State lawmakers appear poised to make historic investments in emergency and affordable housing to help turn the tide of homelessness.

As House and Senate leaders enter capital budget negotiations, they should protect robust earmarks from erosion by competing priorities. The urgent need and the state’s projected revenue windfall make this the perfect time to help local governments and housing authorities quickly stand up shelter, transitional and permanent supportive homes. 

Homelessness is a statewide problem that has worsened during the pandemic. Last session, local government leaders and housing advocates asked state lawmakers to help them purchase properties for quick conversion to shelters, transitional housing or permanent supportive housing. They said that with $400 million from the state government for such “rapid housing” they could quickly shelter more than 2,600 people. But the Legislature ignored the request.

Since then, more elected officials, housing advocates, business and community leaders have joined the call under the umbrella of the House Washington coalition. More than 100 members of this ideologically and geographically diverse group signed a Jan. 11 letter asking legislators to make chronic homelessness and affordable housing a top priority in this short session.

“If we’re ever going to solve it, it’s got to be done collaboratively,” Tacoma Mayor Victoria Woodards said then in an interview. “Now is the time.”

Draft budget proposals are promising. The House draft supplemental capital budget earmarks $400 million 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 short-term care for people with acute mental or behavioral health needs.

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It’s an even more generous proposal than Gov. Jay Inslee’s opening proposal, which included $335 million for rapid housing, $101.5 million for the housing trust fund and $72 million for crisis stabilization. The Senate draft supplemental capital budget came in just shy of the governor’s request.

As budget negotiators hammer out final figures, they should keep their eyes on the ceiling, not the floor represented by the three proposals. They must remember they are dealing with more than dollars, but people’s lives.

Homelessness is complex, but housing is a critical piece of the puzzle. Local governments need resources to create supportive housing and shelter space.