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Jamala Henderson, Communications Specialist, Washington Low Income Housing Alliance, firstname.lastname@example.org
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Rachael Myers, Executive Director, Washington Low Income Housing Alliance, email@example.com
Advocates for affordable housing and solutions to homelessness applaud progress made during 2020 legislative session
When the 2020 legislative session ended yesterday, it marked the third year in a row of state lawmakers taking major steps to ensure that more people in Washington have safe, affordable places to live.
Every year, the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance develops a set of policy priorities to expand housing opportunities for low-income Washingtonians. All but one of those priorities passed this year, as well several other important affordable housing bills.
According to Housing Alliance Executive Director, Rachael Myers, “We have much more to do to end homelessness and make housing more affordable for low-income households, but legislators took important steps this year. We applaud them for that, especially in light of unprecedented public health fears and fear about the economic impact that could have.”
Overall, affordable housing and homelessness resources included in the final budgets totaled 173.8 million. Important highlights include:
- $40 million for the Housing Trust Fund to build affordable homes. The majority of homes built by the Housing Trust Fund serve extremely low-income households. According to a report released earlier this week by the National Low Income Housing Coalition, there are just 31 homes affordable and available in Washington State for every 100 households at that income level. While still an enormous gap, that’s better than last year’s 29. The improvement is likely due to state and local investments in affordable homes.
- $10 million to rapidly preserve currently affordable homes that are at risk of losing affordability requirements. Over 5,000 affordable homes across the state are at risk of losing their affordability and that number grows significantly over the next ten years if nothing is done to prevent it.
- $15 million to increase the Housing and Essential Needs rental assistance program for disabled adults.
- $15 million for operations and maintenance of permanent supportive housing. Permanent supportive housing is a critical part of the solution to homelessness, housing people with significant behavioral and physical health needs.
- $68 million for shelter for people experiencing homelessness.
The House’s original budget proposal included $60 million in capital funding for permanent supportive housing, which is not included in the final budget. While the final budget makes deep and important investments, especially in a supplemental budget year, permanent housing is ultimately the solution to unsheltered homelessness. Failing to invest in building permanent supportive housing is a missed opportunity.
The legislature also tapped the Budget Stabilization Account (“rainy day fund”) to respond to the COVID-19 outbreak. The Housing Alliance is currently calling on state leaders to ensure that adequate resources are available to make sure that everything possible is done to protect people experiencing homelessness who are extremely vulnerable to the virus. “We circulated a letter late Thursday afternoon calling for state action to provide the resources and training needed for homelessness service providers across the state, and within three hours more than 200 organizations had signed on. We appreciate that the state is responding rapidly to mitigate this crisis, but we fear that without a direct and specific focus on the needs of people experiencing homelessness, many of our most vulnerable neighbors will not get the care and protection they need,” said Rachael Myers.
Lawmakers also passed a host of bills that will increase housing affordability and help stem the tide of homelessness. A particular highlight is passage of House Bill 1590/ Doglio which gives cities and counties the ability to implement a local sales and use tax for affordable housing through a vote of local elected officials. The legislature created this option in 2015 but required a ballot measure, and only a handful of cities have been able to use it. HB 1590 will make implementing this option quicker and more efficient, and could result in nearly $150 million for affordable housing and behavioral health programs across the state.
According to Michele Thomas, Housing Alliance Director of Policy and Advocacy, “This is a truly historic session. Our state’s elected officials prioritized affordable housing and homelessness by passing many critical bills and by appropriating an unprecedented amount of dollars for housing in their final budgets. Many new affordable homes will be built, low-income tenants in rural communities will not be displaced, moving will be more affordable, and people with disabilities will be given new opportunities for rental assistance to prevent homelessness. And these protections and investments couldn’t be coming at a more critical time as tens of thousands of households across the state face unemployment at a time of sky-high rents. Affordable housing is the solution to homelessness and this session ensures that the state continues on the path towards meeting the needs of every low-income household in our state.”
Additional key bills impacting affordable housing and homelessness
EHB 1694/ Morgan: Requiring landlords to allow installment payment plans for deposits, last month's rent and nonrefundable fees, and capping holding fees to no more than 25% of first month’s rent.
SHB 2384/ Doglio: Modernizes and expands a property tax exemption for affordable housing providers. This will significantly help nonprofits who often run on modest budgets to provide the affordable homes our communities so urgently need.
SHB 2634/ Walen: Creating a Real Estate Excise Tax (REET) exemption when selling to an affordable housing provider who acquires the property for affordable housing. This will incentivize sales to affordable housing providers and give them a leg up when competing for increasingly scarce land for multifamily housing.
EHB 2797/ Robinson: Improvements to last year’s HB 1406 so that local jurisdictions can take full advantage of the state sales tax credit for affordable housing. 34 counties to date have implemented this option and many cities across the state have as well, resulting in tens of millions of dollars for affordable housing and rental assistance each year over the life of the tax credit.
ESSB 6378/ Kuderer: Makes improvements to last year’s eviction reform bill (SB 5600) including improvements to eviction notices so tenants are informed about resources and improvements to the court eviction process so that tenants can stop an eviction when they are able to access rental assistance.
HB 2535/ Kirby: Providing for a grace period before late fees may be imposed for past due rent and allowing disabled and elderly tenants receiving federal income assistance to request a rent due date more in line with the date that their monthly income arrives.
SHB 2343/ Fitzgibbon: This is a follow-up bill to last year's 1923 also by Representative Fitzgibbon which addressed barriers to building affordable housing, incentivized cities to create housing plans and more. Most significantly for affordable housing, HB 2343 lowers the transit frequency times required in order to prevent a local jurisdiction from requiring parking for affordable housing which is a significant and unnecessary cost drive to building affordable homes.
SHB 2456/ Callan: Expanding the homeless grace period for households accessing working connections child-care from four to twelve months in order to help them access employment, housing and services while their children are safe and high-quality childcare.SHB 2567/ Thai: Protecting access to courts for immigrant households by prohibiting warrantless, civil arrests inside court houses and by preventing judges, court staff and others from inquiring into or sharing citizenship status. This is critical in ensuring immigrant households can defend themselves in eviction lawsuits.
SHB 2441/ Entenman: Improving access to temporary assistance for needy families by adjusting when a family can be terminated from the program.
SHB 2607/ Callan: Improving access for youth and young adults experiencing homelessness to obtain a Washington state ID, including by expanding access for young adults aged 18 – 25 to qualify for reduced costs identicards.
SB 6229/ Kuderer: Streamlining reporting for recipients of housing-related state funding by removing Washington state quality award program requirements. This will reduce significant unnecessary and wasteful spending and staff time for nonprofits and local governments.
2SSB 6478/ Nguyen: Revising the TANF program to allow families to maintain benefits beyond the program time-limits if they are facing hardship, including homelessness.
These bills represent significant steps forward that will prevent and end homelessness for households across Washington State. The legislature missed the opportunity to make even more progress when they failed to pass HB 2453/Macri which would require landlords to have a legitimate business or behavioral reason to evict a tenant. Additionally, HB 2907/Macri and HB 2958/Springer did not pass and would have provided King County a new progressive revenue tool for addressing homelessness. Those efforts will come up again in a future legislative session.
The Washington Low Income Housing Alliance leads the movement to ensure that everyone in Washington has the opportunity to live in a safe, healthy, affordable home. Our members include 140+ organizations all across Washington and our online action network is made up of almost 10,000 individuals, including many people who have personally experience homelessness or housing instability.
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