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This Week in Housing Advocacy: Just Three Weeks Left

Last week was a long, hard week in Olympia. Many bills competed for attention as the Tuesday night floor cutoff loomed in both chambers. Only one of the Housing Alliance’s top priorities fell victim to this cutoff when SSB 6321 died at 5:00 sharp Tuesday evening. This bill, sponsored by Senator Kohl-Welles, would have made it harder to use a tenant’s victory in eviction court as a reason to deny them future housing opportunities. The bill was amended in committee and received bipartisan support. Although it is dead for the session, it educated many elected officials about the need for better tenant protections and the need for regulation of the tenant screening industry. We will be back next year to pick right up on the momentum generated on this issue.

Meanwhile, SSB 6315 by Senator Frockt, is alive and well. This bill will require adverse action notices by landlords, require that decision-making criteria be given to applicants, and create an interim stakeholder group to examine how to make screening reports more affordable and more accurate. The bill received a hearing last Wednesday in the House and is already scheduled for executive session today (Monday). We hope this bill will continue to receive bipartisan support in the House – it passed the Senator floor unanimously, a tremendous feat for any progressive tenant bill.

Reduced Caseload?
The end of the week brought unexpected news that the state’s revenue intake is up by about $100 million more than previously projected. How this news impacts the budget and revenue debates remains to be seen, but there were already indications that this may provide some lawmakers with an excuse to not support revenue.

The increase in revenue is being coupled with a $340 million savings announced last week by the State Caseload Forecast Council. The savings is from less people than expected enrolling in entitlement programs. The last forecast was in November and, for some reason, the number of people enrolled now is less than what was projected. Advocates are skeptical that the decrease in enrollment correlates to a decrease in need, but instead suspect problems in connecting people to the basic services that they are entitled to. Regardless, there is still a significant budget gap and the “good news” of the revenue and caseload forecasts threaten to weaken the willingness of lawmakers to raise the revenue needed to stave off further cuts to the state’s safety net. Advocates should be on guard in the coming weeks and stay tuned for more opportunities to weigh in for revenue and against further cuts.

What to Expect this Week
Friday is the policy committee cutoff for bills that originated in the opposite chamber. This means that bills must be voted out of their policy committee in order to continue to the next step. The following Monday is the fiscal committee cutoff. Remember that the document recording fee bills, ESHB 2048 and SSB 5952, have been deemed “NTIB”  - necessary to implement the budget. This means that they are not subject to any of the cutoff deadlines. However, it is still important that these bills continue to move. With less than three weeks left of the session, we don’t want them to get lost in the shuffle.  ESHB 2048 has hearing on Tuesday at 10:00 AM in the Financial Institutions, Housing and Insurance Committee chaired by Senator Hobbs. Please help us make sure that this bill moves quickly through the Senate by taking action today.

Please take action today to help pass ESHB 2048/SSB 5952. Each biennium more than 28,000 people will experience homelessness if these bills don't pass.

Click here to email your Senator to ask that they vote yes on these important bills.

Please follow up your email with a quick call to your Senator. Call 1-800-562-6000 to ask your Senator to “Vote yes on 2048 and 5952 – modest fees on real estate related documents will prevent and end homelessness for over 28,000 people each biennium.”

New Research Shows Dramatic Rise in Homelessness if 2048/5952 isn't passed.

The Department of Commerce has released new data that shows what will happen in every county in the state if 2048/5952 isn’t passed. The data shows that the state will lose $42,262,071 in revenue, which means that at least 28,307 more people will be homeless in each biennium.

Here are examples of the impact of not passing 2048/5952 on select counties:
Click here for a pdf copy of the whole report.

County

Dollars Lost

Increase in number of people
experiencing homelessness

Yakima

$1,014,693

680

Spokane

$2,753,544

1,844

Clark

$2,541,371

1,702

Whatcom

$1,321,297

885

Pierce

$5,183,601

3,472

Thurston

$1,672,653

1,120

King

$13,267,969

8,887


Expect Developments on the Budget this Week

It is anticipated that the House will release their budget by Tuesday. Expect an email from the Housing Alliance soon after that will highlight the allocation for the Housing and Essential Needs program. The House is also expected to release a bill Tuesday for their Capital Bonds Jobs Package. This much-anticipated package will include an allocation for the Housing Trust Fund. The release of a bill means that more details will be available. Watch for updates from the Housing Alliance for any breaking news.

As always, the Housing Alliance will keep you updated with strategic opportunities for advocacy.  With the session closing in on its last three weeks, please expect a higher volume of emails from us – it is good news that we still have so many issues to advocate for. Your voice remains critical. Please don’t be hesitant about contacting your elected officials multiple times on the same issue. This shows how important the issue is to you and helps to keep it on their radar screen.

Thank you for your ongoing advocacy –

Michele

The Week In Housing Advocacy: Incredible Progress!

Olympia was a whirlwind of activity for affordable housing and homelessness issues last week. The Housing Alliance’s Fair Tenant Screening bills made significant progress in the Senate, while the House hosted a dramatic debate before passing SHB 2048 and sending it to the Senate. This bill will fill a shortfall in revenue for homelessness related programs with modest fees on real estate related documents.

Unprecedented Progress for Tenant Screening Bills

Although “unprecedented” risks sounding like an overstatement, it is important to remember that fixes to tenant screening issues have been stalled for years in the legislature. And last week, when SSB 6315 by Senator Frockt cleared the floor of the Senate with a unanimous vote, advocates finally saw their tenacious persistence begin to pay off. The unanimous vote on the Senate floor reflects a deft compromise with lobbyists for tenant screening companies. The bill requires that the criteria a landlord uses to determine tenancy must be given to applicants and it also requires adverse action notices stating the reason for denial of tenancy. It also asks stakeholders to sit down during the interim to examine how to make portability work in Washington State. Important DV protections were taken out of the bill, but we hope that these can either be added back in this session or be a key factor for the stakeholder group to resolve.

