Michele Thomas, Director of Policy and Advocacy
Olympia is in the midst of cutoff craziness, with everyone scrambling to get their bills officially “heard” and voted on before Friday’s looming deadline to clear fiscal committees (see all session deadlines here). Once bills have passed the policy and fiscal committee hurdles, they next have to be pulled from the Rules Committee to the Floor. Then they have to get called up for a vote before the next “house of origin” deadline set for March 8th. If a bill makes it over to the opposite chamber, it goes through the whole process again over there. A bills journey is arduous, from its origin as an idea, to the final step of being signed into law by the Governor. It needs cheerleaders and advocates pushing it along, encouraging it to not give up and reviving it with first aid when needed. And right now, a key affordable housing and homelessness priority needs some of that love.
The Washington Housing Opportunities Act (SHB 1570/Macri) will prevent the loss of over 62% of state homelessness dollars by eliminating the looming sunset on the Homeless Housing and Assistance Surcharge (commonly known as the document recording fee). It will also increase resources to prevent and end homelessness by providing counties with a new local option to increase the surcharge by as much as $50. If each county council takes up the opportunity, and if the state invests deeply in the Housing Trust Fund, Washington could end family homelessness in 3 years. We could also prevent any youth from being released from state care into homelessness and we could reduce chronic homelessness by at least 50%. This is a real, tangible solution to the suffering that so many will otherwise face. Our lawmakers can do it. SHB 1570 can pass this session. It is largely contingent on how much of a fuss we make. We need to raise our voices and push the bill through the next hurdle.
Please take action today to help end family homelessness! If you’ve taken this action already in the last couple of days, can you get three other people to do it too? Send them the link to the action page and tell them that their voice can truly make a significant difference.
Many lawmakers, both locally and at the state level, are asking why homelessness has increased in our state. They wonder if the resources they’ve already authorized are being wisely used and they want to know if they can reduce homelessness by investing more deeply in the Homeless Housing and Assistance Surcharge and in the Housing Trust Fund. These are all legitimate questions, so the Housing Alliance was happy when we were asked to address them before the Senate Ways and Means Committee on Thursday, February 16th.
Below are some of the key points we shared with the committee members. If you want more details you can watch the hearing here. You can also download our PowerPoint presentation and our briefing paper on the increase in homelessness.
- There is a great need for permanent, affordable housing in every community in our state. Homelessness is a crisis impacting many people. Homeless has serious consequences on a person’s health & safety, on their ability to obtain or maintain a job, and on a child’s ability to learn.
- Each January, every county conducts an annual “Point in Time” count. While counts were just conducted for 2017, we don’t yet have the results. We do know that in 2016 that 20,844 people were identified as experiencing homelessness and 8,474 of them were unsheltered.
- The annual “Out of Reach” report, conducted by the National Low Income Housing Coalition, finds that rents in most counties in Washington far exceed what a worker earning the state minimum wage of $11 can afford.
- And a 2015 study on Washington’s Affordable Housing Needs found that the majority of households who are earning less than 50% of the area-median Income are “cost-burdened” in our state. This means that they are paying more than they can afford housing, causing households to wrestle with impossible choices between paying the rent or paying for childcare, medicine or a doctor’s visit. This also leaves households at great risk of homelessness, with no safety net or savings for a rainy day.
- The State Office of the Superintendent (OSPI) recently reported that during the 2015-16 school year, 39,671 students experienced homelessness. Over 10,000 of those students were living in a temporary shelter, motel or in setting not fit for human habitation. 39,671 equals one in every 27 students in our state experiencing homeless during that school year. About half of them were grade 5 or younger. OSPI’s report also noted that the four-year graduation rate for homeless students in the class of 2016 was 53.2 percent; while for all students it was 79.1 percent. And that students of color experience much higher rates of homelessness than their white counterparts. 9.5% of African American students experiences homelessness.
- Housing costs have risen dramatically across the state, while incomes are not keeping up. And rent increases are directly correlated with homelessness. A recent study in the Journal of Urban Affairs found that for each every $100 increase in rent, that there was a 15% increase in homelessness in metro areas and a 39% increase in homelessness in suburban & rural areas.
- While the drivers of homelessness continue to include mental illness and chemical dependency, the main cause of homelessness is the lack of affordable homes.
- The underlying reason Washington has seen an increase in homelessness is that housing has become increasingly unaffordable, while wages are stagnant and too many are living in poverty.
- Our state has already been investing in solutions that work. While homelessness has been rising in recent years, it has still decreased by 18% since 2006, after the Homeless Housing and Assistance act was passed.
- Currently, 98,000 people each year are not homeless because of services funded by the Homeless Housing and Assistance surcharge.
- But our state can and should do more. Specifically we need to invest $200 million this biennium in the State Housing Trust Fund and pass SHB 1570.
Ask a Lobbyist!
Many people are wondering why some bills have to go through both a policy and a fiscal committee, and what “NTIB” means. Since these questions directly pertain to SHB 1570/Macri, the Washington Housing Opportunities Act, these are good ones to start this new column off with.
Bills that have both a policy and fiscal impact will often have to go through two committees before being able to reach the Rules Committee (the final step before the floor). If the fiscal impact of the bill is considered insignificant, usually meaning under $50,000, then it usually will be allowed to skip the fiscal committee and head straight to Rules after passing the policy committee. If a bill’s primary purpose relates to the budget, it will often skip policy committees and go straight to the fiscal committee. The session cutoff calendar sets deadlines for bills to clear all these steps. You can see all the cutoff dates here.
The Senate Ways & Means Committee deals with all fiscal related bills, expect those directly related to the Transportation budget (those go to Senate Transportation). The House has several different fiscal committees. House Finance deals with tax related bills, House Capital Budget considers all Capital Budget related matters, House Appropriations deals with all matters related the state’s Operating Budget and House Transportation deals with the Transportation Budget.
Bills that are considered “necessary to implement the budget” or NTIB for short, still have to go through the process, but they are exempt from the cutoffs. The state budget bills are the most obvious example of an NTIB bill. But other bills can also be considered NTIB if they are needed in order to finalize the budget. Whether or not the bill is needed is a matter of opinion and there is a fair amount of discretion that leadership can wield with this designation. Declaring something NTIB inherently signals that the bill is important to leadership. Many bills that could impact the budget are not given this designation and it is a status not given lightly. If the other chamber doesn’t also consider a bill NTIB, it may still have to get over there in time to adhere to their deadlines.
SHB 1570/Macri is considered by House leadership to be NTIB because it impacts the Department of Commerce’s budget. Therefore, if the bill doesn’t move along by the cutoff deadlines, it doesn’t mean that it is dead. It is scheduled for a hearing this week, Thursday February 23rd in the House Appropriations Committee but likely won’t be brought up for a vote until the next week or so.
Thank you for all you do,