Olympia was a whirlwind of activity for affordable housing and homelessness issues last week. The Housing Alliance’s Fair Tenant Screening bills made significant progress in the Senate, while the House hosted a dramatic debate before passing SHB 2048 and sending it to the Senate. This bill will fill a shortfall in revenue for homelessness related programs with modest fees on real estate related documents.
Unprecedented Progress for Tenant Screening Bills
Although “unprecedented” risks sounding like an overstatement, it is important to remember that fixes to tenant screening issues have been stalled for years in the legislature. And last week, when SSB 6315 by Senator Frockt cleared the floor of the Senate with a unanimous vote, advocates finally saw their tenacious persistence begin to pay off. The unanimous vote on the Senate floor reflects a deft compromise with lobbyists for tenant screening companies. The bill requires that the criteria a landlord uses to determine tenancy must be given to applicants and it also requires adverse action notices stating the reason for denial of tenancy. It also asks stakeholders to sit down during the interim to examine how to make portability work in Washington State. Important DV protections were taken out of the bill, but we hope that these can either be added back in this session or be a key factor for the stakeholder group to resolve.
Senator Kohl-Welles’s tenant screening bill also made progress last week when it cleared the Rules Committee on Saturday and was passed to the Senate floor for a vote. This bill - SSB 6321 - needs to be voted on by 5:00 PM Tuesday in order to remain viable. If passed, it will no longer be legal for landlords to choose not to rent to a tenant because they prevailed in eviction court. Right now, tenants who are wrongly named in a eviction lawsuit, who win on the merits of their case or who were victims of their landlord’s foreclosure all get a mark on their record that significantly limits their future housing opportunities. While SSB 6321 started out regulating tenant screening companies, the amended form – authored by Senator Pflug – offers a reasonable compromise that will significantly improve the situation currently faced by many thousands of Washington’s tenants.
Although there are many hurdles left that can sidetrack these bills, the progress made on tenant screening issues is already historic.
Expect the Budget Negotiations to Heat Up
While closed-door negotiations continued last week on the capital bonds jobs packages (which includes the only chance for an allocation for the Housing Trust Fund this year), it is expected that both this and the budget will become a little more public after the formal revenue forecast on Thursday. If the forecast shows that previous predictions were fairly accurate, then it is expected that the House will unveil a budget proposal by the end of the week. This will show us where we stand on the Housing and Essential Needs Program, which the Governor eliminated in her last budget proposal.
The Housing Alliance hosted a budget and revenue webinar last Tuesday with Andy Nicholas from the Budget & Policy Center. Andy explained the status of our current budget deficit and laid out the revenue options we should push for to save critical public dollars for safety net programs and services. If you missed it, we highly recommend listening to the recording.