Blogs

To Create More Affordable Homes in WA, Congress Should Expand the Housing Credit

Rachael Myers, Executive Director

On November 2, House Republicans released their tax plan, known as the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. The good news is, the bill preserves the Low Income Housing Tax Credit. The bad news is that it eliminates private activity bonds, putting at risk 2,088 affordable homes planned in Washington over the next two years.

Congress should expand and improve the Housing Credit. Every year, this credit finances the creation or preservation of almost 100,000 affordable homes across the country. And in the 30 years since the program started, it’s created nearly three million homes.

In Washington, the Housing Credit has created more than 78,000 affordable homes. Most developers using these tax credits are nonprofits, whose missions are to serve people living on low-incomes, or who are homeless, and other vulnerable members of our communities. In the more competitive part of the program, which offers deeper subsidies, nearly all developers are nonprofits. And our state’s rules prioritize targeting just over one-third of the funding to specific vulnerable populations, like seniors and people experiencing homelessness.

There are three bills in Congress that will improve the program, championed by several of Washington’s congressional members. The Senate bill, S. 548, is sponsored by Senator Maria Cantwell, and Senator Patty Murray joined as a co-sponsor last May. A bill In the House, H.R. 1661, has four Washington co-sponsors with bipartisan support: Representatives Dave Riechert, Pramila Jayapal, Suzan DelBene, and Derek Kilmer.

Both bills improve the program by creating incentives to serve homeless and extremely low-income families, encouraging the creation of homes in Native American communities, allowing for more mixed income development, and making the program more effective in rural communities. Senator Cantwell’s bill also expands the Housing Credit by 50%. Both bills have strong bi-partisan support.

Last week, Congresswoman Suzan DelBene and co-sponsors Pramila Jayapal and Adam Smith, announced the Access to Affordable Housing Act, which expands to Housing Credit by 50%.

The Housing Credit is key to ending homelessness in Washington, and it’s critical we get these bills passed.

Here’s how you can help:

Contact your members of Congress and tell them that increasing access to affordable homes and ending homelessness is a priority in your community and you’re counting on them to help expand and improve the Low Income Housing Tax Credit program and reject the elimination of the private activity bonds in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. Thank Senator Cantwell for her strong leadership on S. 548. Thanks Senator Murray for co-sponsoring the bill and for her longstanding leadership to protect services for people with low-incomes. If your Representative is a co-sponsor for H.R. 1661 or the Access to Affordable Housing Act, thank them. If not, ask them to sign on.

In your message, it’s helpful to tell them a little bit about why this is important to you. If you or someone close to you has experienced homelessness or housing instability, or if you work with people who are struggling to afford a home, sharing your personal story can make your message stand out.

Find out who represents you in Congress at this link

 

Senator Cantwell photo by Natalie Behring/The Columbian

Guest Post: Why I ran for Seattle City Council

ChrisTiana ObeySumner, Affordable Housing and Homelessness Advocate

November 9, the day after the 2016 general election, re-ignited something within my soul. A drive for justice, equity, and bringing the voices of those who are most affected by the failures in our system to the forefront.

When I was a child, I was always standing up for what was right. I stood up to bullies when they picked on others, often taking the brunt of the violence myself. I spoke out against perpetuation of harmful rhetoric and stereotypes in the classroom. And, I have organized rallies in response to problematic behavior within school administration. I always wanted to be the President of the United States, but like many other children of color, I was cautioned that--while the dream is possible--it had never been achieved before.

That is, until 2008, when President Barack Obama was elected. By that time, I had already begun my career journey into psychology and social services.

These are the foundations that led me to run for the Seattle City Council Vacancy in early October 2017. After five years of direct service in housing and homelessness services, I saw first-hand the failures in the housing system. I saw how the conversations were siloed between homelessness and “anti-poverty,” when the issues are inextricably intertwined. I saw the effects of the nonprofit-industrial complex, and how it was adding to the barriers already in place to getting tax-credit or income-based housing. I saw a lack of intersectionality in the conversations. There were discussions on how gender, race, ability, and sexual orientation each played a part in homelessness or housing instability, but nothing about the unique circumstances that may befall, say, a queer, disabled, femme-presenting AfroLatina.

My aforementioned identity also intersects with my own experience of chronic homelessness for over 17 years of my life. I first became homeless at eight-years-old when my mother was fleeing domestic violence. I’ve experienced the gamut of housing instability and homelessness: sleeping in motels, cars, friends and families homes, at workplaces, and outside. We’ve experienced being priced out, having our home sold from under us, and being asked to leave by others who took us in for a variety of reasons. We survived the predators and pitfalls that creep in when two young women, (or at one time, a mother and a mentally ill teenager separately,) do not have the safety and security of housing. Most importantly, I have seen how integrated homelessness and housing instability truly is. In fact, I believe it is a symptom of a host of other injustices experienced by anyone at any given time: economic injustice, racial injustice, gender injustice, criminal injustice, environmental injustice, labor injustice, the list can go on and on. It has been my own lived experience, my 10+ years of civic engagement and social justice organizing, as well as my training through the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance, has shaped me into an ally for all people facing realities that are traumatizing and painful.

It was actually Alouise (now former organizer at the Housing Alliance) who suggested I run. Advocate Nancy Amidei had the idea to elevate housing instability as an issue by having an EAP graduate throw their name in the hat, so Alouise sent me a note. She assured me that the combination of my professional and personal experience with housing instability and homelessness would make for some powerful testimony, even though it was not expected by any of us that I would do so well.

The night of the candidate forum, I was nervous. I was up against 13 other people who also wanted to get their passions out in public. But once I started answering the questions, I realized that I was getting snaps and applause! Many folks have asked me how I prepared for that night, and the truth is that I spoke from my heart, and allowed it to guide me throughout the event. At the end, those who watched the forum were asked to vote for who they wanted to see appointed to the position, and I came in second--even beating out former council member Nick Licata!

Even though I didn’t win, it did open my eyes to world I didn’t think I was qualified to enter. As a result, I am in the process of changing my career from direct service to legislative advocacy and social organizing. It wasn’t just something I did, it was transformative and has shifted my path towards the meso/macro level of change-agency.

