State lawmakers appear poised to make historic investments in emergency and affordable housing to help reverse homelessness.
As House and Senate leaders enter capital budget negotiations, they should protect strong allocations from being eroded by competing priorities. The urgent need and the windfall revenues anticipated by the state make this the perfect time to support local governments and housing authorities to quickly set up shelters, transitional and permanent support houses.
Homelessness is a statewide problem that has worsened during the pandemic. Last session, local government leaders and housing advocates called on state lawmakers to help buy properties for quick conversion into shelters, transitional housing or permanent supportive housing. They said that with $400 million from the state government for such “rapid housing”, they could quickly house more than 2,600 people. But the lawmaker ignored the request.
Since, Continued elected officials, housing advocates, business and community leaders joined the call under the umbrella of the Washington House coalition. More than 100 members of this ideologically and geographically diverse group signed a letter on January 11 asking lawmakers to make chronic homelessness and affordable housing a top priority during this short session.
“If we’re ever going to solve it, it has to be done collaboratively,” Tacoma Mayor Victoria Woodards said in an interview at the time. “The time has come.”
The draft budget proposals are promising. The proposed additional capital budget of the House spends 400 million dollars for Rapid Housing and includes an additional $101.5 million for the Housing Trust Fund, which provides loans and grants to affordable housing projects. An additional $72 million would fund crisis stabilization facilities to provide acute care for people with acute mental or behavioral health needs.
It’s an even more generous proposal than Governor Jay Inslee’s opening proposal, which included $335 million for rapid housing, $101.5 million for the housing trust fund and $72 million for the stabilization of the crisis. The Senate’s supplementary capital budget proposal came just before the governor’s request.
As budget negotiators set the final numbers, they should keep their eyes on the ceiling, not the floor represented by the three proposals. They must remember that they are dealing with more than dollars, but with people’s lives.
Homelessness is complex, but housing is an essential piece of the puzzle. Local governments need resources to create supportive housing and shelters.