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In his budget proposal released this week, Governor Inslee went big and proposed the kind of bold investments needed to make real progress on solving our state’s affordable housing and homelessness crisis. We commend the Governor for acting with urgency by putting forward an unprecedented investment in affordable homes. His proposal would fund 7,500 newly affordable homes in the next two years, and 26,700 over eight years. The legislature should follow the Governor’s lead and pass a budget that responds to the housing needs of the lowest income people in Washington with the same level of urgency.
Much of the Governor’s proposed investments require a statewide referendum vote. Voters across the state see and feel the impact of homelessness, high rents, and out of reach homeownership opportunities. They want to see significant state investments – now and in the long term.
In addition to asking voters to support raising the state’s debt limit, as the Governor proposes, we also believe the state needs to differentiate between making significant investments in this biennial budget and what can be added in the future through a referendum.
In the upcoming session, the legislature should make a substantial investment in affordable housing and homelessness programs, including a $400 million investment in the Housing Trust Fund.
In our extensive discussions with people most impacted by rising housing costs, and people who have experienced homelessness, we have heard a loud and clear message that the Housing Alliance should go big and be bold in our policy priorities this session. Our priorities are driven by the fact that the greatest housing needs are for people living with the lowest incomes across the state. The vast need in new affordable homes is for households earning less than 50% of their area median income, and our lowest income neighbors face the most extreme consequences if they lose their housing. We cannot end homelessness without providing solutions for deeply affordable permanent housing for people who continue to struggle with the risk of becoming homeless.
We were pleased to see many of our budget priorities included in the Governor’s budget:
- Recipients of interim assistance payments from the Aged, Blind and Disabled cash assistance program would no longer be required to pay back their benefits, with an investment of more than $39 million. This reverses an inequitable policy that dates back to the 1980s.
- The Housing and Essential Needs rental assistance program would see a permanent increase of $15 million in ongoing funds. *
- Homeless services across the state would be backfilled with $40 million to help address a shortfall in revenue from document recording fees. This funding is critical to prevent cuts of homeless services.
- Funding for the operations and maintenance of permanent supportive housing would see a permanent increase of $15 million.
- The Landlord Mitigation Fund is funded with $8 million in one-time funding to address a backlog of requests. This program is a win-win for landlords and tenants that prevents barriers to housing. **
- Organizations with human services contracts providing affordable housing and homelessness services would see an increase of over $6 million. This is a critical component to addressing the workforce crisis and would allow nonprofit organizations to increase wages and benefits to attract and retain workers. We will be asking the legislature to increase this to ensure all homeless and housing organizations receive an adequate increase.
- Funding for pre-eviction civil legal aid and for the statewide Right to Counsel program are fully included. These programs are critical eviction prevention tools that keep people in their homes and help ensure tenants can fully utilize housing stability protections.
- Funding for land acquisition is included, which will be a critical anti-displacement tool as the state prepares for upzones and density increases in communities across the state.
* The Housing and Essential Needs increase is based on 2019/2021 funding levels and not on the one-time increases that were included for the program in the 2021/2023 budget. This is mixed news, but a permanent increase is better in the long-run than one time bumps.
** More funding is needed to address the Landlord Mitigation Fund backlog. The Housing Alliance will ask the legislature to increase this.
The Governor has put forward a bold vision that the legislature should build on. We look forward to working with lawmakers throughout the session. Your advocacy will help ensure that state lawmakers fully respond to the depth of the need across our state.
For a complete list of the 2023 Public Policy Priorities, visit https://www.wliha.org/advocacy/2023-public-policy-priorities.