If I had to give any advice, it would be to refuse to allow the internalized stigmas of our past to hinder the progress we can make in our present, or dictate the successes we can achieve in the future. It was difficult for me to do something so large and public, to allow myself to be raw and tender with the populace of Seattle. Honestly, there were several moments during the ten-day process that I broke down with anxiety and fear. That said, I am so glad I allowed myself to exercise the courage needed to grow into who I am today.

And this is only the beginning. You haven’t seen the last of me fighting to address the inequities in Seattle, King County, Washington State… or maybe even in the USA. Stay tuned!

 

Just Housing: A small group with big wins in Thurston County

Reiny Cohen, Director of Communications

Hi! We’re trying something new here at our blog, and I hope you like it. We want to start using this space to highlight some of the great work that organizations are doing around the state to combat homelessness, and grow the movement for safe, healthy, affordable homes for everyone in Washington. And for this first installment, we’re looking at Thurston County.

Recently, I had the privilege of talking with Tye Gundel of Just Housing. Have you heard of Just Housing? It’s a small, scrappy, grassroots organization moving mountains with their work. And a few weeks ago they organized an incredible win – by crushing legislation that would’ve made surviving outside illegal in Lacey, WA.


25 people lined up to testify against Lacey's plan to criminalize homelessness

Each person who testified presented a flower to the councilmembers. The flowers were in honor of one of their unsheltered neighbors who said "We are all flowers honey. I may be old, but even I still bloom every morning." 

First, a little backstory: Just Housing is an all volunteer organization co-founded by Tye Gundel and Renata Rollins. Formed in May of 2016, Just Housing combats the laws in Olympia and Thurston County that make surviving outside and experiencing homelessness illegal. With the help of dozens of organizers - including people with direct experience of housing instability and homelessness - social service providers, progressive organizations, and even a few elected officials at their side, Just Housing has become a force to be reckoned with. They’ve increased access to 24 hour restrooms for people surviving outside, opened and ran emergency shelter last October, stopped people and their belongings from being swept by police, and are on a mission to overturn sit/lie and camping bans in Olympia. And while their work is often focused in the city limits of Olympia, they actually serve three jurisdictions in Thurston County.

When word got out that Lacey City Council was trying to quietly pass a new law criminalizing homelessness at their meeting on July 28, 2017, Just Housing sprang into action. With just two days notice they activated their 400 person email list, called volunteers, arranged carpools, and organized more than 30 people - a large majority of the overall turnout - to overwhelm that city council meeting. When the council saw more than 25 people lined up out the door to speak on the issue, they removed the vote from their agenda and opened up the meeting for public comment. Everyone who showed up to testify brought with them a flower, and attached to it the name of someone who was currently experiencing homelessness, or who had died trying to survive outside. They handed these flowers, one by one, to the council members as they each gave their public comment. The flowers were in honor of one of their unsheltered neighbors who said "We are all flowers honey. I may be old, but even I still bloom every morning." 

It was a powerful display of community organizing, and a centering of the voices and experiences of people who are surviving outside. The Lacey City Council listened, and has tabled this conversation for the time being.

But there is still significant work to be done. Mayor Andy Ryder of Lacey has said their legislation was modeled after what they see as success in Olympia - a city that has unapologetically criminalized homelessness for years. In Olympia, it is illegal to be outside – camping, sitting, or lying down in public spaces. There is inadequate shelter for the number of people who need it and Olympia city government lacks the political will to expand capacity. So where do folks go if they can’t sit, lie, or camp while trying to survive outside? Tye Gundel says “In Olympia, sometimes jail is the most accessible form of housing we have.”

With their current campaign, Legalize Survival, Just Housing is doing significant work to roll back the laws that are harming people who have no choice but to live outside. Every Tuesday, Just Housing shows up at the Olympia City Council meetings, where volunteers testify about what it means to have to live outside. After public comment closes, they hold a Street Assembly on the sidewalk, and folks who have historically been locked out of the conversation have a chance to be heard. Then, 20-30 people camp out on the sidewalk in protest of the no camping laws.

   

If you'd like to read more about Just Housing in the media, check out these articles about their public actions: Protesting an eviction, organizing in Olympia, and gaining bathroom access

If you want to join them on Tuesdays for their city council action, or learn more about what Just Housing does, visit their facebook page. Follow hashtags #LegalizeSurvival and #JustHousing. They also have a fundraising page here. All funds go to survival supplies and legal fees

Join the Just Housing email list by contacting justhousingoly@gmail.com

And for tips on how to legalize survival in your area, check out our Toolkit to Combat the Criminalization of Homelessness.

Housing Alliance statement of support for Seattle’s proposed Fair Chance Housing Ordinance

Washington Low Income Housing Alliance

Legislation pending before the Seattle City Council aims to eliminate a significant barrier to housing by prohibiting landlords from denying housing based on an applicant’s involvement with the criminal justice system. The Fair Chance Housing Ordinance, introduced by Mayor Murray and sponsored by Councilmember Herbold, could be a game-changer that would address a central factor causing disproportionate experiences of homelessness among communities of color, especially among African Americans. The Housing Alliance supports the proposed ordinance, and urges the council to eliminate the two-year look-back period and to eliminate the exemption of four-plexes.

Here is what the legislation does:

Council Bill (CB) 119015, referred to as Fair Chance Housing, would prevent a landlord from using an applicant’s criminal history to deny tenancy, except in limited situations and only if the landlord provides a legitimate business reason for doing so. The bill makes it illegal for a landlord to deny housing based on a tenant’s criminal record. There are several exemptions in the current bill. Landlords would be able to deny tenancy to adults who are registered sex offenders if the landlord provides a legitimate business reason for the denial. The current bill also allows a landlord to consider conviction records within two years of the date of application. Finally, the bill exempts shared occupancy units (including mother-in-laws) if the landlord lives on site, and also buildings with four or fewer living units if the owner lives in one of the units. There is an amendment to remove the two year look-back period and the exemption for four-plexes. The bill does not change federal laws that require federally funded housing to deny tenancy to tenants convicted of certain crimes.

Why does the Housing Alliance support Fair Chance Housing?

The Housing Alliance and our members have worked for many years to eliminate the unfair barriers to housing that are created by the increased use of tenant screening reports. We have changed state law to regulate tenant screening reports to protect survivors of domestic violence, require that tenants be given a copy of the report, require an adverse action notice when tenants are denied housing, and we have limited the reporting of eviction records. However, significant barriers remain, including the use of criminal records to deny housing. Four in five landlords[1] have blanket policies that deny housing to applicants with a criminal record. This practice has significant and disproportionate impacts on communities of color, especially African American communities.

