A lack of affordable housing has complicated the fight to end homelessness in large and small communities around the state.
So it makes sense for state lawmakers to step in to help. Gov. Jay Inslee’s $800 million budget proposal is a good place to start the conversation.
The governor’s supplemental budget package, announced last week, includes targeted investments in proven programs that promote housing stability, as well as funds for shelter and permanent housing and expansion of behavioral health services.
In explaining his proposal, the governor credited a “critical mass of public attention” to the wretched conditions in many encampments, where people live without basic services, vulnerable to crime, exploitation and the elements.
“It’s just not right to leave people living in the rain,” Inslee said.
His request for increased funding for the landlord-mitigation program and utilities payments will help keep more Washingtonians in shelter. Funds for enhanced emergency shelters, tiny homes and permanent supportive housing for low-income and very-low-income residents will help bring more people inside.
This is timely assistance. Local governments need resources if they hope to stand up sufficient supportive housing and shelter, where they can begin to help remove barriers to long-term stability like substance use, mental health, job skills and other needs.
Last spring, leaders of local governments including King County Executive Dow Constantine, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan and mayors of Bellingham, Bremerton, Everett, Kirkland, Olympia, Spokane, Tacoma, Tumwater and Vancouver asked state leaders to earmark American Rescue Plan dollars for just this purpose. By their estimates, local funds buttressed by a $400 million state investment could shelter more than 2,600 people. State lawmakers failed to come through.
Legislators have an opportunity to fix their mistake when they convene next month. They should take it. The governor is right: there is a growing consternation among Washington residents over the persistence of this problem despite years of efforts to stem the rising tide.
Inslee’s proposal suggests a state law change bound to be controversial, especially among local government officials statewide. The proposal would force larger cities to zone for greater housing density within a half mile of major transit stops.
Regardless, lawmakers should muster more resources to help bring their fellow residents out of homelessness and into housing stability.