Michele Thomas, Director of Policy & Advocacy
Late on Thursday, March 13, the legislature adjourned (also known as "Sine Die"). After rumors of another special session began circulating earlier that week, the budget writers spent long nights seeking compromise and finalizing details. The agreed-upon budget was revealed at a Thursday press conference and then voted out of the House and Senate with large bipartisan support. See below for operating budget details.
Homeless Housing and Assistance Surcharge: "A Legislative Miracle"
We never gave up. And in the last hours of the session, the legislature took action on the Homeless Housing and Assistance Surcharges/Document Recording Fees. Grassroots advocacy and public pressure pushed this bill to the finish line. Senator Jan Angel (26th LD-Port Orchard) went from adamant opposition, to personally introducing the floor amendment. This was quite a remarkable turnaround in a matter of just two short weeks!! As one seasoned lobbyist noted, "ESSB 5875 passing is a legislative miracle."
Advocates across the state really made a huge difference. If you emailed or called your legislator, you should be proud that together we've preserved funds supporting programs and services that allow people to get back on their feet and leave the brutality of homelessness behind them.
Many lawmakers made notable remarks on the floor before voting on the bill Thursday night. We especially liked how Senator Marko Liias (21st LD-Mukilteo) described how remarkable it was he had the opportunity to vote on the bill that night.
When we pass out charts for school children explaining how a bill becomes a law, it does not cover bills like this one, that move through the process in different ways...It's also a testament to the power of everyday people in our democracy to speak up when they see a decision that they don't agree with. Everyday citizens like the local Catholic action folks that came and talked to me and I'm sure to many of my colleagues. Efforts by our news media through editorial boards and letters to the editor from around the state to talk about this issue. So I think this bill while it didn't come through the normal course, it is a testament to fact that our democracy works, that as legislators we listen and sometimes when we don't get it quite right, we fix our mistakes.
Senator Marko Liias (21st LD-Mukilteo)
You can watch his speech below.
And you can watch all the Senate floor speeches here.
Many lawmakers went above and beyond to get this bill passed. Senator Jeannie Darneille (27th LD-Tacoma) and Representative David Sawyer (29th LD-Tacoma) deserve special thanks for being the prime sponsors. Please send them a quick email to tell them how much you appreciate their leadership. But we'd be remiss if we didn't also point out the amazing, sometimes behind-the-scenes, work of the following lawmakers.
(Click on their names to send an email.)
Legislators in support of ESHB 2368, the original Document Recording Fee Bill at our Thursday,
March 6th press conference.
Our Analysis of the Document Recording Bill that Finally Passed
In the end, it was ESSB 5875 that passed. You might remember that our preferred version of the bill ESHB 2368 died when Senator Jan Angel (26th LD-Port Orchard) refused to give it a vote in committee. The Majority Coalition Caucus introduced SB 5875 after intense public pressure. While the final bill isn't exactly what we wanted, it is a significant improvement because it pushes out the sunset dates until 2019. Here are more details on what the bill does:
- Extends the $40 homeless housing and assistance document recording surcharges through June 30, 2019. (The bill combined the sunset dates so both will now sunset at the same time).
- Requires 45 percent of the state's non-administrative allotment of the surcharge fee revenue to be set aside for "private rental housing payments," which is defined to specifically exclude nonprofits.
- Changes which documents that the fee applies to by striking the term "real property" and by excluding documents recording a state, county, or city lien or satisfaction of a lien. More analysis is needed to determine the impacts on revenue collected.
- Requires an annual independent audit of the expenditure of the document recording fee revenue. And if the audit determines that the Department of Commerce has failed to set-aside at least 45% of the funds for private rental housing payments, the Office of Financial Management (OFM) must receive a corrective action plan from the department and must monitor that plan for compliance for the remainder of the fiscal year. If the department is out of compliance in any month during that period, OFM must withhold a portion of the department's expenditures equal to that made during the month that the department was not in compliance.
- Requires that the Office of Financial Management secure a yearly independent performance audit of the department's data and expenditures and must include a random sampling of local governments, contractors, and housing providers. Requires that OFM meet with the department and "a landlord representative" to review the findings and that OFM provide the landlord representative with an opportunity to include written comments with the independent audit's findings. If the audit finds that the department has failed to set-aside 45% of the funds for for-profit landlords, then the audit must include a recommendation to the legislature on alternative means of distributing the funds. Additionally, OFM must secure another independent audit of the department's use of the funds which will include recommendations for policy and "operational improvements" on the use of the funds by counties and by the department. The report is due by December 1, 2016.
- Requires local governments receiving the funds to maintain and distribute an interested landlord list and to take reasonable efforts to require local providers to conduct quarterly outreach to private for-profit landlords about opportunities to rent to the homeless.
- Requires the department to convene a stakeholder group that includes real estate and private for-profit landlord representatives to find a new funding source that does not include a surcharge on document recording fees. The stakeholder group must be convened by 2017 and must submit a report to the legislature by December 1, 2017.