The Seattle Office for Civil Rights explained the nexus between the proposed ordinance and racial equity in a May 2017 briefing to council, “Racial equity is central to the issue of fair chance housing. People of color face compounding effects of criminal records due to racial bias in tenant selection as well as racial disparities in the criminal justice system. In 2014, 64% of OCR’s fair housing tests found incidents of different treatment based on race. In some cases, African Americans were told they would have to undergo a criminal record check when similarly situated white counterparts were not.”[2]

The Office for Civil Rights further explained, “In Washington state, African Americans are 3.4% of the overall population, but account for nearly 18.4% of the state's prison population; Latinos are 11.2% of Washington's population, but account for 13.2% of the state’s prison population; and Native Americans are 1.3% of the state population, but account for 4.7% of the state's prison population.”

An analysis by the Washington State Department of Social and Health Service’s, Rehabilitation Administration explains the impact on youth of color, “Because youth of color disproportionately enter and move through the juvenile justice system in Washington state, youth of color are disproportionately affected by the collateral consequences of the involvement with the system. Youth who transition out of secure confinement encounter substantial challenges in gaining employment, finding housing; getting an education and accessing medical and mental health care.”[3]

Racial equity is a key reason that the Housing Alliance supports the proposed ordinance. The ordinance also creates an opportunity to expand by legislation a central premise of the successful, yet too rarely utilized, housing first approach to tenant selection. Housing first is an access-to-housing model that approaches housing as a fundamental necessity, not as an award for “good behavior”. It recognizes housing to be a foundation that creates a pathway to successful outcomes on health, employment, family unification, and overall success. A central premise of housing first is to not deny housing based on previous involvement with the criminal justice system. But this model has only been adopted by some stellar nonprofit housing providers, while the private market regularly denies housing to applicants with a criminal record. The proposed will ordinance will change this.

Additionally, eliminating this barrier to housing is key to ending homelessness and to addressing the disproportionate experiences of homelessness faced by communities of color. Currently in Washington, 44% of people released from State Department of Corrections Facilities will become homeless within the first year of release.[4] Nationally, approximately 15% of jail inmates had been homeless in the year prior to their incarceration, and 54% of homeless individuals report spending time in a correctional facility at some point in their lives[5].

Fair Chance Housing is model legislation that will address a root cause of homelessness and a key factor causing the disproportionate experiences of homelessness by communities of color. The Housing Alliance fully supports this legislation and urges our members and advocates join us.

Want to learn more about this ordinance and this issue? Here's some great sources

Seattle City Council Public Hearing and Overview of CB 119015

SOCR memo to Seattle City Council’s Civil Rights, Utilities, Economic Development, and Arts Committee on Fair Chance Housing stake-holder process.

Washington State Department of Social and Health Service’s, Rehabilitation Administration on racial and ethnic disparities in the Washington State juvenile justice system.

U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Office of General Counsel Guidance on Application of Fair Housing Act Standards to the Use of Criminal Records by Providers of Housing and Real Estate-Related Transactions

The Sentencing Project, Criminal Justice Facts

Tenant Screening in an Era of Mass Incarceration. New York University Journal of Legislation & Public Policy Quorum: 1-109

Housing Alliance toolkit to combat the criminalization of homelessness
 

 


[1] David Thacher, The Rise of Criminal Background Screening in Rental Housing, Law & Social Inquiry 33 (1) (2008): 5, 12. (Single-family rental firms also commonly screen tenants based on criminal history, and, in some cases, applicants can be turned away based on a criminal conviction). See, for example, Invitation Homes Rentals, “Resident Selection Criteria,” available at http:// invitationhomesrentals.com/ Chicagorentalcriteria11.2012.pdf/ (last accessed Nov. 2014).

[2] https://seattle.legistar.com/View.ashx?M=F&ID=5178580&GUID=A4707322-6B9B...

[3] https://www.dshs.wa.gov/ra/office-juvenile-justice/red-racial-ethnic-dis...

[4] The Housing Status of Individuals Leaving Institutions and Out-of-Home Care: A Summary of Findings from Washington State Melissa Ford Shah, MPP • Barbara Felver, MPA, MES. Washington State Department of Social and Health Services Research and Data Analysis Division, Report Number 11.200
https://www.dshs.wa.gov/sites/default/files/SESA/rda/documents/research-...

[5] National Health Care for the Homeless Council Criminal Justice, Homelessness & Health. 2012 Policy Statement
http://www.nhchc.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/Criminal-Justice-2012.pdf

An Extremely Disappointing Legislative Session

Michele Thomas, Director of Policy and Advocacy

There’s no way to sugar coat this, so I’m not going to. We are extremely disappointed in the lack of progress on solutions to the affordable housing and homelessness crisis.

Virtually everyone in Washington agrees that homelessness is a crisis and more needs to be done. And the Washington State Legislature had very real opportunities this year to take action. They could have implemented reasonable policy solutions and made modest budget investments that would bring an end to family homelessness, ensure that no youth leaves state care into homelessness, and reduce long-term homelessness experienced by people with disabilities by 50-percent. Unfortunately, the session is ending without that policy, without source of income discrimination protections for low-income tenants, and without the investments needed to move our state forward. 

