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Housing Assistance on Docket for Lawmakers in Olympia

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Friday, March 17, 2023   

Affordable housing is a major concern in Washington state and lawmakers in Olympia are considering a slate of measures to address it.

One option is around funding for the Housing and Essential Needs program, which provides rental assistance for low-income Washingtonians with temporary or permanent disabilities which keep them from working.

Michele Thomas, director of policy and advocacy for the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance, said Gov. Jay Inslee proposed increasing the program's funding by $15 million in his budget, but it would still result in an $11 million decrease this funding cycle.

"Because the program, even with this extra COVID dollars over the last two years, has still not been able to meet the need, we will feel this in our communities," Thomas asserted. "It will feel like a cut, and less people will be served at a time where rents are so high that people desperately need rental assistance."

Thomas stressed the Housing and Essential Needs program is not an entitlement, and so when funds run out, access to the program does as well. She also noted rental assistance through this program ends when people qualify for Social Security benefits, which Thomas said is not enough to keep up with today's rents. House Bill 1260 would change it.

Thomas noted real estate activity funds homelessness services, but is down dramatically, so House and Senate lawmakers should keep this in mind as they craft their budgets.

"If the state doesn't take action to backfill that document recording fee shortfall out of the General Fund state operating budget, every community across the state will see cuts this year to homeless services," Thomas emphasized.

Thomas added keeping people in their homes is a big component of homelessness services, and argued the Legislature needs to take housing pressure off everyone.

"All communities are being impacted by these high rent increases," Thomas pointed out. "And in the end, it costs the state a lot of money if the state wants to try to continue to keep the level of funding consistent with homeless services."

The session is scheduled to end April 23.


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