Washington State Should Join Seattle and King County in Response to Homelessness Emergency

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IMMEDIATE RELEASE

MONDAY, NOVEMBER 2, 2015

Contact:

Reiny Cohen, 206.442.9455 x208

reinyc@wliha.org

Washington State Should Join Seattle and King County in Response to

Homelessness Emergency

Seattle, Wa – The Washington Low Income Housing Alliance applauds King County and the City of Seattle for recognizing the urgent need to address homelessness in our communities. The Housing Alliance agrees that the state plays a significant role in ensuring that all communities have the tools and resources they need to prevent and end homelessness.

Homelessness is an emergency experienced by communities all across Washington. The 2015 Point in Time Count found a 13% increase in unsheltered homelessness statewide over the previous year. The state’s response should include addressing the emergency for the many people experiencing homelessness tonight, and implementing long-term solutions to the affordable housing crisis in our state.

 The Housing Alliance calls on state lawmakers to take the following actions:

Immediately invest in services that bring people indoors and prevent others from falling into homelessness:

  • Allocate significant new resources to the Consolidated Homeless Grant
  • Remove the unnecessary set-aside of state homeless dollars which require 45% of all the state's funds be set-aside for private, for-profit landlords
  • Support the Heath Care Authority and DSHS's request to the federal government for flexibility with the use of state and federal Medicaid dollars
  • Patch holes in our state's safety net for extremely low income and disabled adults who are temporarily or permanently incapacitated from employment
  • Increase the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families grant

Invest state dollars and allow more local funding options to create affordable homes:

  • Invest significant capital dollars into affordable housing, especially permanent supportive housing
  • Allow the new local option sales tax for affordable housing and mental health facilities (passed last session as HB 2263) to be quickly implemented with local government action
  • Allow local communities to implement a new Real Estate Excise Tax to pay for local affordable housing needs

The state should take action to eliminate barriers to housing, including these key strategies:

  • Pass HB 1460 and SB 5376 to require accuracy and fairness in tenant screening reports by only allowing evictions in which a tenant has lost in court to be reported
  • Pass HB 1565 and SB 5378 to outlaw discrimination against low income renters who rely on government assistance to help pay the rent
  • Eliminate the ban on local options for rent stabilization

The Washington Low Income Housing Alliance is the statewide leader and champion for affordable homes for all. As a powerful coalition of diverse organizations and individuals we work together to ensure that everyone in Washington has the opportunity to live in safe, healthy, affordable homes in thriving communities.

Recommendations in detail -

Immediately invest in services that bring people indoors and prevent others from falling into homelessness:

Allocate significant new resources to the Consolidated Homeless Grant. 

Flexible state dollars are rolled into the Consolidated Homeless Grant and distributed to communities to fund local programs to prevent and end homelessness. There is currently a shortfall in the funds and communities are experiencing significant cuts. The state should fill the gap and allocate additional dollars, and the state should increase funding for the Housing and Essential Needs rental support program.  The Housing and Essential Needs program should make eligible people whose primary disability diagnosis is a chemical dependency, and funding should be increased accordingly to accommodate a larger caseload.

Remove the unnecessary set-side of state homeless dollars that required 45% of all of the state's funds be set-aside for private, for-profit landlords. The state and local communities need flexibility to respond to the needs of their residents. It is increasingly hard for low-income tenants with barriers to housing, like an eviction, poor credit, or prior criminal records, to find housing on the private, for-profit market. These funds should be as flexible as possible to allow for all strategies to be used, rather than require almost half be spent on one strategy.

Support the Heath Care Authority and DSHS's request to the federal government for flexibility with the use of state and federal Medicaid dollars. If spending authority is needed, the state should act quickly to ensure that Medicaid can be used to pay for the medically necessary services that are delivered in Permanent Supportive Housing.  Permanent Supportive Housing is the best intervention to end chronic homelessness. 

Patch holes in our state's safety net for extremely low income and disabled adults. These are people who are temporarily or permanently incapacitated from employment, 70% of who have a significant mental health disability. Currently, the Aged, Blind and Disabled program provides extremely poor, permanently disabled adults with only $197 a month in support. That is not enough to pay the rent, buy medicine or even pay for transportation to and from medical appointments. The state should immediately increase this grant to match federal social security levels of $733. 

Temporary Assistance for Needy Families grant increase. As of August 2015, there were 4,832 households qualifying for and receiving TANF who self-reported that they were homeless. This is over 15% of the total TANF caseload. TANF households are extremely low-income households with young children. TANF provides cash assistance and access to other programs, but the cash assistance has been reduced in recent years. The state should immediately increase the monthly cash grant so that extremely low-income families have adequate resources to pay for housing, childcare, and other necessities that are critical to getting and retaining a job.

Invest state dollars and increase local funding options to create affordable homes:

Invest new capital dollars into affordable housing. The state should invest significant, flexible dollars in the State Housing Trust Fund, including $20 million to reinvest in the aging housing stock to ensure we maintain what we currently have, while moving forward to create new affordable homes. 

The state should allow the new local option sales tax for affordable housing (passed last session as HB 2263) to quickly be implemented with local government action. The bill was amended to require that it go through a vote of the people, which significantly delays the ability of local communities to implement this new option. If implemented the 1/10 of 1% sales tax will create a pool of funds for local communities to build affordable housing, mental health facilities and invest in homelessness services.

The state legislature should allow local communities to implement a new Real Estate Excise Tax (REET) to pay for local affordable housing needs. This would allow cities to implement a modest excise tax of .25 % on real estate transfers, similar to the already existing local options that pay for other infrastructure needs. 

The state should take action to eliminate barriers to housing, including these key strategies:

Pass HB 1565 and SB 5378 to outlaw discrimination against low-income renters who rely on government assistance to help pay the rent. Currently, it is legal to categorically deny housing solely because a tenant is relying on a section 8 housing choice voucher, SSI income or state rental assistance. This impacts seniors, people with disabilities, single-parent households, and more who disproportionately rely on rental support. Housing subsidies are currently going unused, while homelessness is increasing.

Pass HB 1460 and SB 5376 to require accuracy and fairness in tenant screening reports by only allowing evictions in which a tenant has lost in court to be reported. Currently, tenant-screening companies report all evictions as equal. This means that a tenant who won against the landlord in court has the same blemish on their record as one who was ultimately evicted. This leaves people on the streets who should otherwise be able to access private market rental housing. HB 1460 and SB 5376 will eliminate this barrier while still giving prospective landlords eviction information when the tenant actually lost in court. 

The state should eliminate the ban on local options for rent stabilization. A recent study shows that an increase in rent of $100 per month correlates with a 15% rise in homelessness. Dramatic rent increases are an emergency, not just in Seattle, but across the state. Recently, Vancouver, Washington experienced the highest year-to-year rent increases nationwide, with Seattle coming in third. The statewide ban on rent regulations prevents local communities from considering a wide range of tools to address rent increases. The state should allow local communities to consider local options to respond to the crisis of homelessness.

 

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