Special interests, including for-profit builder, realtor, and landlord lobbyists played politics with homelessness, gambling with the life or death services that keep a roof over a family’s head. We are thankful that House budget negotiators drew a strong line against cuts to life-saving services like the Housing and Essential Needs, and Aged, Blind, and Disabled programs. Neither the Senate’s proposed cut of 80% to rental assistance for people with disabilities nor the lifetime cap on cash assistance for extremely poor and disabled adults are in the final budget agreement, and for that we are pleased and relieved. Further, many bad policy bills were defeated that would have eliminated tenant protections, criminalized homelessness, prevented the implementation of the Medicaid Transformation Demonstration and more. It would have been devastating to go backwards at a time when homelessness is increasing across the state. Both the Governor and the House Democrats introduced budgets with new investments to the safety-net that would have significantly helped people move out of homelessness or helped them stay in their homes. But with the final budget lacking these proposals, many of the 21,845 people experiencing homelessness tonight will be left to struggle for survival into the foreseeable future

I do want to take a moment to acknowledge the great work that was done by our housing champions, specifically Representative Nicole Macri, (43rd district, Seattle). Who is in elected office matters, and Representative Macri really proved that this yearHouse Bill 1570 survived every single cutoff through the regular session and three special sessions, and it wasn’t until closed door, middle of the night negotiations that it actually died. House Bill 1570 made it so far in the process because of tremendous advocacy by people like you, and because it was championed by a lawmaker who knows and understands what it takes to solve homelessness in our state. The advocacy around House Bill 1570 successfully created pressure for lawmakers to prioritize the prevention of the 2019 sunset of homelessness assistance for thousands of people. And, it has built momentum for lawmakers to return to Olympia next year to fund the services that are needed to adequately address homelessness in our state. Many lawmakers spoke on the House floor of the inadequacy of the four-year extension and are already gearing up for a renewed push next year.

Another area of disappointment is the lack of progress on progressive revenue needed to move our state forward. To read more on the current proposal for a revenue compromise, see the Budget & Policy Center’s blog post. The Operating Budget isn’t final until it’s final, and the Housing Alliance will have more to say about it next week when all the details are known. Further, we are still advocating for a Capital Budget to be passed. This is a fluid situation with many working to find resolution, but calls are still needed to the Senate Republican Caucus to urge them to pass a Capital Budget. You can find a roster of all members, including email and phone numbers, here

For now, I’d like to take a point of personal privilege and ask that you check that your voter registration is up to date. Please stay tuned for next steps. We are not done fighting. 

Thank you so much for all your advocacy this year!

Michele

Housing Advocacy in Action! Week of April 24, Last of the regular session

Michele Thomas, Director of Policy and Advocacy

Monday, April 24 marked day one of the 30-day special session called by Governor Inslee. If lawmakers are unable to reach agreement on the State’s Operating Budget by May 23, then they will have to come back for second special session. Although advocates can leverage this opportunity for valuable in-district advocacy with lawmakers, it is frustrating how this has played out. Senate Republicans are literally refusing to negotiate. They are making demands on the House to pass the other bills related to the budget first. But the Senate Republicans are also refusing to even give the main bill in question, HB 2186, a chance. Instead they are making inaccurate statements about it and are even saying that their budget proposal “has no new taxes”. If “new” means relying on the same old regressive tax system, maybe they aren’t lying. But their budget relies heavily on changes to the property tax system. Their new proposal would increase property taxes for the Democratic-leaning Puget Sound, while decreasing them for Republican-leaning rural areas in the state. It is a regressive, retaliatory, massive tax increase.

Across the rotunda, the House Democrats introduced a package that would bring in significant revenue while also making fixes to our state’s regressive tax structure. This smart and progressive tax package allows the House Operating Budget to fully fund K-12 education while also investing deeper in the safety net. The House Operating Budget is in stark contrast to the Senate’s. Key differences include that the Senate budget cuts the Housing and Essential Needs (HEN) program to the bone, while the House fully funds it and also creates a new transportation stipend for HEN recipients. The Senate budget makes $96 million in cuts to the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program, while the House increases the cash grant - bringing it back to pre-recession levels. For more details on the differences between the two Operating Budgets, please see the April 3rd Advocacy in Action blog post.

Do you want to learn more about the revenue options on the table?

Here are great resources from the Washington State Budget & Policy Center: An informative “Schmudget" post on the house revenue package and this page containing a lot of resources on the capital gains component of the package, including why it is not an income tax. This page also has a very helpful Q and A that is perfect to share with friends, family and colleagues! If you aren’t familiar with the Budget & Policy Center, we encourage you to check them out. They are an excellent resource on all things budget and revenue, and you can sign up for valuable email updates.


Rep. Noel Frame
D-36th LD

Andy Nicholas
Budget & Policy Center

And in case you missed our special advocate’s call last week on the House tax package, which featured Representative Noel Frame/36th LD and Andy Nicholas of the Budget & Policy Center, here are some key takeaways:

Question: What is the best way to engage with lawmakers? Email, letters, phone calls, or in person?

Answer: All of the above. Also add social media. Even if your lawmakers are supportive, still contact them and let them know that you have their back. We [House Democrats] are getting attacked by the other side on this.

Question: What are the most effective ways to advocate for this bill [HB 2186]? To whom should we be targeting our advocacy?

Answer: Share your personal story and explain the real world impact. Target your own lawmaker, but also target your community. We need our friends and families around the state speaking up. A lot of people don’t understand state government, and anything you can do to help people understand how it works is extremely helpful.

Qustion: Why is there so much discrepancy in the way the R’s and D’s talk about the capital gains tax... one says it really is an income tax and the other says it's not... it's an excise tax?

Answer: The discrepancy is philosophical. “Camels nose under the tent”, but it doesn’t address what the tax is at all. We have a solid case that this is an excise tax and not an income tax. This really isn’t an income tax by any ordinary sense of the term. This will almost exclusively impact the very rich, but even their annual tax rate wouldn’t be raised very high.

Have you weighed in?

One of the most important things we can do as voters is to push our lawmakers to do the right thing. And when our lawmakers are already poised to do the right thing, we need to cheer them on and let them know what we’ve got their back. This is particularly important for lawmakers in “swing” districts where their voters may fluctuate preferences between the two main parties. But it is also important for lawmakers in “safe” districts where they are unlikely to face a serious challenge from the other party. These lawmakers can act as a moral compass in their party, pushing for the body as whole to do the right thing. They need to be able to tell their leadership that their constituents are aware, watching, and expecting the right vote. So no matter who your lawmaker is, they need to hear from you. Please tell your lawmakers that you support the House revenue package and that you want them to pass the House Operating Budget. And please also encourage your friends and family to take action with you.

Messaging to Conservative Lawmakers

Are you a housing and homelessness advocate who feels like your conservative lawmakers don’t listen to you? Or perhaps you have a hard time understanding what they value? If so, you are invited to join a special call on Tuesday, May 2 at 11:00am. Sign up here. The call will feature advocates across the state who have long worked with their conservative lawmakers.

What does Special Session mean for our legislative priorities?