The Housing Alliance will be closely monitoring how all the new requirements play out.
Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles (36th LD-Seattle) pointing out the highly problematic bill language containing the 45% quota for for-profit landlords (specifically excluding nonprofits with housing).
Majority Coalition Caucus Refuses to Pass Capital Budget
The Senate leadership refused to pass a Supplemental Capital Budget, thus disappointing stakeholders of all political persuasions. It was the first time since 1996 that such an opportunity was lost. The lack of a supplemental capital budget means that the we lose $5 million for energy efficient affordable housing, $2 million for weatherization, $6 million for capital projects serving people with chronic mental illness, and the earmarks for a handful of affordable housing projects.
The Housing Alliance will be working throughout the interim to deepen support for affordable housing among a variety of lawmakers. Stay tuned.
Final Supplemental Operating Budget
Here is a quick overview of how the final budget impacted key programs:
Housing and Essential Needs Program (HEN)
- No changes in program or funding.
Aged, Blind & Disabled Program (ABD)
↓ $850,000 in savings from SB 6573 swept to general fund.
HEN Incapacity Exams
↓ $600,000 in assumed Affordable Care Act savings swept to general fund.
Homeless Certification Pilot
↓ $26,000 from Home Security Fund used to fund two-year pilot based on the concept in HB 2415.
Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF)
Approximately $5.8 million was reinvested into TANF programs. Highlights include funding for:
- A 15% incentive payment for TANF households that participate in their individual responsibility plan for 20 hours or more a week.
- Modifying the AREN program from a $750 lifetime maximum to a $750 yearly maximum (AREN = Additional Requirements for Emergent Needs and is a program that provides emergency rent or utility assistance to TANF clients.
- Creating a Rapid Re-housing home visit/education pilot for homeless WorkFirst recipients.
An important TANF bill also passed in the last hours of the session. Here’s the summary from Laurie Lippold of Partners for Our Children.
HB 2585, the Kinship Child-Only TANF Bill, passed shortly before Sine Die (official adjournment of session). This bill remedies an eligibility inequity for relatives receiving child-only TANF and was essentially dead. With the "it's-not-over-'til-it's-over" mentality, advocacy continued. And in the end, the bill passed the Senate 48-0 with one excused. Now more caregivers will be eligible for child-only TANF funding to help support their families in times of need.
The Housing Alliance will be posting a blog update in the next week with more details on how TANF fared this session. Stay tuned!
We posted the left image on Facebook, once Sen. Angel killed ESHB 2368.
We then posted the right image after we learned about the four-year surcharge extension!
Extended Foster Care Bill
The Extended Foster Care Bill was one of the Housing Alliance’s support items, led by the The Mockingbird Society. Here’s another update from Laurie Lippold about how this bill, like the Document Recording Fee Bill came back from the dead to eventually get passed!
Again, the phrase "it's not over 'til it's over" could not have been truer than it was this session. By all accounts, HB 2335, the Extended Foster Care Bill, died in Senate Ways and Means. But through hard work and the commitment of a number of legislative champions, the bill passed shortly before Sine Die. Providing this extra support until age 21 has the potential to significantly improve outcomes for these young adults.
The final bill does the following:
- Expands eligibility criteria to allow a youth to request extended foster care services if the youth engages in employment for 80 hours or more per month.
- Limits expenditures on the new category of extended foster care to the funding provided specifically for this purpose.
- Adds an effective date of March 1, 2015.
Special thanks to Laurie and to Jim Theofelis from The Mockingbird Society for their amazing advocacy for children in foster care.
The Interim: A Great Opportunity to Advancing Affordable Housing and Homelessness Issues
The interim is a strategic time to educate your lawmakers to deepen their support of our issues. The Housing Alliance is putting together an interim workbook (stay tuned for more details). But in the meantime, we encourage you to start thinking about doing some or all of the following:
- If you work at an affordable housing organization, invite all your local lawmakers to tour your homes or of the site that you wish to build a future project. We can help you prepare fact sheets about local need and provide any other support you may want.
- Invite your legislators to meet at your local shelter or where you meet clients. Share with them the realities that people in their district are facing and consider inviting someone directly impacted by your services to join you. The Housing Alliance can provide support, especially in prepping people to share their stories.
- When you meet with lawmakers, be sure to involve your board. This can both help to educate your board on how decisions made in Olympia and in D.C. impact your organization's efforts, while also educating lawmakers from a variety of perspectives.
- If you are an individual advocate, unaffiliated with an organization, please also consider meeting with your lawmaker to tell them why you care about ending homelessness and expanding access to affordable housing. The Housing Alliance can support you and provide talking points.
Again, thank you for being an advocate and for taking action this session. As the passage of ESSB 5875 attests, advocacy can achieve the impossible. Let's keep it up and and make more progress to expand access to affordable housing and to end homelessness. Housing Advocates have a lot to do during the interim to build more legislative champions. Our sister organization, the Washington Housing Alliance Action Fund will also be very active this summer and fall.
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