Senator Kohl-Welles’s tenant screening bill also made progress last week when it cleared the Rules Committee on Saturday and was passed to the Senate floor for a vote. This bill - SSB 6321 - needs to be voted on by 5:00 PM Tuesday in order to remain viable. If passed, it will no longer be legal for landlords to choose not to rent to a tenant because they prevailed in eviction court. Right now, tenants who are wrongly named in a eviction lawsuit, who win on the merits of their case or who were victims of their landlord’s foreclosure all get a mark on their record that significantly limits their future housing opportunities. While SSB 6321 started out regulating tenant screening companies, the amended form – authored by Senator Pflug – offers a reasonable compromise that will significantly improve the situation currently faced by many thousands of Washington’s tenants.

Although there are many hurdles left that can sidetrack these bills, the progress made on tenant screening issues is already historic.

Expect the Budget Negotiations to Heat Up

While closed-door negotiations continued last week on the capital bonds jobs packages (which includes the only chance for an allocation for the Housing Trust Fund this year), it is expected that both this and the budget will become a little more public after the formal revenue forecast on Thursday. If the forecast shows that previous predictions were fairly accurate, then it is expected that the House will unveil a budget proposal by the end of the week. This will show us where we stand on the Housing and Essential Needs Program, which the Governor eliminated in her last budget proposal.

The Housing Alliance hosted a budget and revenue webinar last Tuesday with Andy Nicholas from the Budget & Policy Center. Andy explained the status of our current budget deficit and laid out the revenue options we should push for to save critical public dollars for safety net programs and services. If you missed it, we highly recommend listening to the recording. 

Click here for the webcast.

"Recession, Recovery and the State Budget" Webinar

On Tuesday, February 7th, the Housing Alliance was joined by Andy Nicholas of the Washington State Budget & Policy Center. Andy explained the status of our current budget deficit and laid out the revenue options we should push to save ciritcal public dollars for safety net programs and services. If you missed it, we highly recommend listening to the recording.

To listen to the conference playback over the phone, refer to the following instructions: 

Playback by Phone 
1. Dial 1-888-899-7904.
2. At the prompt, enter the Playback ID followed by the pound sign: 128220038#. 
3. The playback will begin. 

Please click here to download a copy of Andy Nicholas's powerpoint presentation.

Please click here to download a copy of Andy Nicholas's presentation.

The following links will bring you more information from the Washington State Budget & Policy Center. Also, we highly recommend checking out their blog Schmudget so that you can get timely updates on issues related to the budget and revenue. 

 

Joining forces with the Coalition for the Homeless: Harnessing the power of advocacy

Harnessing the Power of Advocacy

The Washington Low Income Housing Alliance and the Washington State Coalition for the Homeless merged on October 1st, 2011, becoming one organization. The merged organization, operating as the Housing Alliance, will advocate for the continuum of homeless and low-income housing needs across the state.

We asked a colleague who works with housing and homelessness advocates across the country about his impression of this development. "This merger is another example of how advocates in Washington are leading the way for advocates across the country. Now more than ever, we need to break free from the artificial silos of affordable housing, homelessness and support services, and come together under the banner of social justice. Our power grows when we unite ourselves." --Michael Anderson, Affordable Housing Organizer, Center for Community Change
 
Members of both organizations believe that this move will lead to a stronger statewide advocacy organization, harnessing the power of a more unified movement. The Housing Alliance will continue to advocate for the continuum of housing needs, from ending homelessness to maintaining and preserving homeownership opportunities for low-income households, but will do so more efficiently, and with a stronger, collective voice.
 
According to Troy Christensen, President of Board of the Coalition for the Homeless, “The work of the two organizations is already closely tied and we believe we will be even stronger when we come together formally. We’re excited about joining the two organizations. We expect the merger to make us more effective advocates for ending homelessness and providing an affordable home for everyone in Washington."
 
Initially, the Coalition for the Homeless will operate under the umbrella of the Housing Alliance, in order to ensure that members of the Coalition remain involved. “The Coalition has been working to end homelessness since 1984. Providers and advocates across the state feel a strong connection to the organization and we don’t want to lose that with the merge,” said Linda Hugo, Housing Alliance Board President.
 
Advocates know well that housing and homelessness are interconnected, and the Housing Alliance and Coalition for the Homeless have worked closely together for many years.  Every year, the two organizations host a joint advocacy day at the state capitol and their legislative agendas have significant overlap. They worked together last year to try to pass House Bill 2048, to increase document recording fee funds for preventing and ending homelessness and remove the sunset on a portion of those funds. That is expected to be a priority again this year, along with increasing funding for the state Housing Trust Fund which provides housing for people leaving homelessness, low-income first-time homebuyers, farmworkers, and many others who can’t afford market rate housing.
 
By merging, the Alliance and the Coalition aim to:
·      Have greater impact on policy decisions related to low-income housing and homelessness;
·      Engage a broader base of grassroots and other supporters;
·      Create efficiencies that will free up resources for advocacy; and
·      Expand funding opportunities.
 
The Housing Alliance’s vision is that all Washington residents have the opportunity to live in safe, healthy, affordable homes in thriving communities.
 
The 22nd annual conference on ending homelessness will take place in Yakima on May 15-18, 2012. Housing and Homelessness Advocacy Day will take place in Olympia on January 20th, 2012.
 
For more information about the merger or upcoming events, please contact Natalia Fior, Development Manager, at the Housing Alliance at 206-442-9455 x201.

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