The answer to this question is largely in our hands. Not solely, but largely. If we advocates fully utilize the extra time to educate and push our lawmakers, we will significantly help to ensure that SHB 1570/Macri is passed and that the Housing Trust Fund is funded at the House’s high watermark of $106.37 million. We can also influence the final Operating Budget, ensuring that the House’s proposals regarding homelessness and safety-net programs are fully adopted. This is especially critical for the thousands relying on Housing and Essential Needs rental support as the Senate’s budget cuts it to the bone, while the House enhances it with a new $10/month transportation stipend. It is also critical for thousands relying the Aged, Blind, and Disabled cash assistance who would be cut off the program on July 1st by the Senate’s budget. The House budget fully funds the program and increases the cash grant from $197 to $227 per month.

So what can we do? Many lawmakers will be home for most of the special session(s). Only key budget writers will be in Olympia full time. There will be periodic days when lawmakers will be called back, but mostly lawmakers will be home. While each lawmaker gets to decide their own schedule and how many meetings they will take, it is very likely that most will be scheduling meetings. Some will keep their legislative assistants in Olympia, while others will work out of a district office. This usually hinges on where their staff member lives (if they are Olympia-based year round they’ll keep the Olympia office) and whether or not their district is far enough from Olympia to make an in-district office important for constituent access. Regardless, you can easily figure this out by first calling the Olympia office. Their voicemail will usually tell you if you need to call a different office to schedule an in-district meeting. This roster of members is the best resource for finding your lawmaker’s contact information. It is one of the only resources that also provides us with the name and email address of each lawmaker’s legislative assist. Bookmark this page!

The Housing Alliance will be hosting a webinar on Special Session Advocacy on Thursday, May 4 at 12:00pm. We will go through each policy and budget issue still on the table, review how to most effectively take a lawmaker on a tour (for example, of affordable housing built with Housing Trust Fund dollars), and review the resources that the Housing Alliance can offer to make your in-district advocacy as easy as possible. Please sign-up here. You can also pre-submit questions by emailing dimitrig@wliha.org.

Has your organization signed the SHB 1570/Macri letter of support?

Join the 268 community and faith organizations, cities and counties, business, and real estate interests around the state who have already signed the letter of support! This letter is an important and strategic way to make sure lawmakers know how important SHB 1570 is. The letter is a central part of the push to make sure that the bill is passed during the Special Session. Click here for a link to the letter and to the current signers. If you’d like to add an organization, you simply need to fill out this quick survey. Thank you! And did you see the great editorial in the Stranger last week by Representative Macri? She calls on her fellow lawmakers to prioritize the bill during Special Session. If you are looking for more background or talking points, or for materials to share with your lawmakers, this is a great resource!

Advocacy in Action and Ask a Lobbyist blog posts during Special Session

During the Special Session, we will periodically update this blog when there is news to share! Things can move slowly during special sessions, so there likely won’t be news each week. However, when there is something to report we will update this page and will likely send a corresponding email. We will also send action alerts, although probably not each week. In the meantime, let us know if you need any assistance with in-district advocacy and don’t hesitate to submit a question to the Ask a Lobbyist column by emailing reinyc@wliha.org.

The Session in Numbers

# of testifiers we supported: 89
# of bills we weighed in on: 44
# committees we presented work sessions in: 4
# of advocates who attended Housing & Homelessness Advocacy Day: 637
# of actions taken: 2971
# of lawmakers who heard from advocates: 147
# of emails sent and phone calls made: 8382
# of advocate calls and webinars we held: 11
# of organizations, local governments, faith organizations who have signed the SHB 1570 letter of support: 268

As always, thanks for all of the advocacy you have done this session. The whole Housing Alliance team looks forward to working with you during the Special Session and into the interim. And we hope to see you at the Conference on Ending Homelessness! There will be many workshops on advocacy at the conference. Check it all out here.

Best,

Michele

Housing Advocacy in Action! Week of April 17

Michele Thomas, Director of Policy and Advocacy

Last week brought the final cutoff of the regular legislative session. By April 12, all bills had to clear the floor of the opposite house from which they originated. As often discussed in these blog posts, bills that are “NTIB”, necessary to implement the budget, are not subject to these cutoffs. House Bill 1570/Macri, the Bringing Washington Home Act, is considered NTIB and is still alive despite not moving off of the House floor yet.

The last week of the session will largely be consumed by floor action in the House and Senate mostly dealing with bills on their “concurrence” calendars. Concurrence is needed when a bill has been amended in the opposite house, after it already passed the floor of the chamber in which it originated. Since the bill is now different, the chamber that first passed it has to decide if they agree with the changes. If they do not, they send it back with a request to “recede from amendments.” Good bills die in this process, even after making it this far. There are about 50 bills left for the House to consider and about 40 in the Senate, with about 8 bills currently in dispute.

What’s next?

Just about everyone is wondering the same thing: When will the special session start and how much time it will take to reach agreement on the budget? The plan for how special session will be rolled out will likely be made public by the end of the week. The options include starting immediately on April 24, waiting some set period of time to allow for a break, or not starting at all until agreement has been reached. Regardless, special session will most likely mean that the bulk of lawmakers will return home, with only budget negotiators staying in Olympia.

The Silver Lining

The good news about special session is that it offers real, in-district opportunities for advocacy to move lawmakers on key issues that are unfinished. In addition to the budgets, there is House Bill 1570/Macri and the House revenue proposal (House Bill 2186/Lytton) will also be on the table. This means that we all have been given more time to educate our lawmakers on the importance of these bills. Lawmakers have been hearing about 1570 all session, but now that they will be home, we can ensure that they see first-hand the good that the Homeless Housing and Assistance Surcharge does in their community! The Housing Alliance will be securing a date soon for a webinar on in-district special session advocacy. Watch for an announcement soon!

You are invited to a special call on House Bill 2186 - the House revenue package!

Want to learn more about what is in the House revenue package and how you can support it? Join the Housing Alliance for a special call on Wednesday, April 19 from 8:30 AM - 9:30 AM. We will be joined by Representative Noel Frame/36 LD who is the vice chair of the House Finance Committee. And Andy Nicholas from the Washington State Budget & Policy Center will also join us. Both will help us understand the tax proposal and how it both brings in much-needed new revenue while also fixing our regressive tax system. We will also discuss what affordable housing and homelessness advocates can do to help ensure that the bill passes. Register here for the phone number and to pre-submit any questions for Andy and Representative Frame.

