Inslee announces bold proposals for homelessness
Gov. Jay Inslee released bold proposals to address homelessness in his 2022 budget and policy package on Wednesday. The governor is proposing an $800 million investment to find solutions for individuals living without shelter and help those at risk of becoming homeless.
“A variety of factors drive our state’s homelessness crisis, including lack of affordable housing, unemployment, poverty, behavioral health needs and lack of services, domestic violence and accessible options for people with disabilities,” Inslee said. “Today, I am unveiling a statewide approach that maximizes housing units and getting people into housing solutions.”
“We know when people have a place of their own they can rest, feel safe, heal, and take charge of their lives again. Expanded investments and innovative solutions at the state, county, and local levels are essential to addressing homelessness and ensuring affordable housing,” said King County Executive Dow Constantine. “In King County we have seen unprecedented economic growth, alongside skyrocketing housing costs and income inequality, pushing too many of our friends and neighbors out of their homes and into the street. We need comprehensive policies and investments, like those proposed by Governor Inslee today, to help people gain ongoing health and stability.
The announcement was made at Copper Pines a Habitat for Humanity project in Seattle. The project is on land donated by the City of Seattle as part of the Housing Seattle Now Initiative. Through Habitat’s homeownership model, seven homes will be constructed for low-income families living under 80% of the area median income.
The governor was joined by King County Executive Dow Constantine, Seattle Mayor-elect Bruce Harrell, Tacoma Mayor Victoria Woodards, representatives from the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance, Washington Realtors and King County Habitat for Humanity.
For the 2022 supplemental operating and capital budgets, Inslee wants to address key gaps in facilities and services by exploring ways to help families and individuals remain in their homes; and secure more facilities to provide tiny homes, enhanced shelters, permanent supportive housing and permanent affordable housing. The governor also seeks to expand supportive services for people with behavioral health needs; transition people encamped on the public right of way to permanent housing solutions; and restore the range of affordable housing types in cities.
“Taking immediate action to address the crises of affordable housing and homelessness requires resources, compassion, and collaboration. I applaud Governor Inslee for prioritizing these critical issues with proposals for regional coordination and significant investment. Working together, we can build needed housing and provide the services required to help those living unsheltered get out of parks and off the streets — meeting them with support to restore lives with dignity, stability, and trust,” said Mayor-Elect Bruce Harrell, City of Seattle
Address ways for people to stay in their homes
One way to help people stay in their own home is to help people pay past-due bills. The loss of electricity and water due to unpaid bills results in an unsafe and unhealthy living situation. Yet under current law, unpaid bills can be cited as a reason to evict someone. Utility arrearages can be a barrier for landlords renting a vacant unit because utility companies often require that overdue amounts be paid before they will restore utility services.
Additional resources for landlords are necessary to keep people housed. The governor proposes increasing resources for Landlord Mitigation Program within the Department of Commerce provides an incentive and added security for landlords to work with tenants who receive rental assistance. However, the number of applications for this program outpaces its available revenue.
Capital budget investments
The governor’s capital budget includes funding to build about 1,500 permanent supportive housing and permanent affordable housing units.
Inslee is also proposing investments that will produce high-quality, affordable housing developments across urban, suburban and rural communities.
“We know that supportive housing is most impactful way to prevent the chronically homeless from returning to the streets. Some homeless individuals require a temporary accommodation to bridge the gap from homelessness to permanent housing,” Inslee said.
“The issues of affordable housing and homelessness have been made even more urgent by the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. Specifically, when it comes to homelessness, this is a challenge not just happening in our city or state, but across the nation, and it has deep and immediate impacts on the lives of all it touches,” said Tacoma Mayor Victoria Woodards. “It will take bold action and collaboration at the state and local levels to successfully address this issue, and I’m grateful to Governor Inslee for proposing significant investments needed to combat homelessness.”
Capital budget funding would help acquire real property, including tiny homes, with about 2,460 units. The proposal calls for rapidly converting acquired property into enhanced emergency shelters, permanent supportive housing and other permanent solutions for low-income and extremely low-income people who are experiencing sheltered and unsheltered homelessness.
