EVERYONE should have the opportunity to live in a safe, healthy, affordable home. Find out what state candidates are doing to make that a reality, then vote for those willing to take leadership in solving the affordable housing shortage and growing homelessness.
Last year, more than 30,000 homeless children attended Washington public schools. During a three-hour period in January, volunteers counted 3,123 homeless people in King County living in the cold without shelter.
Many more are now just a crisis away from homelessness. About 166,000 of the poorest Washington households are spending more than half their income for rent, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition’s analysis of census data. Those families, seniors, veterans and others are making impossible choices about what to forego to keep a roof over their heads — like healthy food, quality child care or needed medicine.
These issues exist on both sides of the mountains, in urban and rural areas, in red and blue districts. The affordable-housing crisis and growing homelessness, especially among children, should be a bipartisan issue that the entire Legislature can work on together.
That hasn’t been the case though.
Historically, the state invests in affordable homes through the Housing Trust Fund in the capital budget. The Housing Trust Fund has created homes for low-wage workers, families, seniors, people with developmental disabilities and more. It’s created homes for people leaving homelessness and helped low-income families purchase their first home.
Last year, the Legislature failed to pass a capital budget, so the state lost out on the opportunity to expand the supply of affordable homes. Voters should elect candidates who support a robust investment in building and preserving affordable homes.
The state also funds critical safety-net services, like the Housing and Essential Needs program and services helping people with severe mental illness and chronic health conditions.
These services save money in the long run by keeping people housed and out of emergency rooms. The public is better off when people get the help they need to stay healthy and housed, and voters should support candidates who would make this a priority.
More than half of all households in Seattle are renters, and rapidly increasing rents have been the subject of much debate. Even if the city wanted to slow the rate of increases, state law prohibits local governments from limiting rent increases.
Renters also face unfair and unnecessary barriers to housing, including eviction proceedings that show up on their screening reports even if they prevailed in court.
Another barrier is having to pay repeated screening fees for the same information to multiple landlords while searching for a rental home. Lastly, if a potential tenant has a housing subsidy, in most cities across the state, landlords can refuse to rent to them, based on that fact alone. Voters should support candidates who prioritize expanding renters’ rights.
Even though homeownership rates have dropped in the last decade, for many owning a home is still a part of the American dream and a way for families to build wealth for their future. This can be especially important for low-income households, disproportionately people of color, who often have not inherited generational wealth.
Rising home prices and tighter credit restrictions mean fewer families have the option of owning a home. Also, more than 12 percent of homeowners in King County owe more than their home is worth.
Voters should support candidates who would prioritize innovative programs that help underwater homeowners and who would support down-payment assistance programs and community land trusts, which create permanently affordable homes.
The Legislature is dealing with court orders to invest billions in K-12 education. It must respond to another court decision prohibiting psychiatric boarding either by turning mentally ill people away from hospitals or funding more inpatient beds.
Lawmakers can’t balance so many priorities without new revenue. So, vote for candidates who would make bold and necessary choices to close tax loopholes and reform our tax system, the most regressive in the nation.
Rachael Myers is the Washington Housing Alliance Action Fund executive director, a statewide advocacy organization.