Thanks for the many actions you’ve taken this session. Please help us wrap up this session with a bang and take action today! We will post one last blog next week to wrap up the regular session, but will provide updates during the special session when things are happening.

Lastly, don’t forget about the April 25 early bird registration deadline for the Conference on Ending Homelessness. The Conference is scheduled for May 10th and 11th in Tacoma. Click here for all the information. Note that Washington State Supreme Court Justice Mary Yu is one of our keynotes! She is incredible and you won’t want to miss her!

- Michele

My Day in Olympia

Kirk McClain, Emerging Advocates Program

It’s always been difficult for me to understand why my experience of homelessness had any value to lawmakers, but after this most recent trip to Olympia, I now I realize that my five years living without shelter actually makes me an expert in that area. I can do all the research I want about the history of bills, and the technical aspects of programs and services, and how laws are passed, but at the end of the day, I was the one who received the services currently being debated in Olympia, and I know exactly how they are being administered out in the field.

That’s why I know how important Rep. Macri’s bill, House Bill 1570 is for people experiencing homelessness, (if you don’t’ know about the bill, check out this blog post). So, I traveled to Olympia to talk to my district representatives about how HB 1570 was crucial to helping people experiencing homelessness, and that the services funded by this bill often mean the difference between life and death for some people living on the street. Because I had studied the bill and had first-hand knowledge of the issues the bill addressed, I felt like my viewpoint had credibility and I could speak with confidence to my legislators.

My day began with me and other advocates giving testimony about how HB 1570 should be funded at least to the same level as last year, and how the Housing Trust Fund was important to low-income renters because it actually provides housing for so many who can’t afford market rate apartments. Then I met both of my district representatives and asked them to vote yes on HB 1570.

The most amazing part of my day was meeting with two Republican representatives who, until they heard my story, were probably going to vote NO on HB 1570. Because I had previously developed a relationship with both of those representatives I got the opportunity to tell them my story.

After talking to me one and one and hearing my story, one of legislators actually promised me he would vote for yes on HB 1570, and the other legislator is open to discuss his doubts with me about the bill. Remember, both of these lawmakers are Republicans! I honestly don’t think the legislator that promised to vote yes did it because of my knowledge of the bill itself. I think he did it because he was moved by my personal story with homelessness, and also because of the relationship I am building with him. So the biggest lesson I learned in Olympia that day is that sometimes getting to know your lawmaker – even if they are not from your political party – can be the best way to get them to consider your viewpoint, and possibly get them to vote for your issue.

Housing Advocacy in Action! Week of April 10

Michele Thomas, Director of Policy and Advocacy 

 

The end of the regular legislative session, April 23, is rapidly approaching. It has been a long time coming, but as discussed last week, the Operating Budget in particular is one item that's not likely to be resolved soon. The budget bills and any other bills deemed “NTIB” – necessary to implement the budget, might need a special session or two to reach final agreement.

The last two weeks of this regular session is expected to be a flurry of action to pass the many bills that are subject to the normal cutoff dates. This Wednesday, April 12 is the floor cutoff for bills that have made it all the way over from the opposite chamber and through the opposite house committees. They need to be voted on by the full Senate or House by 5:00 PM on the 12th in order to continue to proceed in the process. The Legislative website offers more detailed information on the legislative process. If you are following a particular bill this session, you might be interested in reading the information about concurrent, dispute, or conference committees. It is surprising, but not uncommon, for bills to die even after being voted off of both floors due to mismatching amendments that cannot be resolved before the last day of session.

Revenue

Last week started with an early Monday morning hearing (April 3) on the House revenue package. The Housing Alliance was proud to sign in pro along with about 30 of our members. Many nonprofits across the state have been doing deep organizing work to move their organizations – including their staff, boards, members, and donors – to a position of full support for a fair, progressive tax system. The many, many nonprofits who took the proactive step to sign in pro on HB 2186/Lytton (D, 40th LD) on Monday signifies this work. This is an important milestone. If this bill was introduced five or so years ago, it would not have been able to garner this depth of support, but due to the work of so many people and organizations across the state, 84 testified pro Monday (vs. 36 con), and another 83 signed in pro (vs. 25 con). Good work! But lawmakers still need to hear more from their constituents about this bill. Some fear political reprisals for a yes vote, so House lawmakers need to hear loud and clear that you support this progressive tax package that shifts the overall cost towards wealthy households, and away from the low- and middle-income households in our state that are currently paying a disproportionate amount of their incomes on taxes compared to the rich.

The Capital Budget(s)

Another big development last week was the release of the House Capital Budget on Wednesday (April 5). It was subsequently heard early on Thursday morning (kudos to the House Capital Budget Committee for being the first in years to give the public more than 3 hours with the budget bill before public testimony). The Housing Alliance and six of our member organizations testified pro because the House Capital Budget invests a bit deeper in affordable housing than the Senate’s budget. Check out the great testimony here and here, and much thanks to everyone who came to Olympia so early to testify!

From left to right: Liz Mills, YWCA Seattle, King & Snohomish Counties; Jessa Lewis, Tenants Union of Washington State; Philippa Nye, Ally Community Development; Mallory Hagel, volunteer with OPAL Community Landtrust and Kirk McClain, with the Housing Alliance’s Emerging Advocate’s Program and Capitol Hill Housing.

The House Capital Budget proposes $106.37 million for affordable housing, while the Senate budget proposes $99 million. The good news is that since the budgets are not too far apart in this area, ending with the $106 million high water mark shouldn’t be unrealistic. But there are two significant factors to consider. One is that the total House budget proposal is significantly bigger than the Senate’s (by over $155 million). This could mean that negotiations with the Senate result in a smaller final budget. The second is that the House’s proposal is very far from the housing community’s biennial ask of $200 million for the Housing Trust Fund. While this is disappointing, there is still an opportunity to make up for some of this gap in the 2018 supplemental budget. But remember, the supplemental budget is always smaller than the original, so the bulk of our $200 million ask needed to be in the 2017 budget. Despite the disappointing House proposal, it is clear that we now have to unify and work hard to ensure that the final budget ends no lower than the House’s $106 million, and then we will work to get the deepest supplemental investment possible in 2018. And we also need to push to hold on to a big bright spot in the House budget, that wasn’t in the Senate’s: the $39 million for a competitive pool for general affordable housing and homelessness investments. We don’t want that lost during the budget negotiations.