Approximately 60% of the units will be prioritized to safely transition people experiencing homelessness into safe and habitable spaces, and toward permanent housing solutions. This could include people living in unsanctioned encampments, the public right of way or public spaces.
The housing and homelessness crisis has significantly impacted vulnerable populations, especially those with mental health and substance use disorder needs. These individuals need access to long-term and transitional supports, including housing and employment services. Once they’re housed and obtain employment, keeping them housed is essential to long-term success.
A central part of care is to include medical and psychiatric support while reducing the barriers that often prevent people with behavioral health needs from being housed or employed. The governor’s budget will expand the suite of supportive services that someone can access once they are housed.
Transition to housing
The governor’s plan would transition people who are camped on the public right of way, such as freeway exits and overpasses, into permanent housing. The state will work collaboratively with local governments and community leaders to help people in these situations transition into permanent housing solutions. A team at the Department of Social and Health Services will establish cross-agency collaboration and support local jurisdictions and key stakeholders in accomplishing this.
This program would complement the capital investment in rapid housing acquisition by prioritizing some of those units to the chronically homeless who are currently encamped on the public right of way. These actions will help people move into housing, but importantly they are not “sweeps.”
As people are safely transitioned into permanent housing solutions, the state will work with local and community partners to clean up and restructure former encampment sites and reduce the likelihood of future encampments.
The governor is also proposing to restore the full range of different types of housing available in cities throughout our state.
Despite the dire need for additional housing stock and a greater variety of housing types, our housing supply is not keeping pace with growth. From 2000 to 2015, housing supply failed to keep pace with growth at about 225,000 total units.
Inslee is proposing a change to statewide policy that would allow for creation of a greater variety of “middle housing” types such as duplexes and townhomes in areas within a half mile of major transit stops in large cities. This change will also allow duplexes in most areas of large and mid-size cities. The state will provide technical assistance, including developing a model ordinance, to help cities implement these new measures.
“With more density incentives in place, we won’t just build more homes; we will build more homeowners. Washington State would see existing barriers broken down to enable middle housing opportunities that meet the demand for more home types near low-income families’ jobs, schools, and public transportation. And for that, we applaud all of our elected officials’ efforts to advance density flexibility statewide,” said Brett D’Antonio CEO of Habitat for Humanity Seattle-King & Kittitas Counties.
Increasing “middle housing” opportunities will make it easier for front-line workers like teachers, health workers and others to live within the communities they serve, for seniors to age in place, and will help to address spatial segregation, community equity and environmental objectives.
“Housing costs continue to rise faster than wages. Washington families are spending half or more of their income just to keep a roof over their heads. This unsustainable cost means more people are at risk of falling into homelessness, especially seniors, people with disabilities, and low-wage workers. This crisis hurts families in large cities and rural communities alike. It doesn’t have to be this way, but to fix the problem we must re-legalize familiar, affordable housing options like duplexes, triplexes and quads,” said Rep. Jessica Bateman.
“We appreciate Governor Inslee’s leadership in proposing legislation that will increase housing supply throughout Washington State. Allowing additional housing types that are affordable for first-time homebuyers and that fit within existing neighborhoods will be critical to addressing our state’s housing supply and affordability housing crisis,” said Tom Hormel, WA Realtors President.
Young people typically experience homelessness within one year of exiting state care systems such as foster care, inpatient behavioral health treatment or juvenile rehabilitation.
The governor proposes making new investments into the Office of Homeless Youth’s “System of Care” grant program. This will expand the program into new regions and provide additional case managers, peer navigators, housing and rent assistance and other direct support services. The plan also sets additional funding aside for youth getting discharged from inpatient behavioral health settings.
The Department of Commerce is also proposing legislation to make Independent Youth Housing Support grants accessible to young adults who are enrolled in extended foster care, and it would expand eligibility to individuals who were in foster care at any age. Additional resources will increase the number of youth and young adults who can access the program.
“Unsheltered Washingtonians deserve a safe, warm and dry place to live, with additional resources available, if they need them. This is not only the right thing to do for these people, but the right thing to do for our state and our communities,” Inslee said.