Michele Thomas, Director of Policy and Advocacy
The second week of the state legislative session was just as busy as the first, with hearings on key housing priorities including SB 5123, the Fair Tenant Screening Act sponsored by Senator David Frockt (46th LD-Seattle). The House Capital Budget Committee had a hearing on Governor Jay Inslee’s budget proposal. The Housing Alliance and others thank the Governor for allocating $75 million for the Housing Trust Fund. But, we ask the House to bring that up to $100 million. Please join us in sending a strong message to the legislature that we need to pass a budget with new revenue options to ensure that we prevent further holes to our already frayed safety net. Add your name to our revenue petition!
Fair Tenant Screening Act
Wednesday’s hearing on the Fair Tenant Screening Act was the highlight of the week, with incredible testimony by a strong crew of advocates, people personally impacted, and Housing Alliance staff. Thomas Green, Ashley Albert, and Kimberly Mays clearly identified the importance of SB 5123 when they shared how expensive repeat tenant screening fees have blocked their access to a home. It was Ashley’s first time in Olympia, and her testimony was quite moving. You can watch it below:
You can also read Ashley's testimony here.
Special thanks to everyone who testified: Ashley Albert, Kimberly Mays, Thomas Green, Patricia Abbate of Solid Ground, Liz Mills of the YWCA of Seattle | King | Snohomish, Eric Dunn of the Northwest Justice Project, and Jonathan Grant of the Tenants Union.
Numbers of Homeless Students in School and Racial Disparities Up
The week was overshadowed by the weekend release of the most current count of K-12 students experiencing homelessness in our state. The Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction announced that they identified 32,494 students as homeless in the last school year. This represents 3.1 percent of students statewide and is an increase over the previous school year’s count, which was the already too high 30,609. School districts are required to gather additional data on these students including their race because SB 6074 (Frockt) passed last year, a bill that Columbia Legal Services championed and we supported. The resulting data this year is startling, showing a significantly disproportionate experience of homelessness among kids of color. Native American, African American, and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander students were much more likely to be homeless than their White peers.
OSPI’s report ended with the following statement:
“Washington state school districts are identifying and serving increasing numbers of homeless students every year, and the numbers continue to rise. Between the 2008-09 school year and 2013-14 school year, Washington State experienced a 56% increase in the number of enrolled homeless students reported by school districts. In many cases, school is the only stable or safe place for children and youth who are experiencing the instability of disrupted housing and high mobility.
Knowing that homelessness impacts both the academic and the social-emotional well-being of students, it is critical for school districts to have the resources and supports necessary to ensure that all vulnerable children and youth, particularly those experiencing homelessness, are identified, served and supported.”
The Housing Alliance 100% agrees and urges state lawmakers to pass our full lead and support agenda, which together addresses the housing and safety net resources and policy solutions needed to prevent households from experiencing the brutality of homelessness.
Key Housing Alliance support agenda priorities also made progress last week, most excitingly with SB 5208 (Miloscia) passing unanimously out the Human Services, Mental Health and Housing Committee. This bill will allow King County to use proceeds from existing lodging taxes for bonding for affordable workforce housing. The Homeless Student Stability Act SB 5065 (Frockt), also received a hearing last week in the Senate Early Learning & K-12 Education Committee. The bill has not yet been voted on by the committee.
King County Homelessness Numbers Also Up
The week ended with annual Point in Time Homeless Count, with volunteers fanning out across the state during the wee hours of Friday morning to identify and count people trying to survive outdoors. While official count outcomes for the state won’t be available for several months, King County count organizer Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness (SKCCH) announced an increase in the number of people found in King County, with 3,772 people counted on Friday. This is a significant increase from the 3,123 found in 2014. It is disappointing, shameful, and alarming that so many people are homeless and that the number is increasing. High housing costs, lack of subsidized affordable housing, an inadequate safety net, and significant housing barriers all contribute to homelessness. Our state lawmakers have the opportunity this session to help our communities make progress and to help ensure more households have the housing and resources they need to prevent or exit homelessness.
Join the Housing Alliance, SKCCH, King County Committee to End Homelessness, and Real Change in Olympia on Wednesday to acknowledge each person counted outside in King County last Friday. Lawmakers will join us for the Ring Out for Revenue: Seattle to Olympia event as we ring a gong for each of the 3,772. And we will be highlighting what the state can do this session to make progress, including passing a capital budget with $100 million for the Housing Trust Fund.
There are still spots available for you to sign up to ring the gong here.
Highlights for This Week
This week will be another busy week for affordable housing and homelessness issues, both good and bad. In addition to the Wednesday action and accompanying press conference, the Housing Alliance will be joining a panel on Tuesday to testify in support of Governor Inslee’s Carbon Tax bill, which will tax the state’s biggest polluters. The Governor’s proposal names the Housing Trust Fund as a beneficiary of some of the proceeds. Here is the relevant language from the bills HB 1314 (Fitzgibbon) and SB 5283 (Ranker):
Two percent of the moneys, as needed to equal and not exceed fifteen million five hundred thousand dollars in fiscal year 2017, as needed to equal at least nineteen million five hundred thousand dollars in fiscal year 2018, and as needed to equal at least twenty million dollars in each fiscal year thereafter, deposited into the Washington housing trust fund created in RCW 43.185.030.
The Housing Alliance has also organized a work session on the intersection of mental illness and housing needs for the Senate Human Services, Mental Health and Housing Committee on Tuesday, January 27 at 10:00am. You can watch it live via TVW. Special thanks to Committee Chair Senator Steve O’Ban (28th LD-University Place) for agreeing to the work session.
The Housing Alliance will also be weighing in on many bills that may have a negative impact on access to housing, including SB 5219 (Benton) which seeks to allow landlords to use the accelerated 3-day pay or vacate eviction process for an allegation of nonpayment of fees. This bill and many others that will negatively impact both tenants and owners of manufactured housing will be heard on Wednesday, January 28 in the Senate Financial Institutions and Insurance Committee at 1:30pm. If you are on campus on Wednesday, please consider stating your opposition to these bills by signing in con. If you need some help, grab any of the Housing Alliance staff or stop by the Legislative Information Center for information on how to sign in on Senate bills.