Additional points of comparison between the two Capital Budget proposals:

  • Both budgets have similar language that allows the Department of Commerce to use funds allotted to categories for “other low-income and special needs populations” if there are not “adequate suitable projects in a category”. This ensures flexibility and that no money will be left on the table if a specified category doesn’t have enough projects submitted.
  • The House budget has more in project earmarks: $10.09 million vs. $8.4 million in the Senate budget. Each budget has different projects earmarked. The Housing Alliance does not support project earmarks, instead we advocate for a bigger overall competitive appropriation for affordable housing.
  • The Senate budget includes a $6 million set-aside for tiny “homes” projects in Shelton and Orting that is not included in the House budget. Instead the House has a bucket valued at $2.795 M that is for tiny “homes”, but aimed at a chronically homeless population, and without the specific geographic requirement. Click here to access the House and Senate budget bills, as well as summaries of each bill that are prepared by legislative staff. The Leap website also has other helpful information, I encourage you to poke around!

Washington Housing Opportunities Act, HB 1570/Macri!

One of the most important bills of the session might not be resolved before the end of regular session on April 23. HB 1570/Macri is NTIB (as covered in previous posts) and is still in a position to be enacted this year. But the lines between the House and Senate have clearly been drawn. Between the stark differences in the Operating Budget Proposals by each chamber, and the many good housing and homelessness bills that have been killed by Senate leadership this session, it is absolutely clear that housing and homelessness issues will be serious points of contention during special session negotiations. Representative Ormsby (D, 3rd LD) and chair of the House Appropriations Committee discussed the differences in the budgets on last week’s episode of Inside Olympia. The show starts with an interview with the Senate Budget writer, Senator Braun (R, 20th LD). It is a particularly interesting episode of the weekly show, especially regarding the political and philosophical differences between the House and Senate majority parties that the episode highlights.

Lawmakers need to hear from you!

Stay tuned to the Housing Alliance’s social media for breaking news, and we will continue to keep you updated during these last weeks. Most importantly, please help us ensure that lawmakers continue to hear from constituents about affordable housing and homelessness issues. Your advocacy has been great, but we need to push through together because the legislature is not yet responding to affordable housing and homelessness as if it is a crisis. It is, and we need you to help raise the urgency. Even if you called your lawmaker last week, please do it again. If you haven’t called them recently, please do so today. You can leave one message for all of your lawmakers through the state’s toll free legislative hotline: 1-800-562-6000. It is open Monday – Friday from 8:00 AM – 8:00 PM. Click here for talking points and to sign our pledge to make the call!

Ask a Lobbyist!

I recently was asked two related questions that are timely given that the end of session is so near, yet final agreement on the budgets any time soon is unlikely.

Question 1: If the legislature knows that it will not be able to finish their budget within the timeframe of the session, why don’t they just agree to change the timeframe instead of going through the drama of declaring special sessions?

Question 2: It seems like lawmakers in Olympia rarely finish the budget by their deadline and always need to go into overtime. Wouldn’t it be better if we switched to a full time legislature, instead of holding them to unworkable deadlines?

The timeframes under which the legislature can be convened are determined by the state constitution, which caps the length of the regular session during an odd-numbered year to 105, and to 60 days on even-numbered years. The same section of the constitution (article 2, section 12) outlines the rules for calling a special session. Here is the language:

(1) Regular Sessions. A regular session of the legislature shall be convened each year. Regular sessions shall convene on such day and at such time as the legislature shall determine by statute. During each odd-numbered year, the regular session shall not be more than one hundred five consecutive days. During each even-numbered year, the regular session shall not be more than sixty consecutive days.

(2) Special Legislative Sessions. Special legislative sessions may be convened for a period of not more than thirty consecutive days by proclamation of the governor pursuant to Article III, section 7 of this Constitution. Special legislative sessions may also be convened for a period of not more than thirty consecutive days by resolution of the legislature upon the affirmative vote in each house of two-thirds of the members elected or appointed thereto, which vote may be taken and resolution executed either while the legislature is in session or during any interim between sessions in accordance with such procedures as the legislature may provide by law or resolution. The resolution convening the legislature shall specify a purpose or purposes for the convening of a special session, and any special session convened by the resolution shall consider only measures germane to the purpose or purposes expressed in the resolution, unless by resolution adopted during the session upon the affirmative vote in each house of two-thirds of the members elected or appointed thereto, an additional purpose or purposes are expressed. The specification of purpose by the governor pursuant to Article III, section 7 of this Constitution shall be considered by the legislature but shall not be mandatory.

(3) Committees of the Legislature. Standing and special committees of the legislature shall meet and conduct official business pursuant to such rules as the legislature may adopt.

Regarding the question about whether it would be better to have the legislature convened full-time… it wouldn’t address the problem of when the legislature is able to reach agreement on a final budget. The state budgets are biennial and expire after two years. Regardless of how long the legislature is allowed to convene, lawmakers still need to get the Operating Budget done before the current one expires. In this case, agreement must be met by June 30 2017.

Feel free to submit your questions about the legislative process by emailing reinyc@wliha.org.

Lastly, the annual Conference on Ending Homelessness is almost here! Join us May 10 and 11 in Tacoma for two action-packed days of learning, networking, self-care, and movement building. The early bird registration rates expire on April 25 – sign up soon, and also be sure to reserve your hotel room before they fill up. Learn more about the conference here.

Thanks for your partnership in advocacy,

Best,

Michele

Housing Advocacy in Action! Week of April 3

Michele Thomas, Director of Policy and Advocacy

Last week was very busy in Olympia with the release of two new budget bills and another cutoff. With Sine Die (the last day of the regular session) rapidly approaching on April 23, the pace in Olympia won’t slow down any time soon. The budgets introduced last week included much better news for affordable housing and homelessness than the Senate’s Operating Budget (which was released the prior week and was detailed in last week’s blog post). The House Operating Budget was a net positive for affordable housing and homelessness, and the Senate’s Capital Budget proposal came in much higher than normal for the Housing Trust Fund ($96.572 million). Once the House releases their Capital Budget bill on Wednesday, all budget proposals will be out.

