leg.wa.gov

Mike Volz (R)

6th LD

Cheney

(360) 786-7922

mike.volz@leg.wa.gov

J.T. Wilcox (R)

2nd LD

South Pierce county

(360) 786-7912

jt.wilcox@leg.wa.gov


House bill (HB) 1633/Riccelli, Outlawing Discrimination based on Renter’s Source of Income.

This top priority bill cleared another hurdle last week when it was “pulled” from the House Rules Committee to the House Floor Calendar for a “second reading”. Bills have to clear three “readings” in each chamber to pass the legislature. The first reading happens to all bills introduced when they are read on the floor and referred to a committee. If the Rules Committee moves a bill out, they technically open it up for a second reading. During second reading a bill can be amended. It is during the third reading that a bill is brought up for a vote on the floor. HB 1633 is now in second reading status and therefore could be placed on the “order of consideration” at any time. The order of consideration is a list of the bills up for a vote on the floor. From now till 5:00 pm on March 8th, both chambers will spend a lot of time on the floor passing bills out. HB 1633 must move out of the House by that date in order to be considered by the Senate. Since its companion bill (SB 5407/Frockt) died in the Senate policy committee, don’t be surprised to see amendments passed on the floor to better position it for support by Republicans who control the Senate chamber. 

Ask A Lobbyist: How often can I contact my lawmaker? 

In our second “Ask a lobbyist” column, we tackle the question of how often an advocate can contact their lawmaker and still be an effective advocate. 

We get this question often, especially during busy legislative sessions like this where there are many affordable housing and homelessness issues on the table. It comes up even more often when an advocate wants to contact a lawmaker more than once on a the same bill or same budget issue. Because this comes up often, the Housing Alliance has asked many different lawmakers for their perspective. And each time we ask, lawmakers, regardless of their political party, answer the same way - they want to hear from their constituents! You can contact them on the same issue, or on different issues, as often as you want. The key is how you communicate, not how often. Respectful communication with your lawmakers, even when you are expressing your dismay with their position, is totally acceptable. Repeated communication with your lawmaker on the same issue is also totally acceptable, especially if the issue is still pending (e.g. a bill hasn’t yet been brought up for a vote). In fact, being persistent is a very good thing. It communicates to your lawmaker that the issue is of upmost importance to their constituents, and that you will be closely watching for how they vote. So don’t be shy or hesitant to contact your lawmakers often. Being persistent can often be the key to developing a relationship with your lawmaker – once you develop such a relationship, they may even reach out to you to ask where you stand on a issue. 

Have a question? Submit it here!

Thank you for being an advocate for affordable housing and homelessness. Our movement is strong and thanks to our persistence and strategic advocacy, we have consistently been able to move mountains and achieve the impossible. Please help  continue this tradition by taking action this week! And please consider attending your local lawmaker town hall meetings. Many lawmakers are hosting in-person or telephonic town halls and your voice is needed! Check out this page for a list of town halls and for a guide to asking your lawmakers to stand up for affordable housing and homelessness issues this session! 

Thank you for all you do!

Michele

 

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