If passed, the Washington state Housing Opportunities Act would allow counties to increase the document-recording fee by up to $50, funding to to pay for emergency shelters, rapid rehousing and permanent supportive housing.
WE can all agree that where we live matters — where we live shapes our lives and our health. When our homes are in safe neighborhoods with sidewalks and near parks, exercise is easier. But when housing is too expensive, it makes it harder to afford to eat well, see a doctor, or for kids to fully participate in school — and all that harms health and the prospect of a better life.
During the special session, the state Legislature can create more safe and healthy homes that families can afford, as well as protect and expand funding to address homelessness. If the Legislature doesn’t act, more than 60 percent of Washington’s homelessness funding will vanish in 2019.
As President Barack Obama’s point person on homelessness from 2009-2014, I led the 2010 launch of Opening Doors — the first federal strategic plan to prevent and end homelessness. With strong federal investment and partnership at state and local levels, nationally we’ve reduced veteran homelessness by 47 percent, and chronic and family homelessness by 27 percent and 23 percent, respectively. To end homelessness, we need strong public-private partnerships that marshal existing resources and invest new resources to ensure all families, youth and individuals have stable homes.
President Obama requested the resources necessary to achieve the goals of Opening Doors to Congress. Yet Congress did not fully approve these proposals and the progress on ending family, youth and chronic homelessness suffered. Even more devastating, the budget put forth by President Donald Trump threatens progress even further by proposing massive cuts to the Department of Housing and Urban Development ($6.2 billion in cuts eliminating the HOME program and other community development programs).
Regardless of what happens at the federal level, the state of Washington has an opportunity to advance this work. According to analysis by the state Department of Commerce, a modest increase in the document-recording fee, coupled with new Housing Trust Fund investments, would enable Washington to end family homelessness, cut chronic homelessness by one-half, and ensure that no youth exits a public institution into homelessness.
Washington is a national leader with one of the most successful state Housing Trust Funds. With 40-year affordability requirements, homes built through the Housing Trust Fund provide rental and homeownership opportunities for seniors, families with children, veterans and people with disabilities. State investments in the Housing Trust Fund leverage local, federal and private resources so that every dollar invested attracts four additional dollars.
If passed, House Bill 1570 — the Washington Housing Opportunities Act — would allow counties to increase the document-recording fee by up to $50, and eliminate a sunset in current law. Funds generated by this fee pay for emergency shelters, rapid rehousing and permanent supportive housing — all of which are critical to ending homelessness. Unless the sunset is removed, more than 60 percent of Washington’s homelessness funding will be eliminated in 2019 — and that would be a disaster. Avoiding that scenario is a start; but more resources are necessary for real progress on ending homelessness statewide.
The investments Washington has made are working. Since 2010, across the state, family homelessness has been reduced by 37 percent — better than the national average — and overall homelessness by 9 percent. These positive trends suggest that if Washington state invests deeper it can accelerate progress. During the special session, the Legislature should invest $200 million in the Housing Trust Fund and pass HB 1570. Washington, like every other state in the era of the Trump administration, will have to rely on its own resourcefulness to solve homelessness and to ensure that every child grows up in place where a good life is possible.