It is unclear if budget negotiations are already underway between the House and the Senate, but regardless it is not expected that compromise will be reached before April 23rd. The Housing Alliance is pushing for the adoption of the House Operating Budget and for both chambers to get much closer to our Housing Trust Fund ask of $200 million for this biennium.

Here is a comparison of the House and Senate Operating Budgets on key affordable housing and homelessness issues:

Housing and Essential Needs (HEN)
What is it? HEN provides rental assistance and access to basic sanitary items for extremely low-income, temporarily disabled adults.
Senate Budget: The original budget proposal completely eliminated all funding for HEN, but it was amended to include $10 million for the program. This amounts to a cut of over 80%.
House Budget: Fully funds the program, plus creates a new transportation stipend. Beginning in July 2018, $10 per month is provided to cover the cost of travel expenses for Housing and Essential Needs recipients.

Aged, Blind, and Disabled (ABD) cash assistance
What is it? ABD provides cash assistance (currently $197) for extremely low-income, permanently disabled adults, and SSI facilitation services to assist in obtaining federal benefits.
Senate Budget: Per SB 5898/Braun, the Senate’s budget assumes savings from a new 35-month time limit for receiving the ABD cash grant, which would terminate the benefit for approximately 2,400 individuals.
House Budget: The House budget fully funds the program and also increases the monthly cash grant beginning in July 2018, from $197 per month to $227 per month.

Medicaid Transformation Demonstration
What is it? Washington has finalized an agreement with the federal government for a five-year demonstration that allows innovative uses of Medicaid dollars to improve health, provide better care, and lower costs. Under the demonstration, the state will receive up to $1.5 billion in federal investments. The demonstration includes investments in Permanent Supportive Housing Services impacting the health and well being of people with disabilities experiencing long-term homelessness.
Senate Budget: Suspends the state’s ability to move forward with the demonstration and rejects $1.5 billion federal dollars to serve the health needs of low-income Medicaid recipients.
House Budget: Provides budget authority for the state to move forward with the demonstration and accept the federal funds.

Young Adult Housing and Shelter
What is it? The Young Adult Shelter program provides Emergency, temporary shelter, assessment, referrals, and permanency planning services for young adults ages 18 through 24, and the Young Adult Housing Program provides rental assistance.
Senate Budget: Eliminates all funding.
House Budget: Fully funds.

Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF)
What is it? TANF provides modest cash assistance to extremely low-income adults with dependent children.
Senate Budget: Eliminates approximately $96 million from the TANF program, plus over $44 million from the Working Connections Childcare Program.
House Budget: Adds over $12 million to increase the cash grant by 8% starting in July 2018 (for example, a grant for a family of 4 is raised from $613 to $662). This budget section also increases the grants for State Family Assistance and Refugee Cash Assistance by 8%.

The House Operating Budget also adds other additional funds:

  • Funds are added to account for HB 1831/Pettigrew, which raises the asset limit caps that applicants to TANF, HEN, and ABD can have in order to qualify for the programs. The bill allows for a higher maximum value of a vehicle, and for a person to have slightly higher amounts of “liquidable cash” including in their kids’ savings accounts, a burial plot, 401Ks, etc.
  • Funds are added from the General Fund to provide new rental assistance resources for homeless families ($1 million) and for funding for permanent supportive housing services ($6 million).
  • Funds are added to assist youth exiting state institutions to find housing ($3 million from the General Fund, plus an additional $1 million from the Home Security Fund).

The House Revenue Package

The House’s budget proposal meets the McCleary mandate to invest new dollars in k-12 education without cutting human services or other important functions of state government. They are able to do this because they have also introduced a revenue package that would generate over $2.8 billion dollars this biennium. HB 2186 by Representative Lytton (D, 40th LD) was heard in the House Appropriations Committee on Monday morning (April 3). Over 120 people signed in to testify on the bill, the majority in support. The Housing Alliance signed in pro and believes that this tax package is fair, smart, and responsible. Interestingly, many people and businesses across the state would actually experience a tax reduction. Here are resources to learn more about the package:

House Democrats overview of the package

House Bill 2186 bill page

Washington Budget and Policy Center (overview of House revenue package and also Senate revenue proposal)
 

What to expect next

The last budget to be released is the House Capital Budget. The House Capital Budget Committee has said that it will release its budget proposal on Wednesday, April 5 and will hold a hearing on it at 8:00 am on Thursday, April 6. The Senate budget set funding for the Housing Trust Fund at $96.572 million, and added an additional earmark for an affordable housing project to bring the overall affordable housing investment to $99 million. We hope that the House will come much closer to our biennial ask of $200 million. We need to get as close as possible in order for the 2018 supplemental Capital Budget appropriation to be able to feasibly close the gap to end the biennium with $200 million. The Housing Alliance testified last week on the Senate’s Capital Budget with thanks for the historically high starting point, but we noted that it was still far from our total ask. You can watch our testimony here. Keep watching for the next panel of three stellar advocates who also testified from Plymouth Housing, the YWCA of Seattle, King and Snohomish, and from the Tacoma Pierce County Affordable Housing Consortium.

Tuesday the 4th marks the next cutoff – all bills must clear the opposite chamber’s fiscal committee in order to keep moving (unless of course it has that special “NTIB – Necessary to Implement the Budget” status which exempts it from cutoffs). And then next week, April 12, brings the big floor cutoff. All bills must clear the opposite floor by that date in order to keep on moving towards the governor’s signature.

Keep connected to the Housing Alliance emails and social media for breaking news over the next couple of weeks. As things heat up and move more quickly in these final weeks, big decisions will likely be made. We will continue to keep you informed. The next advocate’s call is scheduled for Friday, April 14 at 11:00am. We provide detailed updates in this hour-long call for all affordable housing and homelessness advocates. Just email Reiny for the call in number and code: reinyc@wliha.org.

Lastly, we had no new submissions for our “Ask a Lobbyist” column this week. But if you have a question you’d like to ask about the legislative process, about lobbying in Olympia or about the politics impacting affordable housing and homelessness… ask away! We’d love to answer your questions. Just submit your question (and note we will keep your identity anonymous) to Reiny at reinyc@wliha.org.

Best,

Michele

Pages

Subscribe to RSS - blogs