By John Stang
On Wednesday, Gov. Jay Inslee announced $815 million supplemental budget proposal to respond to homelessness across the state. His announcement came one day before King County planned to release a new count of the region’s homeless population, based on data obtained from homeless service providers through a database called the Homeless Management Information System, that is expected to be significantly higher than previous “point in time” counts.
Inslee’s proposal did not include detailed information about how much funding Seattle and King County stood to receive.
If approved, the package would help build tiny-house villages, provide help for people to pay their utility bills, expand behavioral health facilities for the homeless, and speed up efforts to find places for the homeless living in tents on public right-of-ways.
Inslee announced the package Wednesday at the Copper Pines Habitat For Humanity complex in Ballard, which will include seven three-bedroom units for families making 80 percent or less of Seattle’s median income.
Inslee also announced legislation that would allow what low-rise apartments, split lots, duplexes, and other types of low-impact density on all residential lots within a half-mile of a major transit stop in cities with populations greater than 25,000 people. The legislation would effectively override laws dictating suburban-style single-family development in cities.
“We cannot wait years and decades to get people out of the rain,” Inslee said, adding that the state’s population growth has created a shortage of roughly 250,000 homes. “It is unacceptable to us to have people living under bridges and not have solutions.”
He said the state’s population growth has created a shortage of roughly 250,000 homes in Washington. His proposals addresses a range from the extremely poor to renting families in danger of losing their homes because of rising bills. Inslee said his proposals would build 1,500 new permanent housing units and fund acquisition of existing properties to add another 2,400 shelter beds, tiny house village units, and permanent housing units, including short-term shelter for people living in encampments across the state.
A document outlining Inslee’s proposal estimated that about 30 of every 10,000 state residents were homeless before the pandemic, a number the state believes has increased by about 2 percent. Statewide, 80,000 families said they could soon face eviction or foreclosure, according to the US Census Bureau.
Inslee also announced legislation that would allow what he called “middle housing”—low-rise apartments, split lots, duplexes, and other types of low-impact density, commonly known as “missing-middle housing”—on all residential lots within a half-mile of a major transit stop in cities with populations greater than 25,000 people. The legislation would effectively override laws dictating suburban-style single-family development in cities.
In a statement, Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce CEO Rachel Smith connected the dots between density and the housing crisis “Employers are struggling to hire and retain staff right now, and it is no secret that our region’s high cost of housing is a major factor in the decisions people are making to live and work here. State policy that will ensure that more middle-income housing can be delivered in our communities is absolutely a step in the right direction,” Smith said.
Inslee voiced optimism that the legislature will pass most or all of his proposals, noting that the money is already in the state’s coffers—meaning no new revenue will be needed in the form of taxes or fees. More than two-thirds of the funding will come from federal COVID relief dollars.
Inslee said the state’s efforts should get some people off the streets in 2022 calendar. “I think we can see some of these tiny housing villages built in a few months,” Inslee said. Sharon Lee, director of the Low Income Housing Institute, said LIHI would “love to do 10 more villages.” King County Regional Homelessness Authority director Marc Dones has expressed skepticism about allowing tiny house villages to “proliferate,” noting that people tend to stay in tiny houses longer than other types of shelter before moving into permanent housing.
These village have units that are 96 to 140 square feet in size. They provide shelter, privacy,, and access to showers, bathrooms and cooking equipment. Seattle has 10 tiny-unit villages and Tacoma has three, said Sharon Lee, executive director of the non-profit Low Income Housing Institute. Most have 40 to 50 units, while one in Tacoma has 70 units.
Inslee’s package will be contained in two policy bills and the state supplemental operating and capital budgets. The “short” 60-day legislative session begins January 10.
Here are some highlights of Inslee’s $815 million proposal:
$100 million would help families pay their utility bills, so they have a better chance of keeping their homes.
$11.3 million would go to landlords to mitigate lost income from unpaid rent.
$334 million would buy or build more permanent housing and shelter for people experiencing homelessness or at risk of becoming homeless.
$48.6 million would fund supportive behavioral health services, including housing and employment assistance, medical respite for people experiencing homelessness who are too sick to return to the street, and crisis intervention for permanent supportive housing.
$51 million would pay for encampment response, including funding for local response teams and to help the state Department of Transportation “help remediate encampment sites after someone secures housing and prevent future encampments from forming on highway rights of way.”
$100 million would enable the state to continue an existing grant program that funds enhanced, socially distanced shelter.