The state Senate foolishly cut funding for a successful housing program that matches disabled adults with homeowners who want to rent out a room.
MARLON Fernandez owns a large, single-family home near the Bryn Mawr neighborhood in South Seattle where he and his family live. Through his experience as a veteran, immigrant from the Philippines, and a nurse at the VA hospital, he identifies with how difficult life can be for people from all walks of life.
Because of this, he started renting out the extra rooms to international students for additional income about a decade ago. When Mayor Ed Murray declared Seattle in a state of emergency due to homelessness, he felt that calling personally. That’s when Fernandez found the Housing and Essential Needs (HEN) program and decided to give it a try.
Currently, he rents to Ryan Lybarger, who became disabled at work as a tow-truck driver. With HEN’s rental assistance, Lybarger is able to recover from surgery in stable housing and make his doctor appointments using the bus pass HEN provides. He loves helping around the house and is looking forward to returning to work.
Because of this partnership, a man no longer is homeless and Fernandez earns income that helps pay his mortgage and support his family.
Every month, 1,000 landlords in King County receive state assistance to house their disabled tenants. The HEN program provides direct rent payments to landlords who verify that they are housing a disabled adult who has temporarily lost his income due to an injury, illness or medical condition. For the past five years, the program has received funding from the state to keep disabled adults in housing. About 3,500 people in King County were helped in the 2016 fiscal year. It is a successful homelessness-prevention program.
The proposed state Senate budget would eliminate the Housing and Essential Needs program and dissolve the successful partnership between landlords and disabled adults. Statewide, the program cost about $29 million for the 2016 state fiscal year.
This drastic cut ignores the program’s success and leaves landlords and tenants out in the cold. Landlords are occasionally depicted as uncaring villains only out to make a buck. Our experience shows that there are thousands of landlords, renting one or two units, who count on this monthly income to meet their bills. They are essentially small business owners, many of whom care about the people who live in their apartments.
Unless the Legislature acts to fully fund the HEN program, many small apartment owners will have to make horrific decisions about paying their utility bills or putting disabled adults out on the streets.
A cut to the HEN program harms taxpayers. Across the state, the program is able to stabilize an individual for less than $600 per month, per client; far less than if they were to enter into the homeless system, costing much more.
It also takes years to develop a comprehensive and trustworthy program for landlords to accept a client who may not have a perfect record. Forcing tenants to break leases from already gracious landlords is simply a poor business practice.
The HEN program provides practical support in the form of transportation, rent subsidies, and compassionate, client centered care. Our team works tirelessly to house people who are homeless, provide those about to lose their housing with stability and help clients get back to work through our employment services.
We all want healthy communities for everyone to live and thrive in. The Housing and Essential Needs program was created five years ago with this vision and is unique in the country in scope, size and success. The Legislature needs to hear that pulling basic resources from our most vulnerable members and creating more homelessness are not Washington state values.