The Week in Housing Advocacy - Week 1

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Michele Thomas, Director of Policy & Advocacy

Greetings and welcome to the first weekly roundup of the legislative session. Each week of this session, we’ll be posting a summary of how affordable housing and homeless issues fared in Olympia, as well as highlights for the current week. Our hope is to keep you informed and ready to advocate. With hundreds of issues competing for the attention of lawmakers, affordable housing and homelessness advocacy needs to be strategic and relentless. The Housing Alliance commits to bringing you the information and tools you need to advocate for change.

Take Advocacy Action

Take action today by calling the legislature’s toll free hotline at 1.800.562.6000 with this message for all of your lawmakers:

“Eliminate barriers to housing by supporting the Fair Tenant Screening Act that’s SB 5123 and HB 1257 and by investing $100 million in the Housing Trust Fund.”

Tenant Protection Legislation Updates

Fair Tenant Screening Act
SB 5123 (Frockt ) / HB 1257 (Walkinshaw)

The Fair Tenant Screening Act prevents tenants from paying for the same tenant screening report over and over again. The bill simply says that if a tenant provides a landlord access to a high quality tenant screening report and that it is no more than 30-days-old, the landlord cannot charge the tenant for another report.

Source of Income Discrimination Protections
(Bill Number TBA Kohl-Welles / Ormsby)

Everyone should have an equal opportunity to apply for housing, which is why Senator Jeanne Kohl-Welles (36th LD-Seattle) and Representative Timm Ormsby (3rd LD-Spokane) are introducing legislation to prohibit discrimination against otherwise eligible tenants based on their participation in a government assistance program.

This discrimination is referred to as “source of income” discrimination, and has been outlawed by many states including Oregon where new protections went into effect last July. Several local jurisdictions in our state already protect tenants including King County, Seattle, Bellevue, Redmond, and Kirkland. It’s time to bring this protection statewide, so renters have access to all communities, and no one is able to say, “You are not welcome. Do not apply.”

We need to eliminate this significant and grossly unfair barrier, especially since communities across our state are increasingly looking to the private, for-profit rental market to be a resource in ending homelessness. This is also important because the state has set-aside 45% of our state’s homeless dollars for rental assistance for the private, for-profit market.

Truth In Evictions Reporting Act
(Bill Number TBA Habib / Robinson)

The Truth In Evictions Reporting Act, which will be sponsored by Senator Cyrus Habib (48th LD-Kirkland) and Representative June Robinson (38th LD-Everett), will fix how evictions are reported.

Right now, all eviction filings are reported as equal despite the circumstances and despite the outcome. Eviction filings in which a tenant prevailed, negotiated with the landlord to settle the eviction lawsuit, or had their tenancy reinstated are all reported the same. All tenants who have an eviction filed against them have a significant mark on their record that closes many, many doors.

Court is supposed to be a place where justice can prevail, but even if a tenant wins the case, they lose many housing opportunities for years to come.

90-Day Notice for Rent Increases
And lastly, Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles is also introducing legislation that will give tenants more time to respond to rent increases. Right now, Washington State law allows landlords to raise the rent, or change any other rule, with a mere 30 days notice, no matter the magnitude of the rent increase. Tenants effectively have 10 days to decide if they can manage the rent increase or if they can move because tenants must give landlords 20 days notice to vacate. Households need more time to make decisions about major disruptions like a move and to save up moving costs, like first/last month’s rent and tenant screening fees.

Today is a day to celebrate the profound legacy of the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr. who fought for racial justice, an end to poverty, and an end to segregation in housing and public services. State policy and the state budget are either the tools of oppression or the path towards equality. And we at the Housing Alliance see a clear link between his work and our vision to expand access to affordable housing and to end homelessness. In his honor, we’d like to offer his words for reflection and inspiration. This is from a much larger speech on the Vietnam War delivered at the Riverside Church in New York, exactly one year before his murder: “True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.”

This session will likely be challenging, and we encourage you to look more into the history and legacy of leaders like Dr. King if ever things begin to feel too bleak or unwinnable.

The Week in Review

Monday, January 12 was the first day of this year’s legislative session, and we were busy making sure that affordable housing and homelessness priorities were on top of Olympia’s consciousness. We organized two work sessions to educate lawmakers. You can watch the video of each below. First was on Tuesday and focused on the deep connection between mental illness and housing instability. And next was on Thursday with a focus on homelessness among kids, youth, and young adults. Special thanks to our partners who made these work sessions a great success!

House Community Development, Housing & Tribal Affairs Committee - Tuesday, January 13

House Community Development, Housing & Tribal Affairs Committee - Thursday, January 15

In between the work sessions on Wednesday, we held a press conference and briefing on important tenant legislation. As more renters struggle under the burden of high rents, weak tenant protections, daunting moving expenses, outright discrimination, and denial of housing due to unfair eviction records, these bills offer solutions that will eliminate these barriers to housing stability. See the sidebar for an outline of the key tenant bills we are working to pass this year. Note, most bills will be assigned bill numbers this week, and one is already scheduled for a hearing.

The Budget

This long session also means lawmakers need to write the new two-year operating and capital budgets, which will go into effect on July 1, 2015. Although lawmakers are technically only given 105 days (until April 26) to finish their business, they can extend it with “special sessions” if they are unable to agree on a budget. July 1 is the more important deadline. If a budget isn’t enacted by then, the government would effectively need to shut down – a scenario that no one should want since it would gravely impact essential government functions and safety net services that low-income and vulnerable people in every community across the state rely on.

The main budget points of contention this session will be whether to enact new revenue or to make more cuts. Governor Jay Inslee released a bold budget plan in December that fully funded the Housing & Essential Needs/Blind, Aged & Disabled programs and SSI facilitation. It also allocated $100 million for affordable housing, including $75 million for the Housing Trust Fund. He was able to do this, while allocating increased funding for public education because he also proposed new revenue. The Housing Alliance supports the Governor’s proposed Capital Gains Tax and his Carbon Polluter’s Tax. The Carbon Polluter’s Tax bill creates a permanent funding stream for the Housing Trust Fund. It allocates $15.5 million in fiscal year 2017, $19.5 million in fiscal year 2018, and then $20 million each year after.

Some have asked the Housing Alliance if there will be a priority project list connected to the Housing Trust Fund allocation again this year. The way to win $100 million for the Housing Trust Fund without “a project list” or earmarks, is strategic and relentless advocacy that reaches lawmakers of all political persuasions.

Lastly, a quick update for our Medicaid Supportive Housing Services Benefit. This particular agenda item is no longer a legislative priority for the Housing Alliance...instead it is a budget priority! We are seeking a budget appropriation this session to fund this benefit. It was legally authorized in last session's SB 6312.

You can track both of our lead legislative and budget priorities at our Bill & Budget Tracker here.

Highlights for This Week

Even though this week begins the second week of the session, many bills are scheduled for hearings including key affordable housing and homelessness priorities. If you are in Olympia, plan on signing in “pro” on each of these bills, or plan on calling the state’s toll free hotline (1.800.562.6000) to ask lawmakers to support these bills:

Lastly, don’t forget to register for Homeless and Housing Advocacy Day, which will be in Olympia on Tuesday, February 17. This is the day to rally with hundreds of other advocates and to tell lawmakers that affordable housing and homelessness priorities need to be on the top of their agenda this year. 



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